Defining your own terms on Love

I love the challenge: what would it be like to love without rules, so you have to define how and who you love on your own without “guidance.”

Then we’d have to decide what we want and we’d have to build relationships out loud with our partners. We wouldn’t be allowed to be lazy and accept things as “they are” because we’d have to define it and grow in all of those uncomfortable, exploratory and necessary moments of love.

I can’t wait to discuss this with our salon group.

Modern “Faith” Based Organizations: Creative Mornings

Maybe the modern “faith” based organization can go beyond traditional religious frameworks, I asked myself last Friday morning while I was walking to work after Creative Mornings. I want to unpack what it means to have “faith.”

Background:

Creative Mornings is now an international organization built on small localized groups who agree to host free events on Friday mornings before work in their communities. There is normally a theme, one keynote speaker, and sometimes a musician opener and a handful of 30 second pitches from the community. The audience signs up a few days before the event and joins together for breakfast and conversation before the hour-long live event.

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The audience here in New York is very creative: the usual attendees are researchers, artists, strategists, developers, and students. It is also one of the warmest audiences I’ve ever seen in New York, because it’s an audience that is excited and ready to get up early and explore challenging themes like Risk, Love, Freedom, Ethics, Sex, and Revolution.

What does it mean to have “faith?”

I am very much struggling with this question. If “Faith” is tied to specific organized religions, and I find myself outside of those communities right now, can I explore “faith” more broadly?

For now, I am working with this definition: maybe “faith” can be about hope, and designing for the people and world I hope we can become, that I know we have inside of us when we feel safe and loved. Maybe finding “faith” can be about spending time in communities that share my values and want to work towards a more inclusive, generous, and peaceful world. Let’s start with this as an option.

Creative Mornings introduced me to some new tools and questions about “faith.” 

In June, I went to a Creative Mornings event while in a daze after the Brexit was announced, and it helped me find some direction: instead of mourning what we were losing, I was going to celebrate and support the creators. Michaela Angela Davis asked really challenging questions about race and activism in the United States.

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She also taught us about what it means to think strategically and do the hard things when we need to act. This event set me on a new track to manage my media intake (specifically, on the election and the terror that Trump’s campaign embodies) and it taught me to think more strategically about how I want to participate.

Last week, we explored Love with someone who is very much still healing from her experience losing a child/loved one. Maggie Doyne is known for her work building the next generation of a home for children without families. She shared her very personal journey with grief and finding a way back to her work, and she reminded us, “love is the hardest thing, but it is the only thing that heals us.” To love is a choice, to keep your heart open is a choice.

I've been listen non-stop to Amy Vachal since she opened for the July Creative Mornings.
I’ve been listen non-stop to Amy Vachal since she opened for Maggie Doyne at the July Creative Mornings/NY.

That afternoon, I posted “On this day, and every day, Love will win. The darkness cannot take my mind (so I’ll keep learning). It cannot take my joy (so I’ll keep playing). It cannot take my heart, so I’ll keep loving). Love will win. Today and every day.” I received so many letters of love from my friends and mentors. I could create and be part of the community that I thought I was looking for, but really had created around me. I needed this reminder, though I hope one day I will stop questioning it.

I’ll keep coming to Creative Mornings, because it offers a new question to grow into each month. 

This experience, like so many others, depends on what you put into it and how open to the experience you’re willing to be. I appreciate that it helps me explore “faith” and my values each month, and it provides beautiful moments to remind us we’re less alone than we think we are.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I’ve noticed a real desire within my friends/neighbors for a community that discusses ethics and shares values like promoting equal opportunity and values local volunteer work. It started, more loosely, last summer while I was exploring creative communities. In these posts, I am exploring what people are creating in these communities and trying to figure out where I can fit in, support, and keep learning. 

Collecting beautiful little things from the TED Community.

Many darks things in the news these last few weeks (perhaps months, at this point). While it was hard to block it out and re-center for a while, I found my peace in my communities. We cannot let the darkness win, so instead, let us celebrate the good we create together and the beautiful, little things. These are a few things from my community within TED that brought some light and healing into the week.

