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Monday, June 7, 2010

That's it. Screw this, I'm giving you my money.

There's free money in this for you.

I'm not being cute.  I will send you cash.

And I'm not being creative either (got this post idea straight from Seth's Blog).  Here's the most relevant excerpt:

"When we set ourselves a deadline, we're incredibly lax about sticking to it. So don't (set it for yourself, in your head, informally). Write it down instead. Hand it to someone else. Publicize it. Associate it with an external reward or punishment. If you don't make the deadline, your friend gives the $20 you loaned her to a cause you disagree with..."

I think this point is right on.  In my life, I've missed a lot of deadlines.  But for the situations in which peers expected/needed/wanted me to deliver, I've much more often (drastically more) shown up on time and with quality.  This has been true for my group projects, competitive teams, childhood plays, lab partners, jobs, everything.  If it matters even a little bit, I'm much less likely to come up short in front of my peers.  I care what you think.

That I care about that has frustrated me for a long time.  We hear from different places that we shouldn't care about what other people think because being influenced by other people's perceptions is a weakness - a sign of insecurity, a lack of self-confidence, something to overcome.  More recently, however, someone told me that growing up is not about cultivating indifference towards external opinions of you and your work but about being able to discern which people's opinions actually should matter to you.

I know I still have work to do in this discerning process - I still do care too much about random people's criticisms when I shouldn't.  But I also know that my life has been INSANELY blessed with peers who think deeply, who live intentionally, and who have consistently done amazing, inspiring, life-giving, stand-up, straight baller things so far in their time on earth.  Micro loans to Nepalis.  Med school after earthquakes.  Surfing couches to move your life forward through the worst economy we've seen.  Holding up your own family, quietly.  Seeing them through.  So many examples and so many I don't even know about, I'm sure.  You guys -- I care what you think of me and my work.

The big project I'm working on and am extremely invested in is this website and resource we've started to teach Haitian Creole: HaitiHub.  We have well over 100 people signed up just waiting to take classes through Skype.  The problem is that I'm already teaching as many classes as I can.  We're bottlenecked until we organize and orient more teachers - either native speakers or former volunteers.  Until this happens, the project is stuck and a ton of people aren't benefiting from online conversation classes and even more people than that in Haiti aren't benefiting from more Creole-fluent and culturally-fluent volunteers.

And yet, somehow, it's been months with "get more teachers" at the top of my HaitiHub to-do list and we don't have a single one (despite interest from many potential teachers).

So here's the deal: The first two people to like or message or comment about this post, for you two, I'm on the hook for $20 each.

On July 7, if HaitiHub doesn't have at least one new teacher, be in touch with me however you want and I'll send what I owe you in whatever way you'd prefer.  That's it.

I care a lot about you and I care enough about the money for this to actually work.  All I can do is thank all of you guys for your friendship and everything you do and for helping me make some progress with HaitiHub.

(Here at the end, I almost don't want to post because there's something very performative about all this...but I do know that it really will increase the chances of us getting another teacher on board, so onward!)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A favorite poet

Gary Young is so great.  He reminds me that I want to write poems again some day.

He reminds me also of a quote from Christian Wiman of Poetry Magazine: "Let us remember...that in the end we go to poetry for one reason, so that we might more fully inhabit our lives and the world in which we live them, and that if we more fully inhabit these things, we might be less apt to destroy both."

I'm off to bed but here is one of Gary Young's sparse, untitled prose poems from his book titled "If He Had." It's best to read it aloud to yourself, slowly. (unfortunately, blogspot is messing with the original line breaks...)

I thought I could save the boy. The world could be remade, and the boy would survive.  Penance, prayer, the smallest gesture can change the world. So can I. But so can the birds yammering in the trees, and the trees, and the wind that moves them all around. The world is every promise and possibility. Am I still a father, he asks, now that I have no son? Oh, yes, I tell him. Now more than ever.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

"We put on our stories before our clothes."

A fantastic quote from William Wenthe.

