Watch Morgan Spurlock’s TED Talk, “Embrace Transparency” (aka “The greatest TED Talk ever sold”). No editorial needed… Enjoy!
Watch Morgan Spurlock’s TED Talk, “Embrace Transparency” (aka “The greatest TED Talk ever sold”). No editorial needed… Enjoy!
“Life is not about waiting for the storms to pass… it’s about learning to dance in the rain.” ~ Vivian Greene
It’s been a bumpy transition from 2013 to 2014. Storms, proverbial and otherwise, have dampened the celebratory season for me. There’s no sense in airing out dirty laundry (how many metaphors have I mixed so far?) So I’ll hop, skip, jump forward. After all, there’s no guarantee that the storms will pass. It’s January in the North Country, after all! Blizzards are supposed to be the norm.
So I invite you to join me in dancing in the rain, er, snow.
Apparently the whole Northeast is getting snowed under. It’s cold as blazes here, but there’s actually relatively little new snow. Fine, dusty powder. Maybe 3–4 inches. No more.
Thousands of flights have been canceled including my sister’s and parents’ return-home flights after holidays in the Adirondacks. A “wind chill warning” popped up on my mobile phone an hour or two ago, and the old school thermometer outside my bedroom window appears to have frozen…
So at this stage dancing is as much a survival technique as anything else. Crank up the melody, and enjoy your evening!
Almost 24 hours after watching 12 Years a Slave (movie) I still can’t shake it. The story and characters won’t let go. They’re both still gripping me in technicolor evil. And grace.
If you haven’t seen this Director Steve McQueen’s unflinchingly candid glimpse into the enslavement of free black man Solomon Northup, you need to.
TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE is based on an incredible true story of one man’s fight for survival and freedom. In the pre-Civil War United States, Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man from upstate New York, is abducted and sold into slavery. Facing cruelty (personified by a malevolent slave owner, portrayed by Michael Fassbender), as well as unexpected kindnesses, Solomon struggles not only to stay alive, but to retain his dignity. In the twelfth year of his unforgettable odyssey, Solomon’s chance meeting with a Canadian abolitionist (Brad Pitt) will forever alter his life. (Fox Searchlight: 12 Years a Slave)
The film is gripping and visceral. And fair warning, it’s also totally unfiltered and unforgiving. McQueen captures slavery in its least sympathetic and most complex iteration I can recall, plunging into it’s insidious, malignant effect, dehumanizing slave, master end every one in between. 12 Years a Slave is a genuinely immersive experience absent special effects or melodrama. McQueen deploys somewhat unconventional storytelling techniques such as an excruciatingly drawn out scene with Northup hanging from a noose, barely clinging to life, while life returns to normal around him. The juxtaposition of a slow-motion murder amidst quotidian chores and playing children is devastating.
While virtually every actor in 12 Years a Slave delivers a superb performance, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup is riveting. He manages to exude grace in the face of devastating events, transforming a demanding, almost impossibly complex character into one of the most powerful and believable film roles I’ve witnessed in years. Lupita Nyong’o, Michael Fosbender and Brad Pitt also deliver exceptional performances, but I’ll do them and the film injustice if I continue. Just see it for yourself. Here’s a trailer to motivate you.
“I posed a kind of crazy promise to the Internet: that if you asked me for a hand-written letter, I would write you one, no questions asked.” ~ Hannah Brencher
Hannah Brencher‘s (@hannahbrencher) phrasing, and the idea it sums up, struck home. First, there’s that opening phrase. The Internet for those who’ve grown up with it is an entity. A being. Like the universe. Or a god.
For me — and I suspect for many others too who watched the Internet’s birth, that first spank on its still wet posterior, that first gasp of air followed by a global yowl — the Internet is a communication infrastructure, a virtual web connecting beings and entities. But I find Brechner’s notion immensely appealing. And accurate. The idea that I could make a promise to the Internet might have seemed trite in another time, another context. But Brencher’s story and her promise kept, More Love Letters, is proof positive that the Internet is infinitely more than the sum of its parts. The Internet is a being. A universe. A god.
And then there’s the tribute to handwritten correspondence.
Many of you who know me personally (and even some who don’t) have received a handwritten note from me at one time or another. Usually written with green ink and barely legible handwriting. For no reason other than that I love green ink, and — though my penmanship is poor — I wanted to share some words with you. Smudges and all. Don’t get me wrong, voice mail and email and text messages and social media updates and pokes and tweets all have their important roles to play, but increasingly rare handwritten notes are special. They are real and enduring and intimate in a way that digital notes are not.
