Four years ago this summer, I had the good luck to land in Roland Merullo's workshop on the novel at Solstice Summer Writers' Conference. With an opinion or two of my own about writing, I listened to what he said with a critic's ear. To my astonishment, I agreed with nearly everything--about writing, about workshopping, about raising kids. (Then there was his obsession with golf. Oh, well.)
Thus, Roland became my writing teacher--except for my editor when I was a young reporter, the only such instructor I've had--and, just when I think I have nothing more to learn, he pops up again, always without announcement, with another thoughtful approach to someone or something.
Today's Boston Globe brings "The life Hemingway made," his op-ed honoring Hemingway's 110th birthday tomorrow, where he talks simply about the writer's life, Hemingway the writer, and his own as writer. Here's the kind of phrasing that has made me read every one of Roland's books (except the golf one): "...these were the notes of a song sung to the deepest part of me." Not forced, not complicated, but ... what notes of which "song" have reached the deepest parts of you?
This post also gives me the excuse to include mention of Roland's latest, his memoir of eating and, yes, golf, The Italian Summer, which I'm reading now.
Guaranteed to make you hungry and to provoke a tendency to rent a
villa, book a flight, and do what he, Amanda, and their two daughters,
Alexandra and Juliana, did a couple of years ago: spend five weeks in
heaven, excuse me, Lake Como. I also love this cover. Check out the golfer.
Hidden Heroes are ordinary people who are doing extraordinary things to change the world for the better - as Andy did when he traveled to Mississippi in 1964.
Our award honors and supports social activism that gets results. The Hidden Heroes program, which is being launched with these awards, is part of a new initiative that aims to inspire, educate and reward people who take personal responsibility for healing the world - carrying on the spirit and the love that inspired Andy.
The Hidden Heroes Award is presented each year to as many as five individuals whose work exemplifies the Foundation's origins and mission: promoting human dignity, civil rights and social justice through actions characterized by great personal initiative, selflessness, fearlessness, compassion, imagination, and achievement.
This year's winners are: Frances Beinecke, President, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC); Toni Maloney, Chairperson, Business Council for Peace (BPeace); Gwenn Levine, Founder, Paterson Youth Photography Project, (PYPP) and Tashi Dolma, Founder, Tibetan Home of Hope.
It isn't often that a small number of people has the chance to meet, listen to, and sit so close to a force as great as this pioneering journalist, who's covered every US president since Kennedy, who was there when Khruschev banged his shoe on the table ("We will bury you!"), and who has so many firsts to her name that no American woman journalist is really her peer.
The Center for New Words sponsored a brunch with Helen today and some 75 or so people turned out to listen in the lovely Brookline home of one of CNW's board members.
Helen began by saying that "it's the worst of times for America and yet the signs of democracy are strong" with the election of Obama, allowing "black people to stand taller" and white people "to feel they've done the right thing."
She didn't shy away from the tough topics - she wants the US out of Iraq and Afghanistan now, believing that those countries have it in them to solve their own problems.
She "believes in Medicare for everyone," i.e. a single payer healthcare system. When people call that "socialism," she says, "What about roads, schools, and bridges?"
She is devastated by the demise of the newspaper industry, calling it the "greatest tragedy" of the economic meltdown, because "there's no democracy without a free press." She also pointed out what all serious reporters know: blogging is not journalism. We need editors for that and this ain't that.
"Words count," she said, more than once (how I love writers) and implored all of us, including Obama, to understand that "this is the time for quantum leaps," not careful steps.
She ended by responding to some questions about her career. "There's no such thing as making it," she said. "There's always another mountain to climb." When she came to Washington as a reporter, she couldn't join the National Press Club. It took Khrushchev's coming to Washington -- and a concerted effort on the part of women reporters -- to even be allowed to attend National Press Club functions.
Where were the women journalists invited to sit at the Khrushchev press conference? "Thirty women were allowed to sit on the floor at the National Press Club," she reported. "Everything has been a struggle. And I'm still carrying that anger."
Report on, Helen. We in your wake thank you so for what you've endured.
The girls are not the world's best basketball players. They're not the fastest or the tallest or the anything-est other than this: they play against the conventional rules. They maintain a full-court press for the whole game, which Gladwell documents as being counter to popular wisdom except in certain unusual situations--like when the team has been coached by Rick Pitino, the legendary winning University of Kentucky coach (as well as having a less-than-stellar career as the coach of our beloved Boston Celtics).
Anyone who plays or watches basketball (ahem) knows that the full-court press is reserved for the clutch. Keeping up that amount of pressure for four periods is exhausting even to think about, changing the rhythm of the game to resemble something closer to ice hockey than the elegant dribble-down-the-court choreography of traditional basketball.