And here are 19 others all about the writing life.  These constitute the Top 20 Quick Quote Contest results (out of several hundred) as judged by the folks at a really good, small literary journal called Crazyhorse  which is attached to the College of Charleston (keep writing, everyone!):

The Top-20 Quotes 

“What I like in a good author is not what he says, but what he whispers.”
Logan Pearsall Smith

“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” 
—Ernest Hemingway

“The poet: would rather eat a heart than a hambone.” 
—Theodore Roethke

“If there is a special Hell for writers it would be in the forced contemplation of their own works.” 
—John Dos Passos

“I only write when I feel the inspiration. Fortunately, inspiration strikes at 10:00 o’clock every day.” 
—William Faulkner

“If you’re going to be crazy, you have to get paid for it or else you’re going to be locked up.” 
—Hunter S. Thompson

“The writer operates at a peculiar crossroads where time and place and eternity somehow meet. His problem is to find that location.” 
—Flannery O’Connor

“I write a little every day, without hope and without despair.” 
—Isak Dinesen

“Write, damn you! What else are you good for?” 
—James Joyce

“If I don’t write to empty my mind I go mad.” 
—Lord Byron

“I could claim any number of high-flown reasons for writing, just as you can explain certain dogs behavior... But maybe, it’s that they’re dog, and that’s what dogs do.” 
—Amy Hempel

“Writing is easy. You just sit down at the typewriter and open a vein.” 
—Red Smith

“Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement; then it becomes a mistress, and then it becomes a master, and then a tyrant.” 
—Winston Churchill

“Always pull back—and see how silly we must look to God.” 
—Jack Kerouac

“The end of all our exploring will be to arrive when we started and know the place for the first time.” 
—T.S. Eliot

“If you’re a good writer, these days, you pay attention to the way that people don’t pay attention.” 
—Charles Baxter

"There are three rules to writing a novel and nobody knows what they are." 
—Wm. Somerset Maugham

"Writing is finally a series of permissions you give yourself to be expressive in certain ways. To leap. To fly. To fail."
—Susan Sontag

“We put on our stories before our clothes….” 
—William Wenthe

“All good writing is swimming underwater and holding your breath." 
—F. Scott Fitzgerald

"All I am is the trick of words writing themselves." 
—Anne Sexton

Friday, May 7, 2010

Bottom of my to-do list: follow up

So a number of weeks ago I decided to take up carving woodblock.  I wrote about it being important because it's precisely the "least important" thing I could spend time on.  That post here.

Just wanted to share the first creation.  It's a carved relief kind of thing in basswood with ink - maybe 3" x 4".  I stole the design completely from a surf website (linked to in that earlier blog post).  It's pretty crude and took a long time for such a tiny piece but I had a ton of fun making it and hopefully more creations are coming soon.

Here's to the bottom of all our to-do lists!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


So I've decided to write a book - a concise Creole learning textbook.

As the first 8-week session of HaitiHub classes comes to a close, we've built up a good amount of supplementary exercises, new vocabulary sets, clarifications/expansions of certain topics, etc in addition to what's already in the Wally Turnbull book around which classes have been structured (Creole Made Easy: A simple introduction to Haitian Creole for English speaking people).

As I've been thinking about how to incorporate all of the new material with the existing stuff, I came to the conclusion that a whole new text could be more straightforward, applicable, and comprehensive than could a mashup of my material with the Turnbull. So hopefully in the not too distant future (within 2010?) HaitiHub will have it's own book!

And how will this happen? Well, I'm not sure exactly. But I've read on a few different blogs that Lulu is the place to start for self-publishing. I've only now started exploring their website more closely, but it's pretty amazing stuff. Check it out:

And if you're at work on a book of your own, I'd love to hear about it. Let's all of us keep writing!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

I went for a panel on Haiti and found Heaven!

This past weekend was the 15th Annual LA Times Festival of Books held on the UCLA campus. Shame on me but as a native Angelino, not only had I never been to this festival, I don't remember ever even hearing about it! I'm trying to see LA with a tourist's eyes for a change and, ironically, that's helping me get to know the city in a deeper way.