This week, I briefly caught up with a friend (and previous co-worker) who went to Baton Rouge a week ago to join the protests when we ran into each other in the Strand, unplanned. I was standing over a shelf of books, looking for Andrew Soloman’s newly published collection of essays, but also taking my quiet moment of solace in my favorite of sacred spaces (bookstores). She was taking a break from her office, trying to digest everything that she had seen and experienced, while trying to integrate back into New York. We bought sought that moment of peace over a table of books. I looked up to see her beaming, even through her complicated thoughts and reflections. While it took me a moment to process who I was seeing in front of me, her warmth made my face involuntarily break into an easy smile. That was a moment I needed and celebrate, even while so much else was brewing in the background. Andrew’s TED2014 talk offers some moments of his own healing:

This talk from Adam Savage at TED2016 is a series of beautiful little moments in a very creative community. It was amazing to watch coworkers post this talk this week alongside pictures of their children creating their own costumes, memories from their own adventures in make-believe worlds, and artists sharing stories from their own creative communities.

I went to see Finding Dory this week in a movie theatre with my partner. I forgot how magical Pixar’s movies are. There are characters we’re joking about a week later and scenes I described to my mother, hoping she would go see it too so we could talk about them. It reminds me of the talk from TEDTalks Live this past fall where lighting designer Danielle Feinberg talked about the effect of color and light in animated stories.

I appreciate them even more than I used to, because we work so closely to the amazing animators behind TED-Ed’s Lessons.

This team puts so much love into their work. It’s visible in their work and their willingness to teach others about their craft. They regularly volunteer to do workshops in the rest of our community (and get extremely positive feedback, because they are amazing teachers!) and one animator even teaches art classes regularly in a school in her community!

A friend asked me to send her a talk that gave me hope, and I was grateful to return to this talk by May El-Khalil. Peace is a marathon… we have to build our endurance because in the long run, love will win.

I was also deeply inspired by our community this week. The TED residents gave talks about the projects they are working on, and my friend Sheryl, who is a TEDx organizer and immigration attorney, talked about the value of immigration and immigrant stories in the US. It was the perfect antidote to the waves of far right backlash in politics right now.

Sheryl Winareck, TED Residents talks, July 2016
Sheryl Winareck, TED Residents talks, July 2016

I am grateful to be part of this community today and every day. The optimism is infectious and the common belief holding us together is a share love for ideas, experiments, creative growth, and hope for a better future. We see the good, here and now, but we also see what we could become and we celebrate it.

I want to end with an essay written by TED’s CEO, Chris Anderson on the value of ideas. It was the hope in the dark we needed, just after the Brexit vote… Ideas matter, more than ever.

Why ideas matter … now more than ever

Celebrating the creators.

I stayed up late to read the Brexit results and commentary last night. In the last few weeks, the media has been filled with heart break after heart break, and our politics seem to be filled with people who only want to destroy and move backwards. But we cannot let them win. We may grieve, but we must give our attention, love and joy to those who create.

The real leaders, the brave ones, are those that create, not destroy. Let’s celebrate the creators. 

I got up early and went to creative mornings in Gowanus. The theme was appropriately “Broken,” and the speaker Michaela Angela Davis was the perfect person to speak this morning. She talked about race in the United States, and the terrorism of Jim Crow, but she ended on an important high note. There was time for us to heal together.

She said her grandmother, who grew up during a time when lynchings were common and she had to survive. “This was life.” Davis explained, her grandmother did not have time to process her feelings because survival meant defying what was expecting and fighting the power.

Her mother was part of the civil rights movement, fighting the power. “This was liberty.” Each generation building on the next. They were creating a new world together.

“And I am pursuing happiness like it is a revolution.” Davis is creating the world she wants to live in, and creating a world for her daughter to survive, be free, and thrive in. This is what it means to create.

Most importantly, Davis reminded us all that we cannot take on the grief and sadness of our ancestors. They suffered to create a better world, if we take on their suffering we have not fully accepted and lived the world they fought to create. We can take on their pride, but we must keep fighting and celebrating growth to move forward.

I needed to hear all of this this morning. The room was filled with laughter and sorrow but most importantly people who came together because we want to create, not destroy. I want to celebrate these kindnesses and give them my love and attention so we can grow.

Because it’s always easy to leave, but harder and more rewarding to stay and grow together. So let’s grow. Let’s love.

What is the Extended Eulogy?

For me, growing up in a Mexican family meant that death was about curation.

See, in Mexico, we remember the dead regularly – to us, the line between living and dead is not so thick. In those moments, we are expected to interact directly with the person we are remembering.

Our communities created profiles of our loved ones … in their own words. On the Day of the Dead, We reread letters they wrote, quote them, relived our interactions and favorite meals… and because these people do not exist as a static, as they might in a formalize biography, they live on as a multi-faceted memory.

But I wondered, how did other people design these profiles? How often are we able to remember those that we love through their words?

I started a research project for my Learning Wednesday – I call it, The Extended Eulogy.

