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Afterthoughts. Why is it so hard to learn from the past?
And introducing our first REAL podcast.
(disclaimer: I am writing this as several things in this world feel like they are falling apart. I showed up to work today with the idea that I would just get through the day. Do what I do. Help where I can. I am praying for peace. I am writing this to help me accept myself the way I am and to offer some acceptance to yourself too. No one knows how to be in this moment.)
I am someone who can never think of a comeback at the moment. I don’t have a sharp tongue. Do you stu over things left unsaid? Brainstorming ways that you could have answered better? I do. Do you?
Last weekend, I was invited to speak in Phoenix for Phoenix Design Week. The topic of the conference was Unity. I am not a public speaker. Before the talk, my psychiatrist asked me if I had ever had anything bad happen before speaking publicly before. I said yes. Most of the time, things turn out ok. But I bombed my sister’s wedding speech (I took 3 shots of rum before it started to “calm” my nerves when reading my 8-page novella to 150 guests). Then again recently failed when my dear friend Amanda got married, I wrote a speech about how we define marriage in this moment. There is a bit in it where I talk about marriage not having to mean that you are only going to have sex with one person for the rest of your life. That 25% of all marriages have some sort of new terms or cheating. If we are being honest, marriage and monogamy don’t always have to go together. I could feel my jaws drop when I said it. (Or at least the jaws of the people who I still had their attention.)
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After the speech, Amanda hugged me. And told me that it was funny because she and her now husband had had a talk about only having sex with each other for the rest of their lives. That they wanted to make that commitment. In my head, I had given them permission to define and choose what they wanted marriage to mean to them. And this act of choosing a life together is sacred, beautiful, and far from perfection. It is what is cool about living in the current moment: choice.
The night before Amanda’s wedding speech, I asked someone who was in the wedding party for advice. He said, “Keep it short. And funny. People like funny.” I know I had asked his opinion, but in reality, I didn’t want to hear it. I wanted him to say that honesty and noting the profound shifts in how we think about our relationships as humans is paramount. “Say something heartfelt.”
As with most things, I said the things that I wanted to hear and heard the things that I wanted to hear. I ignored his (good) advice that I had asked for.
I went on and on about how our ideas of marriage were changing - that the look and feel of togetherness was not a prescription anymore but more so a life design project with the details still being figured out. A shapeshifting nexus of meaning that it was our job to define and celebrate.
Okay, so I have given some bad talks (it’s weird, I feel like I should have known, and people told me that I needed to format the talks for the occasion). My psychiatrist offered a medical solution. I would take something to help with my “PTSD.” But I don’t have PTSD I told her. I am actually totally fine. And I cannot take a new drug before a talk in front of 300 people. I assumed that drugs for PTSD were for people who had been in wars. Had complex trauma. Been exposed to things. We all had been exposed to COVID-19, did that mean that we all perhaps were experiencing symptoms of PTSD?
Yes. Possibly. But also, people with medical diagnoses get them too. My body was edging into a state of high alertness and elevated cortisol for something that really was not life or death. However, inside my body, this talk was life and death, according to my hormone levels.
I gave the talk in Phoenix. People keep asking me how it went. I keep saying, “it went.” The talk itself was based on a spiritual gathering. We started with a poem, by Maggie Smith, sang songs, folded up these little origami fortune tellers, and ate chocolate with our eyes closed. I hired this guy named Anthony to be a drummer for the talk. He came. You can see him below:
When it was over, there was a brief question-and-answer session. If no one asks any questions, I typically assume that people are not engaged. That is not a good sign. The bare minimum that we want when we are talking to people is to have their attention.
“Does anyone have anything hard to ask me? I like questions that are going to make me uncomfortable…” I spoke. A hand went up in the back of the auditorium in the Phoenix Art Museum…
“What does any of this have to do with design and creativity? We are at a design conference, what value does singing together have for designers?”
It was the same question that my mother-in-law had asked me the week before when I was prepping for the talk. At the time, my husband answered for me. He explained with the sort of authority over my work and his mother that I was trying to design an experience that would generate a feeling of unity. The theme of the conference. She seemed satisfied with that answer. As a practicing Christian woman, she was also excited to have her agnostic daughter-in-law giving value to the rituals that she received comfort from. It was almost like I was admitting that we needed God. That what God offered was unity. And I am not sure that is it. Perhaps she is right, but I think more that I am interested in the values that God represents and not so much the exact doctrine that goes along with the concept.
What value does singing together have for creatives? My mind went blank. Maybe nothing? But I thought about this talk for hours. I imagined what I longed to feel, comfortable, uncomfortable, less alone, part of something. I wanted to trust the people around me. That we were all in it together. I tried my best to design a talk so that people would feel something. Anything, but definitely something.
Unity is a word that people are rallying around, but what does it actually mean? When we come together to sing, we are unified into one force. When we are designing for the future, what is it that makes us feel good? What experiences do we have that are generative? Humans are profoundly destabilized at the moment, and I am looking to grounding acts like dance and song to help us come back to ourselves. I want to have fun. To feel alive again. I want to do it by your side.
We are going to be launching our ACTUAL podcast this next week with Catherine Price. I wrote about cutting back on doing interviews, but I just love doing them so much, I can’t. Alisa from The Empress shared the contact of someone she had worked with before, Mark McDonald. I needed someone to just take the interviews and edit them. If you are thinking about starting a podcast, he has been mind-blowing good. Schedule a meeting with him for free here.
I need Cathrine’s work right now. She is a science journalist. I felt dead inside so I picked up her book, The Power of Fun.