When I started poking around the Festival website, the thing that sealed the deal for me was a panel called "Haiti and Recovery From Disaster." The panel was made up of UC Irvine professor Amy Wilentz, author of "The Rainy Season: Haiti Since Duvalier," journalist and current Berkeley professor Mark Danner who is author of "Stripping Bare the Body," and author Rebecca Solnit whose latest is "A Paradise Built in Hell" which is an interesting book about how people self-organize in the aftermath of catastrophic natural disasters that turn society on its head. The panel was moderated by Davan Maharaj who is the managing editor of the LA Times. A great lineup, to be sure. And the cost of entry to attend this panel? One dollar on ticketmaster.

I was really blown away by the entire Festival. It was just SO deeply encouraging to see so many people voluntarily attending panels and presentations given by world class thinkers on consequential topics. Nobody had to be there, but even the large convocation halls on the UCLA campus were filled with hundreds of people throughout the day for different talks. The day itself could not have been more beautiful - sunny, warm, everywhere you looked people were holding books, or hands, or food, or dog leashes, or babies, or bags of free recipes, music, poetry. The crowd was so diverse in that amazing way you only find in big cities. Everyone was sharing public spaces either on the stairs of the large campus buildings or the installed event tables, or the soft grass. Aromas from the cooking stage, mariachi from the music stage, readings by elementary school poets, free samples, laughter everywhere, handicap access, I mean you name it and it was there making the day awesome.

I left with a free Qur'an, free CD of Buddhist chant, free poster on US involvement in Haiti, free bookmarks, and the Wilentz book on Haiti since Duvalier (which I did pay for). Not to mention great notes from several really awesome sessions. A panel called "Rebooting Culture: Narrative and Information in the New Age" was particularly good. The panel pointed out in the course of the debate that today, in some ways, we are more in love with the narrative than ever before (we turn everything into a story - just look at reality tv which is doing a great bit of business turning kids' stupid, random lives in beach cities into narratives or look at politics - most recently the Obama vs. Palin matchup which was largely a contest of competing narratives/personal histories). And yet, at the same time that we're eating up more and more narrative all the time, our attention spans our shrinking and the way we live and consume information is becoming less linear.

Anyway, check out David Shields and Nicholas Carr for more on all of that.

My big conclusion is that yes, so many things everywhere are screwed up and horrific. But when a city can offer something like the LA Times Festival of Books, make it accessible to everyone, and fill the place over one weekend with tens of thousands of people who are engaged, challenged, and joyful, God it just makes me stand in awe of what goodness people are capable of and it forces, thankfully, a rush of hope into me.

Friday, April 23, 2010

No. Way. Skateistan?

Maybe this organization is old news to you (as it looks like their story broke internationally in 2008) but I just heard about it thanks to my great buddy Jake.

I almost can't believe it. Talk about sharing your gifts. Talk about outside the box. Talk about courage on the part of the local communities as well as the founders.

I'm headed to bed here, but what a fantastic thing to learn about before calling it a day:


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The new machines might save us.

HaitiHub conversation classes are in full swing. I couldn't be happier with the successes we've had so far and the possibilities that remain for this kind of language learning and community building online that has VERY real impact on the kind and quality of cooperation that occurs on the ground in Haiti.

But HaitiHub is not the point of this post. Technology is.

Just a few hours ago, one student, who normally joins the Tuesday class from Tennessee, signed into Skype and joined the HaitiHub conference call (which in itself is an amazing technology offered FOR FREE) from his iPhone outside of Jacmel, Haiti in a small community inaccessible to cars. You can't even drive a truck up these hillsides, but you can use your phone from there to interact with satellites in a way that connects your voice to four other voices in Southern California, South Carolina, Pennsylvania and Alberta, Canada over the internet. I thought this student was going to miss the HaitiHub class - but there he was.

There's a smart phone app called Radio Haiti that allows you to listen to live Haitian radio stations.

