Back Story, Choose to be Curious

Stand in the Place Where You Live

According to StoryCorps founder Dave Isay, “Listening closely is simple. When you’re curious, treat people with respect, and have just a little courage to ask the important questions, great things are going to happen.” I like to think it was a comparable curiosity that inspired this week’s show on oral history.

The Local ShopI started with ‘oral history’ as a concept, wanting to talk with someone who’d done work in this form of storytelling — and then I had the good fortune to be approached by Valeria Gelman, a graduate student in urban affairs and planning at Virginia Tech who, together with other students, had just completed a series of interviews with legacy businesses in Arlington.

Not only was an ideal Choose to be Curious episode born of that conversation, so too was a whole new show on WERA. The Local Shop debuts this weekend, featuring the stories collected by Valeria and her classmates. Before she hits the airwaves in her own program, I sat down with her for mine…

Listen to Choose to be Curious #43: Oral History with Valeria Gelman.

Now you can subscribe to Choose to be Curious on iTunes.

Being attentive to the stories around us is a central theme in Choose to be Curious. I like to come at it from all kinds of angles. One of my favorite was the smart, playful approach of Graham Coreil-Allen. A social practice artist and self-described “radical pedestrianist” in Baltimore, Graham leads tours that encourage us to dig into the stories of the people and structures and history around us. He was an obvious, delicious pairing with Valeria…

Listen to Curiosity to Go, Ep. 16: Stand in the Place Where You Live.

I grew up with my father’s refrain always in my ears: “If you change your point of view, you will see something new.” And so it is with people, and their stories, and the places in which we live, and the spaces we build for ourselves. If we change our point of view, if we seek another’s perspective, if we listen to the stories that bear no resemblance to our own, if we have just a little courage, I think Dave Isay is right: great things are going to happen.

If you change your point of view you will see something new.

Special thanks to StoryCorps for permission to use a clip from this video for this week’s show.

Check out StoryCorps’ new initiative One Small Step which will invite pairs of people of all backgrounds, who hold opposing political viewpoints, to record personal interviews with the goal of empowering participants and the people who hear these conversations to cross partisan divides and better understand each other.

Advertisements
Choose to be Curious, Life Lessons

My WERA Story

This week WERA-LP 96.7 FM “Radio Arlington” is celebrating both its second anniversary and its first fund drive. Both are pretty big milestones for a brave little enterprise that combines a lot of moving parts with not a lot of guarantees.

First, the pitch: please support Arlington’s only community radio station. You can do it right here, right now, and then you can read on in peace, secure in the knowledge that you’ve made an important contribution to the health and wellbeing of a wonderful community asset. Thank you. 

And now we’ll return to our regularly scheduled broadcast…

Before there was the radio show, there was the blog. Every week, twice a week, for two full years, I chronicled the path from where I was to…wherever it was I was going.  I wrote:

Lynn seasideI dodged cancer, wrote the last tuition check, mourned friends gone too soon and decided the universe was trying to tell me something. Life is short, it seemed to be saying. Don’t waste the free pass.

So I left the job I had held for a dozen years at an organization I’d loved for nearly 30. So did my husband. We stepped out into the unknown together – and here we are, figuring it out. My plan is to get a plan.

It’s like being the twenty-somethings our sons actually are.

So I’m listening to the universe, trying to learn the lessons it has to offer. Some of the lessons are awesomely big, some are tenderly small.

Every minor tragedy, victory or inane moment of my sons’ youth (and, admittedly, young adulthood to-date and likely well into our mutual decrepitude) has or will potentially be fodder for what I call a “Life Lesson.” I trust they’ve grown accustomed to my pronouncements in this regard. Here, I’m trying to collect the ones I’ve been learning – memorializing them for myself and anyone else who will listen.

Who am I to give life lessons? Just a girl grown up, with grey hair and laugh-lines to show for it. Daughter, sister, friend, wife, mother; hard-working, mission-driven former executive;  unrepentant volunteer; middling cook; reliable ear to the universe and others.

Life Lesson #1: The unexamined life isn’t worth living — and the best things in life are shared.   ὁ δὲ ἀνεξέταστος βίος οὐ βιωτὸς ἀνθρώπῳ

In the course of blogging, I chronicled my deepening relationship with Arlington Independent Media, WERA and community radio, not really knowing where it would take me, but enjoying the journey.

The adventure began at the Central Library, in the Fall of 2014. I attended the Leadership Arlington Homecoming “LEAD Talks” — like TED Talks, but way less intimidating. A lovely talk on the Five Precepts of Service stood out as both instructive and inspiring. I decided I wanted to give such a talk.