It started because I had a mentor figure from college who died in April after a long battle with cancer. We knew him as the Master of Saybrook College, my program at Yale. We remembered him through the events he hosted and the comforting words he offered when we needed them.

But to the rest of the world, Master Hudak as a super hacker. For the months that he was in the hospital, receiving treatment until the end of his life, he was as the subject of discussion within the top 10 hits on major hacker chat boards around the world.

I started thinking about the profiles that each of Master Hudak’s communities would build around his memory – how would they curate his profile?

To date, I have interviewed several curators for Extended Eulogies. The first was a friend who was a major curatorial voice behind the NYTimes Best Seller “The Opposite of Loneliness,” which is a collection of essays written by my former classmate Marina Keegan. Marina passed away tragically in a car crash in 2012. This book lives on as her legacy.

The second is an artist who was asked to grant three wishes by a friend of hers as he died of complications from AIDS in 90s. His Extended Eulogy was an exhibition of his photographs that she curated. As you walked through the collection, you walked through a timeline of his creative mind.

Both of these curators told me that when they reviewed the work by their friends… they could hear their voices in it.

I narrowed the scope of my research to three framing questions. Each time I asked them:

How did you remember this person?

How did the world know this person?

What questions did this person spend their life trying to answer?

Just a week or two after Master Hudak’s death, I learned that my grandfather had been diagnosed with cancer.

The Extended Eulogies research project started to morph… into a living profile.

I am on a mission to collect all of the memories for his profile that I can… but most importantly, I need to capture his memories in his own words.

What you need to know about my grandfather is I grew up allowed to believe in legends and heroes, because my grandfather was one of these heroes.

Orphaned twice by 19, he received a partial scholarship to play football for the University of Nebraska and put himself through college while supporting his young family by working nightshifts on the Lincoln, Nebraska Railroad. He was the designer and implementer for the first computer system in Kellogg’s supply chain.

My grandfather created everything he became.

I took a Monday off work to spend the day interviewing him with the StoryCorps app. For four hours, we talked about the future of work, family, and life’s questions big questions… adding dimensions to the man who lived in my memory as a series of family legends and humorous stories.

The difference now between this profile and a biography is that my grandfather has a hand in it.

He is not a writer or an artist, but I want to tell his story and remember him through his voice. His words.

This living profile and the Extended Eulogy is about breathing life into our memories. It is about giving the people we remember enough layers of complexity to remember and celebrate that they were human – that they struggled with questions, and saw themselves one way while the rest of the world may have seen them another way.

The richer the profile, the richer the memory that can live on with us, to interact with us on the Day of the Dead each year. I am grateful for this opportunity to build something full of life with my grandfather.

This is a talk I will give tomorrow at the TED Staff Retreat about my Wednesday Research work. This is a new experiment for me, and it exists largely as a conceptual art piece until I find the right ways to work with my research. 

Heartbreak in a single line.

From this week’s StoryCorps Interview with my grandfather:

Me: Have you ever felt helpless, Grampy?

Jay Schneider: Only in the last 10 minutes of your grandmother’s life. She was hemorrhaging and there was nothing any of us could do to stop it, we saw that it was the end. So I held her hand and said, I’m sorry, my love, I can’t help you.

[[I am trying to capture the beauty of his heart in something I need to write this week… and this line has been bouncing through my head and heart since Monday]]

A Time Capsule

For my next birthday, I am creating a time capsule. Not a traditional one that I will bury in the ground and dig up in 20 years… more like an internet tattoo to mark where I am right now.

I’ve had a few days to reflect on the StoryCorps interviews with my grandfather this week. He really loved the experience and my relatives have all reached out to me to ask for access to the recordings. They want to hear what he said about his childhood, which we all only knew a handful of stories about, and his first jobs, losing my grandmother, his parents… all of it.

What is cool is that his thoughts and the crossroads he encountered in his life will now be preserved and searchable for our generations of Schneiders well into the future.

I want to add to my internet tattoo so I can remember the friendships that have meant so much to me and have been part of shaping my years here in this chapter of my life. I am asking a handful of my close friends to do a StoryCorps interview with me, where we will talk about how we met, memories we celebrate together, and what the friendship has meant to us. It’s a project about love and celebrating the exploration process of being young and confused, as well as finding our way in new spaces.

I want this to be a time capsule for both of us. I suspect I wont live in the same cities forever, and though some of my friendships defy this, time and space are difficult to overcome for some friendships. At least we can preserve these moments, savor these memories, of when we were young.

Sidenote: I really loved this collection of very real conversations that took place in this project. I hope some of my conversations with my friends will be this honest.