Friends from Haiti who don't have electricity in their homes have Facebook accounts and sign in from time to time using the employee computers available in the NPH-Haiti Hospital.

Technology is bringing us closer and closer all the time and it's happening at a dizzying pace. I know that I'm supposed to be young and at the heart of all things tech and web2.0 but holy poop I can't keep up with all of this. I mentioned to someone that I had started a blog and they told me to check out Tumblr. Here's a quote from Tumblr's website:

"Tumblr: Microblogging done right. Tumblr is to blogs what text messages are to email."

Okay, I'm 25 and grew up on video games but I'm still gonna need a minute to wrap my head around that one...

Half the time I wish it would all slow down. But the other half of the time, I wish it would progress even faster because all these developments are opening doors and connecting people and solving problems.

Now if only there was an app to summarize the 1000 unread blog posts in my Google Reader...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The pleasure center in our brains.

I don't think there's any fighting it. That's my big conclusion.

What lights up the pleasure centers in people's brains will vary, of course, from one individual to another. For some, it's jumping out of an airplane, for others it's reading a really good book, and for someone else it's speaking to a group that will buzz that pleasure center and make her feel really alive.

Whatever floats your boat, once that pleasure center goes off you're going to come back for more. Whether it's more shopping, more hours volunteering, more crack, or more jogging, you'll be back. We all will be.

Monks of many different faith traditions do an impressive job of denying the world and renouncing pleasures as a way of bettering their lives, as they see it. There's certainly something to be said for that. But it's not for everyone. It's not even for most. Not by a long shot.

But I think that's okay. Because the pleasure center which most of us will never escape is trainable just like our arms and legs have muscle memory and can be taught to perform a physical task or react in a certain way. On some level, if I like something, I like it because at some point I made a choice about it - the choice to try something in the first place and perhaps later the choice to remain open about it and learn and cultivate a deeper appreciation for it. This isn't true for say, apple juice, which I've liked since I was a baby. But it is true for something like swimming, which in the beginning was terrifying and exhausting and in no way activated the pleasure center in my brain but is now something I really enjoy.

I think "pleasure center muscle memory" exists for everyone. And consequently, the important work becomes choosing what you like and liking things that are life-giving and getting really good at really enjoying those things and sharing them with others rather than directing a lot of energy at feeling guilty or renouncing the world.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

I'm also a fan of Father Rick Frechette

I posted earlier about Fr. Rick's new book but I don't think I introduced him at all. In brief, Father Rick is the founder of all NPH operations in Haiti. My respect and admiration for the guy absolutely cannot be understated. It's hard for me to say much more than that, but if you're interested in Father Rick's story and ongoing works, in addition to checking out his book, a google search will pull up a wealth of articles and videos.

This most recent video update about the NPH-Haiti rebuilding efforts is particularly inspiring. Such unimaginable tragedies and he's already moving forward again. It's literally incredible sometimes. Watching it makes me glad I happened not to take a nap today...

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

I'm a fan of Seth Godin

And so are millions of other people so I'm certainly no trail blazer here.

His blog is fantastic and I've read just a few of his books and enjoyed them all. His subject matter is marketing, supposedly, but really it's about everything as far as I can tell.

Here's a quick excerpt from his latest book "Linchpin." It comes from a section called "What They Should Teach In School."

"Answering questions like "When was the War of 1812?" is a useless skill in an always-on Wikipedia world. It's far more useful to be able to answer the kind of question for which using Google won't help. Questions like, "What should I do next?""

The whole book is fairly quotable because Seth Godin writes it like a long string of related blog posts. But this one stuck out to me because it's talking about the skill we most need and have the least practice with as very privileged 20-somethings who have the whole world open to us.

Work or go to grad school? Get married or leave the country? Quit my job or get promoted? Buy a puppy, find a financial planner, or become a vegetarian? We can literally do whatever we decide.

What a beautiful, heavy, wonderful gift.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Maybe this is just an English major talking...

but when someone puts the right words in the right order, the words just won't leave me.

A friend had this Howard Thurman quote up the other day on the fbook:

"Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."