Last but not least there’s that exciting gulp feeling you get when you watch Brencher’s TED Talk. Maybe even a joyful tear. And it’s not because she kept her promise or the Internet’s a god or you’re getting sepia-toned nostalgic about paper and ink. It’s a gulp because what she’s built is good. Really good. So good that it’s gone viral and created a global tribe of benevolent love letter planters.
I tip my proverbial hat (or fountain pen?) to friend and frequent inspiration, Athena Roth (Pinterest) who shared Hannah Brencher’s “Love letters to strangers” with me. Roth’s song and aesthetic sensibilities are gifts not altogether unlike Brencher’s love letters.
There are days and there are dazed days, Mondays and weeks full of Mondays.
For times like these, when the burly blues blot out the best, I turn to Improv Everywhere for an emergency dose of sunshine. This morning’s synchronized swimming flashback was just what the doctor ordered!
Improv Everywhere performs a 16-person synchronized swimming routine in the fountain in Washington Square Park. Posing as the official New York City synchronized swimming team, the Olympic-hopefuls compete in three inches of dirty water in this unauthorized event. Will the judges reward their effort? (Improv Everywhere)
Although this is a digitally snazzified rerun from 2004, the London Olympics timing is perfect. And as good things often lead onto more good things, I couldn’t resist the temptation to wander from synchronized swimming to the Mini-Golf Open which smeared a grin across my mug so wide sunrise mistook it for the horizon. And I don’t even like golf! Well, not like golf anyway…
Thank you, Improv Everywhere.
Karl Sprague (@karlsprague) just made my day! I met Karl at the Writer’s Digest Conference in New York City last month, and his sunny, upbeat personality made him irresistible from our first handshake. He’s the quintessential poster boy for the Sunshine State. Here’s what he tweeted me this morning:
You pack a lot of life into a 24 hour period, don’t you? U keep us mentally sedentary folks updated on writing / travel / life
Wow. I think I’ll print and frame that when I get home from Costa Rica. Bold font. Hung front and center over my desk. Or my kitchen range. No, maybe nailed to a post by my garden. Hmmm. Duct taped to the wishbone of my windsurfer? Or the handlebars of my bike? Maybe I’ll just memorize it, repeat it like a mantra each morning. Or any time my enthusiasm sags…
I’m serious. What a gift! What validation. What encouragement. I wonder if Karl had any notion at all how his quick message would impact me. I’d like to think he did. He’s magnanimous, wouldn’t miss an opportunity to give, encourage, thank. And yet, I’m guessing he didn’t. I’m guessing he typed and sent that tiny little tweet out into the ether without thinking too much about it. That’s also the kind of fellow he is, generous with complements but totally unselfconscious about his generosity. Second nature. The kind of guy who smiles by default, laughs to relax, encourages because it’s his instinct.
Thank you, Karl. I’m not sure I could summarize my life’s ambitions better!
When Louis Comeau headed into work April 8, 2003, he had no idea his life was about to take a tragic turn. As the accomplished attorney rounded a bend on Route 22, a large block of ice flew off a passing truck and slammed into his car. He didn’t have time to react. “It went through the windshield and shattered his skull,” Comeau’s wife, Jani Spurgeon, recalled… (Press-Republican)
This was one of the stories that my wife and I learned early on after arriving in Essex. Even before meeting Mr. Comeau I heard the story from others. I also heard how the community had pulled together to support the family during the darkest weeks after the accident. I was impressed with the depth of empathy among neighbors, the sense of responsibility, the sense of extended family. I remembered the small, tight-knit community where I had spent four years of boarding school.
I’ve only glimpsed faint shades of this since, while teaching at Santa Fe Preparatory School in New Mexico, for example. Living in Washington, DC and Paris and Rome I belonged to looser, more fluid and transient communities. Perhaps it was the places I lived or the people I associated with. Perhaps it was me, my age, my preference. But the idea of community had grown abstract and peripheral for me.
I met Mr. Comeau in person several months after we started renovating a house in Essex. At first we simply exchanged casual greetings passing on the street or when he walked his dog past our front porch. And then one summer afternoon our neighbor invited me up on to her front porch for a cool beer and to get to know Mr. Comeau. He was smiling. He’s always smiling. He told me that he had known my father, that they had overlapped as lawyers a couple of decades prior. He entertained us with anecdotes. He was charming and complimentary. He laughed. We all laughed. It was easy to understand the community’s embrace when his luck faltered in 2003. It was easy to accept that I wanted to be a part of this community.