A year later, back at the Library, I fulfilled my promise to myself — with a talk about curiosity that proved far more fateful than I could ever have imagined. At the end of the event, Arlington Independent Media’s director of community programs Jackie Steven shared exciting news: a new low-power FM community radio station was launching soon  in Arlington. She urged us to visit and learn more.

I took my curiosity to AIM to check out the new station.

I was clearly the newbie in the room.

These guys were serious. They’d been DJs in college. They had recording equipment in their basements, maybe even their living rooms. They had opinions about FCC rulings, recent and historic.

They had their prepared program proposals at the ready.

And, yet, they were so gracious. They were delighted to have new people show up, thrilled to share what they knew, eager to encourage interest and involvement. I give them real props for this mark of true enthusiasts, that newcomers were welcomed and embraced, rather than regarded as just more competition to be crushed.

I never really thought about radio before, but now I’m checking my calendar to book basic studio training, and supplemental audio editing skills after that. It’s fun to be contemplating yet another learning curve on the winding river of this new life.

Life Lesson #28: You never know where life will take you – especially if you let it.

I began to experiment with audio blogs. I took classes. And then it happened…

boothI tested the mics and set the levels. I prepped the auxiliary track. I cued us up. I managed friendly banter with B., and a not-too-shabby segue to my clip. And it all worked. And it was all fun.  And I thought: wow.

I pulled the headphones off to friendly applause, flushed with the realization that I can do this. That this hypothetical can become actual in a not so unthinkable way. That even if the station doesn’t pick up my show, I can make a credible podcast, anyway.

That I can see myself doing this.

Days later, I got the call: my proposal to do a show about curiosity had been accepted. When did I want to start broadcasting? “Don’t let me think about it too long,” I told the caller, “I’ll start in May.”  That was just six weeks away. I had no programs. I was barely trained. But I hustled and the big day quickly came: ingestion.

I just ingested my first episode.

That doesn’t mean that I have swallowed the flash drive I was carrying in my sweaty palm, although it feels a little that way. It means I just took the irrevocable step of uploading for broadcast the .WAV file that is my first radio show.

It’s gone, or up, or in, or some place that shows go before they are on the air.  That happens on Wednesday, at 10:00 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, at WERA-LP 96.7 FM. oh my!

It’s a B+ effort – good, not great; plenty of room for improvement, but credible for a first try. I could recite you all the places that could use more clean-up, that aren’t exactly as I’d like them.  But that would be true if I’d spent another 1,000,000,000 hours on it…and life is short.  I could recite all those places, but I’ve chosen to learn their lessons and move on. The perfect is the enemy of the good. Too much time on this would take the joy out of it — and what’s the point of that?!

Walking to the studio this afternoon I realized the lesson felt familiar, a little like the pottery class I took some years ago. I learned then that there comes a time with every pot when you just have to stop.  More messing with it won’t improve it; it will only collapse the whole thing in on itself. What was once a charmingly slightly off-kilter bowl will suddenly be a sullen lump of mud if over-worked.

The show began to feel like that. Improvements weren’t; tinkering risked clunkers. It was time to stop.

And — to go. Forward. On to the next show, to the new lessons, to a better version of good.

Life Lesson #41: The perfect is the enemy of the good.

And so the show was birthed. With it came accounts at Mixcloud, SoundCloudFacebook, Twitter and eventually iTunes. I’ve grown competent with field mics, mixing clips, and booking talent; with Canva, Spinitron, and even GarageBand. On the first anniversary of what I’ve come to consider my “curiosity adventure” I celebrated:

So, I feel pretty confident the universe has spoken. fullsizeoutput_301

One guest wrote to me after our interview that he though I had found my calling. A cousin described my picture in the WETA segment as radiant. Another guest, early on, said simply: “Look at you: you gotta!”

True enough: I gotta. I wake each day with conceptual threads weaving in my head. I keep long lists of conversations I still want to have. My email is a mess of leads and shows in various stages of incubation. My shelves are a tumble of related reading. My Christmas list? Probably Pro Tools apps and some decent headphones.

What a difference a year makes. What a difference a leap makes. What a difference.

In my most recent show, I paid tribute to analogies, a “Choose to be Curious” staple. At the close of each show, I ask my guests to make an analogy to curiosity with whatever word we pull from my jar. Here’s today’s: Community radio is like curiosity because it allows us to unearth treasures hidden in our midst…it encourages us to listen to new voices…and it provides a vehicle for discovery and adventure.

If you didn’t donate before, can I persuade you to do so now?

And, because I lack all restraint (see “unrepentant volunteer” above), in addition to the premiums offered by WERA in the fund drive, I’ve added an incentive of my own: If you donate $250 or more to WERA’s fund drive, I’ll take you and five of your friends for an Arlington #CuriosityWalk — a never-before-performed feat of ambulatory delight! My goal is to give away three of these. Think I can do it? Me, too.