Monday, March 22, 2010

The absolute bottom of my to-do list.

That's where "learn to carve woodblock art by hand" should go.

But I just bought a book online about carving woodblock and I'll tell you why. Because I saw some woodblock art on a surf website and I really liked it. And I want to try to make some art.

And because one year I didn't read any books.

Seriously, not a single one for about a whole year somewhere in 08 to 09. And it happened that way because I had a HUGE, backed up "to-read" list full of books I'd been meaning to get to for forever. Big important, award-winning books.

Guns, Germs, and Steel. Infinite Jest. The Armchair Economist.

Every time I saw a new book that looked interesting, I'd force myself not to buy or borrow it, thinking, "Nope. Stay disciplined. You can read that new book after you cross some of these important books off the list first."

The end result was that I didn't read anything.

And then one summer day in a moment of weakness I said screw it and I started reading the first Harry Potter book. Then I read a funny little book called Ignore Everybody. And magically, almost as soon as I blew off the sacred "to-read" list, I finally started reading and crossing books off of that same list because I was reading lots of stuff - some random, some serious, some poetry. Lots.

So there. There are dozens of things I should do before carving woodblock.

But I want to carve woodblock. And I suspect that if I don't start scratching a disfigured whale relief into a block of wood, I might stop doing everything that I consider more important anyway.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Five complete strangers...

are going to meet up tomorrow morning at 11am Eastern Standard Time on Skype to practice conversational Haitian Creole. One is a student, another is an interpretor for farm laborers here in the US, the third is a humanitarian non-profit accountant, the fourth is a nurse, and the fifth is me.

At the end of the hour, we'll have started forming a community of friends and fellow volunteers. We'll know more about each other, about the organizations each of us is involved in, and about the Creole language! This will happen every Saturday at 11am EST with this group for the next 8 weeks.

Eventually, five more people will be closer to Creole fluency and five more organizations will have started the essential work of coordinating efforts so that the best, most sustainable solutions get to Haiti as efficiently as possible.

This is what happens at

Webmaster Jamie and myself have been working a lot on this project. It was piloted for about 5 weeks before the Jan 12 earthquake with 4 students. Now, with three newly launched "Introduction to Creole" classes full with 4 students each, about 30 more students already waiting, and more Creole teachers soon to join Haitihub, this thing is moving and we couldn't be more thrilled.

We hope you can be a part of this ride! Be in touch if you would like to get involved somehow.

So much love to everyone!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Father Rick's first book

I just received my copy of Father Rick's first book entitled, "Haiti - The God of Tough Places, the Lord of Burnt Men." It's available on Amazon here.

I've read only the introduction and the first chapter so far. The book is small - just over 100 pages of collected stories, reflections, sermons, and poetry recounting Father's incredible experiences in Haiti. The accounts focus primarily on the time after Aristide's ouster in 2004 and the ensuing instability and wars among rival Port au Prince gangs and between all gangs and the MINUSTAH (the United Nations peacekeeping force sent after the ouster which remains in the country until today at about 9000 strong).

The introduction is written by Academy Award winning writer/director Paul Haggis (Crash, Million Dollar Baby, Casino Royale...) who first came to Haiti in 2007 as part of our NPH-Italy fundraising office's big visit that year. He has since started a non-profit (Artists for Peace and Justice) and has gotten a lot of Hollywood folks involved in Father Rick's work through it.

I'm looking forward to finishing Father Rick's book. It's interesting to hear his voice coming through in a book - I've never heard it in that medium. The stories are so strange and so amazing.

It's expensive for such a short read, but the proceeds support all of NPH-Haiti's work. Definitely a book worth checking out.

In Haiti, there was "THE disaster"

and there was the disaster before "THE disaster" and now there is the disaster after "THE disaster."

This article is about after. And it wrecks me to read it and think about our hospital and other NPFS employees, many of whom are still sleeping in makeshift outdoor shelters with their families.

Here's the link.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I used to believe everything happened for a reason...

I wonder about that now.