Reading the article, “Family pushes for proposed snow-removal law“, this morning reminded me that support and nurturing are only one part of a tight-knit community. Maybe they are the easy part. It’s human to reach out and help those we know personally, those we care about. But it’s also easy to stop there, to nourish our immediate community and stop there.
Almost eight years after Mr. Comeau’s life-altering accident, his wife, Jani Spurgeon is transforming his tragedy into a common good. This is more than a close-to-home illustration of civic responsibility. Ms. Spurgeon is transcending loss and hurt and suffering in an effort to help others far beyond Essex, far beyond the community who reached out to her. She is distilling value from devastation. And she is inspiring all of us in the process!
Never believe people when they tell you something is impossible, or “that’s not the way things work.” Make your own success or be doomed to fail.
It was this author’s dream. After writing a deeply personal and revealing memoir, The Last Day of My Life, I landed a top agent at the esteemed William Morris Agency (now WME Entertainment). Six months later, I had my first publishing deal and less than a year after that, the book was officially released. Publishing takes a long time, but the wait was worth it. I had hoped that my book would inspire others who were facing troubling times in their lives and I have been humbled by the many emails I have received from strangers who reached out to me since the January publication date.
Then, the unthinkable happened. My publisher abruptly closed its doors at the end of April. The timing could not have been worse. It was just days before the LA Festival of Books, where I had been scheduled to appear. My participation in that event was canceled and it looked like months of effort in landing numerous television and radio appearances and all the print interviews had been for nothing. My old publisher was gracious enough to grant me a reversion of all the rights to my book, along with all the digital files, but what was I to do with them?
“It’s over,” I was told, by most everyone. But I had heard that before. After writing the manuscript for my book, I was told that getting published today was all but impossible. I refused to listen then and I refused to listen now. As Chief Correspondent for the syndicated television news magazine, Inside Edition and as a regular contributor for CNN and HLN and frequent guest host for Larry King Live, I knew that I could continue to land television appearances. I also believed passionately in the message of my book — that no matter what challenges come your way, life is worth living and there is plenty for which we need to be grateful. What better time to put that into practice than here and now?
I reached out to the former head of sales at my old publishing house for guidance. He connected me with both the company which had originally printed my book and with the independent sales team that sold it to stores. My former editor instructed me on how to apply for and secure a new serial number (ISNB) and Library of Congress registration. I hired a talented graphic designer to repackage the book and I came up with a name for my own publishing house: Incognito Books. Within two months, I was “ready for my close-up” again. I timed the launch of my new edition to coincide with an appearance on Dr. Phil, which I had taped in April, but was not airing until July 9. My boss at Inside Edition graciously ran a story about that appearance and on my newly launched book as well. The results exceeded even my wildest expectations.
As I tracked both Amazon and Barnes and Noble sales numbers throughout the day, I watched in amazement over what happened as both shows aired in the various time zones across the country. It was remarkable. By Friday evening, I had hit #1 on Amazon’s “Movers and Shakers” list with an astounding increase of 309,000% in ranking, from number 80,000 to number 31. I also reached #17 on BN.com. I have already ordered a second printing and I am launching the book in all available digital formats in the next two weeks.
I am still at the beginning of what I hope is a long journey as a writer, both for this title and other books I hope to write. Still, I learned a valuable lesson — never take “no” for an answer. The old publishing model is no longer the only one available to writers. (The Huffington Post proves that.) Look hard and be creative and you may just discover a new way to get your message out there. (Huffington Post)
Jim Moret’s firsthand account of self-publishing his debut memoir is a timely illustration of the shift underway in the publishing world. When the “old publishing model” imploded, Moret sidestepped the debris and leaped forward. Once upon a not too recent time the Gutenberg Paradigm was the whole game. Lose the game, and you might well have lost your chance at the season. But the new publishing models emerging every day are opening up possibilities heretofore unimaginable. And Moret’s experience is an encouraging reminder that persistence and ingenuity will pay dividends to good writers willing to explore new and creative ways of connecting with their readers/audience.
I’m not particularly familiar with Lady Gaga, but it’s impossible to overlook her meteoric rise. Victor Niederhoffer’s post covers some interesting territory and merits a quick read if you’ve wondered about this young performer’s Midas touch. #7 stood out for me:
Lady Gaga “stands on the shoulders of giants. She has borrowed from all the most popular idols that preceded her including Michael Jackson, Madonna, Blondie, and Andy Warhol. To be successful you need the base of fans that your predecessors have accumulated.” (Victor Niederhoffer)