Basketball-bloggers are taking Gladwell apart for his lack of knowledge of the game, even dissecting his facts. According to one enraged commenter, Gladwell's contention that only one of Pitino's players went to the NBA is truly off the mark - apparently, a whole slew of them did. I could go on with how up-in-their-nets the basketballers are about the article but that would only prevent my getting to my opinion.
Basketball aside, Gladwell's key point -- and what I took to be the theme of this whole issue of The New Yorker, whether intentional or not -- is that "when underdogs break the rules," the article's subtitle, they win.
Underdogs are relentless. They try things no one else thinks of - like Lawrence of Arabia who suffered through 600 miles of desert to overwhelm (and surprise) the Ottomans. Who does that--rides camels, sleeps near cobras, and survives essentially without water? Underdogs.
Likewise, one small David, who stunned one big Goliath by realizing that he'd never win through traditional warfare but needed something completely different. And thus was born guerrilla warfare (and I say this knowing the military historians will be as upset as the basketball mavens).
I'm closing in on my conclusion here. What leapt out of Gladwell's article time and again was the notion that unlikely winners are relentless. He only uses the word twice in the article but its underlying them is, shall we say, relentless. Fits with one of Gladwell's conclusions about "outliers," those among us who are truly extraordinary. They practice. And practice. And practice. Whether circumstances are advantageous or onerous. Even the Beatles practiced, Gladwell says in this Fora.TV interview, "who before they came to America and take the world by storm in 1964, they spend this incredibly long period of time as a house band in a strip club in Hamburg...playing eight hour sets seven days a week for months at a stretch." (Who knew?) The Beatles were relentless. They practiced.
Get back to work, everyone. And read the article. It's no more about basketball than it is about Alan Greenspan, real-time processing, or puff adders, all of which figure prominently as well.
Jim, author of thirteen books (!), directs Saybrook's Jungian Studies program. He spoke to the unexpectedly large crowd about "the psychology of the second half of life" as most there were well into that period. I listened for a few moments, then whipped out my little notebook when Jim said the phrase that appears as the subject line of this post.
From then on, I jotted down the pearls, which I'm now sharing here. One note of caution: without the interstitial material, I'm a little afraid that this might sound like the self-help column. Should that happen, please suspend your quick judgments - and give yourself the gift of reflection. At the bottom of this post, enjoy the view from the Levis' house.
What brings about real change? Insight, courage, and persistence.
The Prague-born poet Rilke said: "Our task is to be defeated by ever larger things."
Why we're here is to live our journey.
Getting up out of bed is an heroic task.
We have to get up and show up.
Our life is the quality of our journey.
What's the purpose of depression (which means to press down), whose roots can be reactive, biological, or psychological? Ask why it has come and what it is asking of you.
We have about six dreams per night or 42/week.
Dreams exist outside the sphere of conscious control.
"The Self," in Jungian terms, is that within us that is commenting on a daily basis.
It's as if a two-million-year-old person lives inside us.
"The Shadow," in Jungian terms, represents anything that contradicts our intentions when brought to consciousness.
We need to cultivate the capacity to look at what is fearful.
Neurosis is the flight from authentic suffering.
When faced with a choice, ask: does this path make me larger or smaller, psychologically speaking?
Myths address four mysteries:
The cosmos - Why are we here? Who are the gods/God/G-d?
Relationship/Society - Who is my tribe? Am I part of the tribe of exiles?
Psychology/Self - What is my tsk? Why am I here?
"We need to find our own path through the dark wood."
According to the myth of the Grail, it's shameful to take the path that someone has taken before.
This is Sunday morning, a time when people in my culture are used to receiving or giving sermons on the greater meaning of life and the practical applicability of the Golden Rule ("do unto others.."). Today's modest effort has been stimulated by a recent book, The Living Universe, by an old friend, Duane Elgin, whose 1981 book, Voluntary Simplicity, still resonates almost 30 years after its publication.
Our first book came out at about the same time as Duane's. In Networking: The First Report and Directory (see our books), Jessica and I recognized networks as a new form of organization in the grassroots movements of the 1970s. In the "report" part of the book, we chronicled the emergence of groups that were to become the centers for today's nonprofit world. So we often crossed paths with Duane and soon became friends.
Duane is a big thinker and a simple liver, and has devoted a lifetime to the notion of human transformation and inspiring positive change. He was a futurist researcher with SRI International in the 1970s, and worked on a number of cutting edge projects including Changing Images of Man, a stunning report with Joseph Campbell, Willis Harmon, and O.W. Markley.
His latest book hinges on a simple question, one you can take a moment to answer yourself before you go on:
Is the universe dead or alive?