The brother of one of my best friends from volunteering in Haiti was killed in the Jan 12 earthquake. He wasn't a volunteer - he was visiting his sister in Port au Prince for just a few days. Wanted to see what her life there was like. The timing was just all wrong.

At his memorial service in Phoenix, my friend's parents were adamant; they didn't want to hear from anyone that this was God's plan or that this all happened for a reason.

For the little things in life, it works to think "this happened for a reason" - that's probably why it's worked for me for so long. If you fail a class or if your dream job doesn't hire you or if your heart is broken, it works to think: "This happened for a reason." That thought helps you heal, move forward, continue with all the other good things in life.

But some things are too tragic for that. Some things just happen. And any good that we can draw out of those tragedies is a testament to the strength of the human spirit and, I believe, the goodness of a God who is for us and who does not invent and unleash disasters on some people simply for the edification of others.

Sons don't die in collapsed buildings so that their fathers, who outlive them, can learn something. Young mothers don't die suddenly, tragically, for a purpose. They just die. And our work becomes not to tease out the lesson plan buried in the catastrophe, but to be with those who have lost loved ones. To see the world made dimmer in one small place because of the absence. To live to make another place, somewhere else, brighter.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Whaat? - This is mind blowing!

In some ways, I've given up on trying to quit procrastinating. The best I can do sometimes is just to push myself to procrastinate in more productive ways. To that end, when I don't feel like doing what I should really be doing, sometimes I watch TED Conference talks because they're so amazing.

I found this talk the other day while lollygagging. It's about happiness - synthetic happiness and humans' psychological immune system. It's a complete head trip and will make you think about this eternally-sought-after emotion in a very different way. Here's the link.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The earthquake and a new "lost generation" in Haiti

Thanks to Robin, I read a well written and extremely sad article today about the loss of Haiti's young professionals. The link here:

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Was never a history fan till now...

I'm reading and immensely enjoying a book on Haiti's history. I'm only 45 pages in but it's fascinating. It's called: "Paradise Lost: Haiti's tumultuous journey from pearl of the Caribbean to third world hotspot." I realized that I'd never read a real history of the country (nothing more comprehensive than wikipedia or the CIA world factbook's country profile) and I'm glad I found this one. I think the real draw is how many holes in my first-hand knowledge are being filled with this factual overview. Here's an excerpt from the intro:

"However colorful their tales might be, Haiti's admirers and its detractors have only scratched the surface of it's history, leaving the general public unaware of some of Haiti's most unique features. For example, how many know that Haiti was once richer than the United States? That the first European settlement in the New World was built in Haiti? That Haiti was the first free black republic in the world, and the second colony in the Western Hemisphere to gain its independence? That the celebrated American ornithologist John James Audubon was born in Les Cayes, Haiti? That the French novelists Alexandre Dumas pere and fils descended from a Haitian general born of a white planter and his black slave? That one million Haitian Americans live in the United States today? That child slavery still exists in Haiti? That American troops landed in Port-au-Prince in 1915, 1994, and 2004?" (Girard, 4-5)

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Let's see what comes of this...

I'm starting a blog. And here it is.

I'm doing this for two reasons.

The first is that I've read one too many times now, in books by Keith Ferrazzi, Seth Godin, and others, that this is the age of the personal brand and that a blog can tell more about you, more about what moves you, than a resume or interview ever could.

The second is that an extremely destructive earthquake hit Haiti on Jan 12, 2010. In the immediate days after the quake, I got an email from a colleague connected with NPH (the org I volunteered with in Port au Prince in 2007 and 2008). In it she said:

"I also know that you have an internet presence, and can rally support for Haiti. There is desperate need, and we are moving into action. Let me know if you need any more contact information for Friends or NPH."

The internet presence she was referring to was the online magazine - which Webmaster Jamie and I created during my 07-08 volunteer term.

A personal online presence can be a serious tool. That didn't hit home for me until Jan 12. Now that it has, there's a real obligation to get good using it.

Thank you for being here. Let's see what comes of this...