Thank you!

avatar fund drive 5

Choose to be Curious

#analogy

The beauty in having total creative and editorial control of an enterprise is that you can do whatever you want with it. Few things in life are quite so wonderful — or so potentially overwhelming.

And so it was that when my Big Jar of Wannabe Analogies met an untimely end, I could pay homage in a way that made sense to me, through the medium at my disposal, for an audience I hoped might share some modicum of my sentimental reaction to the loss.

How is the Big Jar of Wannabe Analogies like curiosity? That’s for you to decide…

Listen to Choose to be Curious #42: #Analogy: A Tribute

Listen to all the shows on iTunes.

Professor of language and literature Tonya Howe was one person I felt reasonably certain shared my fondness for analogies, so I dropped in on her office hours to learn more about analogies — and was reminded what fun it was to talk with her about how much the language with which we express and explore curiosity is tangled up in our ideas of femininity.

Listen to Curiosity to Go, Ep. 15: Curiosity By Any Other Name

How is one thing like another, and how best to capture and express that comparison? How — or why — can our view of something be indelibly altered by our association of it with something else? How do we make the most effective (read: constructive, positive, creative-in-all-the-best-senses) use of that power? As we choose to be curious, how does that habit influence the analogies we feel tempted to make?

I’ve learned this: an analogy, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

Through its sturdy soda-lime glass, with its clasp’s signature rattle, by serving up random slips of paper for scores of guests, the Big Jar has helped me see the world just a little differently. Couldn’t ask for much more from an old jar. R.I.P.  B.J.W.A.

Thanks to Sean Balick for permission to use his original composition, None.

Your Love Is Like Clean Water by SongAboutYourPost2 is licensed under a Creative Commons License. 

The World Is Like An Apple… (a mix for Test / Radio Nova March 2001) by Ewan Pearson is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Like A Pig in The Sunshine by Jorge CE is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Choose to be Curious

Curious, But Cautious

Her email opened with, “What do you think about exploring skepticism as the underbelly of curiosity—embracing skepticism by engaging in exploration and moving toward authentic curiosity?”

Authentic curiosity? I thought. Underbelly? Who wouldn’t want to have that conversation?

Keris Myrick, health advocate, one-time CEO, all-the-time thinker, joined me to parse terms. Is she curious, or skeptical? You be the judge.

Listen to Choose to be Curious #41: Skepticism, or is it? with Keris Myrick.

Now you can subscribe on iTunes.

As I did my research, I began to think there’s a continuum between curiosity and skepticism along which critical and evaluative thinking must lie. That brought me back to the conversation with international development, peace building and advocacy evaluator Carlisle Levine.

Listen to Curiosity to Go, Episode 14: Curious, But Cautious

Keris hatterIt wasn’t until the morning of broadcast that the obvious frame for today’s conversation hit me: this is about the hats we wear and how we show up for life and its processes of learning and understanding. Do we take things at face value? Are we playfully curious? Rigorously skeptical? How do we decide which “hat” is right for what occasion? Why?

Keris uses cosplay (short for “costume play” in which adults use costumes and fashion accessories to represent a character) as a way to explore and expand her thinking and experience. The playfulness and pure joy of the hobby are deceptive: this is fun — and it provides a way for people to embody wholly different world views and personae. It requires creativity and an elasticity of self that are important elements in both critical thinking and empathy.

Some sort of thinking cap seems like an intellectual sartorial necessity. Without it, our heads get cold, we hunker into our proverbial coats and brace ourselves against the harsh winds of the unknown. Carlisle’s question, “Anything else?” becomes a warm hood we can throw on, allowing us to stay out in the elements, exploring, just a little longer…

CTG - Anything else

Choose to be Curious

#mycuriouseyes

Astrophysicist and author Mario Livio closes his book Why?: What Makes Us Curious with this, “They say that curiosity is contagious. If that’s true, my advice would be: Let’s turn it into an epidemic.” Think of Karen Ward as a contagion vector.

Listen to Choose to be Curious #40: #mycuriouseyes with Karen Ward.

The 1950s ad man Leo Burnett once wrote, “Curiosity about life in all of its aspects…is still the secret of great creative people.” I found myself leaning into the question of creativity — and the inspiration that sparks it — in this “Curiosity to Go” segment with Karen Ward and musician AJ Smith.

Listen to Curiosity to Go, Ep. 13: It Started with a Spark

That was the inspiration. I asked myself,”What if a group of people around the world got together for a week and shared their lives, through their eyes?”

It wasn’t about the artistry of the pictures. It wasn’t about the profundity of the prose. It wasn’t about anything other than noticing. For ten days, I kept the prompts in mind and wandered about, camera in hand, capturing what caught my eye. (I confess, I had a whole collection of pictures from inspiration I found in the shower — although those required me coming back with said camera.) It was an eclectic selection.

