Every mention of immigration these days is so charged, I just wanted to have a thoughtful conversation about the simple and everyday ways in which curiosity contributes to picking up and moving somewhere new.

Luckily, I found two wise young people to help me out — plus, a bonus closing cameo reflection on (re)gaining appreciation for and finding inspiration in one’s homeland. I am deeply grateful to Anderson Escobar, Mariami Shengelia and Arturo Ramirez for making this show possible.

“The world belongs to the people who are curious.” ~ Albert Einstein

Listen to Choose to be Curious #22: Immigration – with Anderson Escobar and Mariami Shengelia.




Life Lessons

Mosaic as Metaphor

I like the meditative quality of mosaic work. I can sink entirely into the task, focused only on the chips of glass and ceramic in front of me, attentive to color and shape and nothing else. Can feel the quiet, the only sounds the occasional crack of the nippers at their work and my breath, soft and even.

But there’s more to it than that. Something about putting pieces together again, assembling a coherent work, maybe even something pleasing, from jagged shards. Order from disorder, beauty from brokenness.

I think it appeals to me, especially right now, because it reminds me to be hopeful, that we can (re)assemble, even from what seems irredeemably shattered. We can pull the pieces together, play with the harsh contrasts, appreciate the colors and sharp edges. We can make something of it. Even still.

Life is a work in progress.


Thank Goodness for Sesame Street

elena_urioste_ph_tinozzi_023-1280x853Bach, Kodály, Ysaÿe, Kreisler, Halvorsen and a traditional Bulgarian folk tune each washed over us in their turn. The cello and violin playing with and for each other, with and for all of us. The music filled the space, bursting to the ceiling, finding every corner, leaving nothing out. I could imagine it tumbling out the door and down the street, a heady rebuke to the leaden sky.

Elena Urioste and Nicholas Canellakis entered the chilly church hall radiating joy. Their chemistry was lovely, their smiles genuine and warm, their technique exquisite, their playfulness undeniable.

For an hour, two, I was swept up in the incredible beauty of which humans are capable.

For an hour, two, I sat cocooned, entranced, soothed.

The program notes tell me that “as a mere two-year old [Elena] saw an episode of Sesame Street in which the great violinist Itzhak Perlman demonstrated his instrument for Elmo and, according to her parents [whom we met on the way out the door], she was hooked.”

All I can say is: thank goodness for Sesame Street.

Check her out here. Check him out here. They often play with the remarkable Michael Brown, about whom I have written before.

Yup: thank goodness for Sesame Street.





Choose to be Curious

Oh, Those Unexpected Allies

handsI’ve been finding hidden treasures a lot lately. It pays to go looking.

Over breakfast and ginger-turmeric tea this morning, N. remarked on my ever-expanding universe. She’s right: I’m in a sort of acquisition mode, or maybe it’s more like intermolecular attraction. I’m spending a lot of time with new people, discovering–and actively pursuing–new connections.

I think of it as the up-side of current circumstances. I’ve become quite intentional about my outreach. As the world seems to be crashing in on itself, I survive by pushing back against the imploding forces.

In December, at a friendly non-partisan if not strictly apolitical gathering, a woman reflected on a lesson she’d learned in her professional work as an evaluator. Don’t underestimate the power of unexpected allies, she advised. We don’t know where our best assets may yet be.

After quoting her in just about every applicable conversation–have you thought about where you might find unexpected allies in this fight?–I thought it was time to hear more from her…

Listen to Choose to be Curious #21: Curiosity & Evaluation – with Carlisle Levine.

Back Story

Democracy, in three acts

Thirty-two years ago, when D. was graduating from law school and applying to work in the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice, the FBI came knocking. As a prospective federal employee, he was subject to a security review and clearance. The FBI wanted to know all sorts of things about him: workout routines, alcohol use, ways of handling stress. I thought it was pretty funny when the agent asked me if I would describe my relationship with the man I lived with as “personal or professional”.

They also wanted to know if he was “patriotic”.

I paused a moment, letting the question sink in. “I think anyone who wants to devote his time and talent to protecting the civil rights of Americans is patriotic… Don’t you?”

~ ~ ~

At some point in the war with Iraq, drivers in our area protested U.S. actions by slowing traffic, bringing the teeming roads of the entire metropolitan area to a stand-still. School children sat on buses for a long time that morning. It was a mess.

A colleague, in from out of town and supportive of the administration, was beside herself. “In a time of war, people should support the president,” she fumed. “It’s your duty as Americans!”

“Then what is it people should be fighting for, if it isn’t the right to select or maybe object to our own leadership?” I wanted to know. “Isn’t this the very stuff of democracy?”

“Maybe,” she allowed, “But I don’t like it….”

~ ~ ~

Last night I sat in a room of more than 70 people, peacefully assembled, to consider our rights and duties in the face of regime and trajectory we find deeply troubling.

I listened as people explored their hopes and fears and considered our collective options. My deepest, gut-gnawing fear is that we will discover just how fragile democracy is. That something will break that simply can’t be restored. I vacillate between visions of that awful prospect and a persistent, determined belief in the resilience of that same potentially imperiled system. dont-stop

What I heard gave me hope.What I heard was a deep respect for and faith in America’s fundamental structures and institutions. For the Constitution. For the judiciary. For citizen engagement and voter empowerment. For the future.

I thought: this is what democracy looks like.

UnComfort Zone

Out/Rage and In/Sight

waterphotoThe battle is fierce, the war far from over. Sides are sharply drawn, passions high, entrenchments deep. I speak, of course, of the state of my inner psyche. I am at war with myself – and I suspect I am not alone.

Outrage is not a natural state for me. But it’s increasingly where I find myself: on unfamiliar, alien ground that feels dangerous, even hostile. I’m unsure how to navigate, uncertain which survival skills are most applicable, which practices actually an impediment. The anger feels entirely justified, but highly toxic. As much a risky place to stay as it is to abandon. I’m not sure which way to turn or what I can trust.

I’ve tried to parse the term — outrage —  tried to defuse it, own it in a different form. I have thought about the blindness of rage, the all-consuming heat of it. I’ve thought about the out part, the externalized expression, the dependence on a heinous other for existence.

I tried to think about its inverse: what is that? If not antidote, then what? Is there a way for me to sit with outrage that doesn’t consume me completely? What would help me (re)gain clarity? Is there room for insight in outrage?

And there I was: outrage and insight – not antonyms, by any means, but a spot upon which I could teeter long enough to craft some sort of strategy for myself. I’ve been reading the thought pieces on underlying values, the ones that explore how badly we’re talking past one another right now, how uselessly we’re relying on our own values to try to persuade others to see things as we do, ignoring their values as easily as they seem to ignore ours. Mine.

So Monday I’m sitting down with someone from the “other side”. I don’t want to talk politics with him. I have no interest in argument or persuasion. I just want to be able to sit with him and know him as a person. I’m hoping, maybe, for a little insight.