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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...