Karen Ward’s invitation to spend a little time each day being curious about how a handful of words — color, shape, texture, pattern — showed up in my day was like taking a staycation. Tourist-like, I regarded my surroundings with new interest. I inspected the unexpected. I marveled at the beauty I found in the every-day. I paid attention.

When we choose to be curious, when we open ourselves to the sights and delights of what’s around us, we literally see our world in a new way. What a gift.

I hope you’ll join me for Karen’s next round of #mycuriouseyes, starting soon on social media near you.

Click on any image to start a slideshow and to read about the image and its inspiration.

To participate in an upcoming #mycuriouseyes project, visit CuriosityGlobal.com.

Subscribe to Choose to be Curious on iTunes.

Choose to be Curious

The Power of Networks

Here’s a little data point that rocked my world: according to multiple peer-reviewed studies, being in an open network — having lots of loose connections — instead of being in a closed network is one of the best predictors of career success.

So I wanted to know: can curiosity help us be better networkers — and more successful?

Answer: but of course!

Listen to Choose to be Curious #39: Networking with Dana Theus

…and, lest we feel too sorry for ourselves in facing the travails of networking, Elizabeth Jones of OAR (Offender Aid and Restoration) was here to remind us that we all have things to overcome — and curiosity helps there, too.

Listen to Curiosity to Go, Ep. 12: The Power of Networks

Here’s what that data looks like when graphed: pretty compelling argument for the power of building large, open networks!

networks

[source: Ron Burt by way of Michael Simmons, The No. 1 Predictor Of Career Success According To Network Science, Forbes, Jan. 15, 2015]

Theorists call it the transformative power of attention – that things get more interesting the more attention we give them. I suppose it’s no different with people: if we bring a little curiosity into the conversation, we discover the depth and nuance that hide beneath the surface.

And, sometimes, we discover we actually like what we find…

pix-lincoln-like-the-man

Choose to be Curious, Life Lessons

The Strange Pull of What You Really Love, or: Wait, What?

“Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love.” ~Rumi

Choose to be Curious is a show all about curiosity. We talk about research and theory, but mostly it is conversations about how curiosity shows up in work and life. This week’s conversation was all about the intersection of those two and discerning the “strange pull” of what we really love.

Listen to Choose to be Curious #38: Finding One’s Calling with Mohamed Ali

My conversation with Moe — meandering as it was, gentle, thoughtful, not racing to any conclusions or hard stops — reminded me of the discussion that unfolded with Revs. Carolyn Richar and Junsen Nettles in an earlier program about curiosity, spirituality and faith. “It is,” said Junsen Nettles, “about the journey.”

Listen to Curiosity to Go, Ep. 11: “It’s About the Journey”

All of which kept drawing me back to a new favorite book entitled, Wait, What? by James E. Ryan, current dean of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education and soon to be president at University of Virginia. Built on his 2016 commencement speech, the slim little volume elaborates just enough on what he calls the “five essential questions of life.” Honestly, the speech isn’t much of a speech – short, not entirely polished, unassuming in an oddly reassuring way. But it’s message is a zinger. It gleams. Mesmerizing in all the best ways. It’s the kind of distillation I’d love to make just once in my life. My hat is off to Mr. Ryan.

Wait,Lest I keep you in suspense any longer, here are the five questions:

  1. Wait, what?
  2. I wonder…
  3. Couldn’t we at least…?
  4. How can I help?
  5. What truly matters?

and a bonus question, from a poem by Richard Carver, And did you get what you wanted from life, even so?

Sit with those a moment and feel their heft.

Deceptively simple, not even all questions. Pithy. They are an embodied choice to be curious – a choice to bring energy and optimism and a commitment to good to each moment. I find them profoundly empowering. They anchor curiosity in a value even greater than itself, one bound up in a desire to understand, contribute, leave the world a better place. They are a call to action, a summons to the journey that is a life well-led.

I would like to live in a world where to call people “incurious”is the worst that can be said of them.

I would like to live in a world where to call people “incurious” is the worst that can be said of them. Not only because I think it is a damning statement on its own merits, but because right now we have so many other much more dreadful behaviors to eradicate and I’d like them all gone — gone, with just “incurious” left to be addressed.

Ryan’s “big five” are an antidote to the incurious. Go through life asking yourself those questions in moments large and small and see what that does to your mindset. This is the stuff of radical transformation. All we need do is ask…

To use another favorite curiosity frame: How might we approach each situation allowing ourselves to be surprised, with active inquiry, open to options, asking rather than presuming, anchored in what really matters, finding satisfaction in the journey, even so?