Deadness is the prevailing scientific view, a container of inert matter that is the physical layer upon which the miracle of life grows. However, most people answer quickly, intuitively--in a "blink"--that of course the thing-as-a-whole is more alive than dead.
For me, it crystallized another question to pose about human beings, which you might also answer:
Are our organizations dead or alive?
Deadness is the prevailing view. The deadness of inert matter is found in our conventional "machine model" of organizations, particularly Big Ones, and most especially government ones. Many of our friends who promote networks dismiss the physical hierarchy as an antiquated machine relic rather than an evolving human organization that is becoming more networked. Our organizations are our greatest unexploited resource for addressing the confluence of disaster, change, and opportunity that defines our transitional time, so the answer "dead or alive" really matters.
While organizations cannot live without people, they are also different from people, yet still distinctly human--and alive. Two great networks--one social, the other organizational--intersect in the interrelated configuration of jobs, positions, and roles. Together, we get stuff done that as individuals we cannot do alone (see our Working Papers for some deep diving on this theme).
GM was the epitome of the industrial model, the archetype of the impersonal machine organization. 'Nuf said with Chrysler already in bankruptcy and GM headed there shortly.
Our organizations never were machines, but regarding them as such ensures a failure to adapt and learn and grow.
So this is where The Living Universe took me. If you enjoy a mix of religious and scientific views on the how the universe lives and why it matters, you should read Duane's newest book.
Every year, Freedom House holds its Champions of Freedom event where outstanding people who make great contributions to the cause of freedom receive awards. I've been on the Freedom House board where Gail Snowden, known for her innovative community banking approaches while at BankBoston and Fleet (remember them, Bostonians?) now serves as CEO. Gail's parents, Otto and Muriel Snowden, founded Freedom House in 1949 and its mission, to educate kids and inspire them to do things that might cross their minds but for which they don't have the resources, continues. That's my interpretation. Here's the official mission statement:
Our mission is to promote economic selfsufficiency and social justice
for residents in historically underserved neighborhoods through
targeted educational development, increased civic and political
engagement and progressive cultural advocacy.
Earlier in the day, a small group of Facing History staff hosted a luncheon for Carolyn's son (and my long-time friend) David Goodman, to which I was invited. Quite a privilege to be included. Photos by Facing History-er Jeanine Zurkus (thanks!)
David Goodman and Adam Strom
David and Margot Stern Strom
Front row: David and Margot Back row: Moi, Michael Durney, Adam Strom, and Marty Sleeper
Something's been going on around the country--and in other countries too--where instead of people behaving in predictable ways as the economy has worsened, they're choosing to use their creativity in service of humanity. The media loves this and there are segments on nearly all the news programs about people stepping outside the bounds and "making a difference," as the NBC Nightly News calls its now-regular segment.
My friend Paul Levy, who's shown up a time or two before here, has found himself in the limelight as a result of the choices he's made as head of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, where revenues are off $20 million this year, which translates into 600 jobs. Paul's written plenty about this on his blog; if you click over there, you'll be able to follow the whole story.
Because of his approach to "running a hospital," he took the problem to the people and naturally they responded. After a series of town meetings where Paul laid out the problem, the hospital opened an online forum where people could anonymously post suggestions. They got tons (detailed data on his blog about all of this).
Long/short, through voluntary salary reductions from the top to deep in the organization and some other cuts, like suspension of 401(k) matches and removing payments for people's beloved Blackberrys, they've whittled down the number of jobs at risk to about 140, maybe fewer (I'm losing track a bit).
Enough of the story. Point is that the national press caught on and last night, the hospital was featured on that very NBC segment, Making a Difference, and tonight, it was featured on PBS's Newshour with Jim Lehrer as part of a longer piece reported by Paul Solman. Afterward, Paul S. asked Paul L. to record a bit more, a six or so minute piece where the hospital guy tells the TV guy how the whole wonderful thing came down and how anyone else could replicate what he'd done in four easy moves: be transparent; provide a forum for participation; be respectful; and explain decisions logically, in plain, straightforward language that people can understand.
Every bit of this is worth your seeing and reading, every bit. Please spread the word.
[Special note to those who know my strange life on trains where I meet all manner of people: A couple of years ago, I was getting off the train in New York when I realized Paul Solman was right behind me. Although we hadn't crossed paths since we both had written for the long-gone Boston After Dark in the deep dark past, I cheerily introduced myself. One thing led to another and next I knew, we were sharing a cab, Paul on his way to visit his 93-year-old father still living in the apartment where Paul had grown up on the Lower East Side, just a few blocks from where my grandfather had lived, and me on my way to my jewels in Brooklyn, aka daughters and son-in-law.]