Kits

There are a lot of people who have created an industry around preparing for disaster. They are the ones who always have extra batteries for their high beam flashlights and emergency kits in their cars. They have all of their papers filed neatly in a waterproof safebox, ready to grab at a moment’s notice. They watch the tides and track hurricane patterns. In the event of a natural catastrophe, they’re pretty OK.

There are less people concerned about preparing for success. As if success, once it happens, is something we don’t need to be concerned about. Every prodigy violinist that burns out, every literary darling who crashes and burns, every CEO who tumbles from the top is proof there should be some kind of preparation for success.

Here’s a few things you’ll need in your kit:

A sense of gratitude

A good friend or two who knew you when you were nobody

A commitment to get 8 hours of sleep every night no matter what

A willingness to look stupid

Batteries optional.

The Strange Life of a Handmade Gift

Sky’s gloves

This year, I have a new left hip. 

That is 2 pounds of titanium and porcelain settling into my body and taking its sweet time doing it.

Which means no driving or shopping for me this holiday season. Which means I get to pick up my knitting needles and make something for my loved ones.  The ones who will not be getting gift certificates or other impersonal yet so convenient online gifts simply because I am going to give them a truly personal and handmade present.

I am persistent, not stubborn which something I am accused of often. Making things by hand takes a lot of time, which I happen to have a lot of at the moment, but still, you could be doing other things. 

Even when the gifts I’ve made end up in strange places, I keep on knitting.

Take this text message conversation I had recently with my son for example:

Hey mom, how do I get bloodstains out the gloves

Why do I always get the weirdo questions? Soak them in either seltzer or white vinegar. And no more acts of violence while wearing mommy’s gloves!

Thanks!! And no promises

How are your gloves?

Haven’t washed them yet

But I still wear them everyday

WHAAAT????

I have finals! No time for glove cleaning 🙁

OK we’ll have a post final glove decontamination activity!

Franco stole my gloves and washed dishes with them

NOOOOOOO!!!!! Are they clean? The gloves, not the dishes

They better be

He only did it for groupme likes

What is that?

A way to measure how cool u are in the frat

He better win. I mean, we better win!

Don’t take his side

Mom!!! I lost the gloves!!! can you please make me another pair

And the saga oft he gloves continues…well, OK

Nevermind i found them!!!

Whew!!!!!

Could u make a pair for 2 of my friends? They really want a pair

Reeeaallllly? a pair of gloves knit by you Sky’s mommy?

They’re so comfy and everyone compliments them

Do I get a video of them wearing them saying how fabulous they are???

Of course!

Dealio! can i make them in a different color like blue?

Yes

Tell them I recommend they avoid bleeding and washing dishes with them

With great gloves comes great responsibilities

Amen and may the force be with you

How I Got the Most Amazing Holiday Gift that Everyone Like You Should be Giving

“I just lost my mind standing on line at the mall! And I don’t know what to get Dad, oh, and this year all of a sudden there’s a whole bunch of little kids on my list I have to be giving presents to…” wailed Daughter #1. Somehow, this didn’t sound like holiday cheer to me. Unless you are a retailer, this is not the most wonderful time of the year for most gift shoppers I know.

“I know, why don’t you just go hundreds of dollars that you don’t have to get things that insure you won’t be worried people think you are clueless and cheap. Makes as much sense as eggnog. Who drinks that stuff?” I said. She didn’t appreciate that but she didn’t fight me on it either.

What is the best gift you can give someone, really? Big clue, it is not made up of packaged molecules that takes up space in your house or makes a big hole in your wallet.

We are a country with a $38 billion self storage system which is totally insane when you think about it. We actually own more things than we can stuff in our closets so… instead of not having so much stuff, we’ll cheerfully fork over money to store everything in an outside closet in some building in Brooklyn where all we have to do is get in the car, drive over, look for parking and put more stuff in our unit. To declutter our home and make room for more incoming stuff.

And we do this like it’s normal.

Well, dear friends, it is not normal. If you don’t have room for something in your life, you don’t need it. Unless you are willing to make room for it by getting rid of something else you really, really don’t need. And don’t think you will make this better by giving that person with the overflowing storage unit even more molecules.

I also feel this way about the exchange of imagination and wonder which for me and many other people who become children at this time of year, becomes the entire reason to celebrate a season of lights. 

I want magic. 

I want something that makes me feel like there will be something for me that takes my breath away, that is instant happiness, that could be for no one else but me.

And I got exactly what will do all of that, and more.

What is that?

I stopped my 3 kids who had their fingers poised over the submit button on their phones, ready to dump a couple of bucks from their Venmo accounts into my Amazon account and call their holiday shopping for their mom – DONE!

Didn’t I bring you guys up better than that? That is not anything I consider close to a thoughtful gift. 

“I know exactly what I want and it will not cost you a penny,” I said. 

“Really?” 

“Absolutely. But it will cost you in time, imagination and spending some time with each other.” 

“What I want for Christmas is a 3 minute video of you 3 singing an original cover that you will write together, of ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ with the gifts only I would like in the lyrics,” I said. “To have that would mean the world to me.”

My son smiled. “I think that is a great idea!” he said. “And we can play it on Christmas – and watch it next year too.”

My turn to smile. Yes, I did bring them up better than I thought.

Get off that ridiculous line at the mall with the rest of the world and give someone you love something of yourself. Something that you can share together. Something that will mean something.

Boomerang Girls: Peer Circle Power!

Is it really a big surprise that people complain about not being heard, or not being understood?

We learn at a very young age how to use our voices to speak, to show and tell – as in telling people about yourself. Fewer people learn how to use their ears to engage.

I couldn’t get this little verbal exchange off my mind. In conversations, I noticed 2 types of responses to my question, “What is the best way to talk to people and really connect?”

One type of person, I call them Couch Coaches, reacts by dismissing the question with the wearied air of someone who has seen it all and say, “It’s all in your body language. Slouch when you speak and boom! – who’s going to listen to you?” and will go on to explain in exhilarated detail that all people are suspicious of anyone with poor posture.

The other type, the Misunderstood and Mortified, often seize this as an opening for airing a long speech about how rude everyone is and launch into a story about a friend who refuses to speak to anyone in his family unless they apologize. “Apologize for what?” I asked. “Oh, he keeps a list for everyone’s convenience. People are busy, you know.”

Give it a shot. Ask the next person you happen to run into, “What is the best way to talk to people and really connect?” and listen to what they tell you.

Try asking yourself and listen to what you tell yourself.

What I told myself was something Agatha Christie said about how to find a murderer:

Conversation reveals all.

It can’t be a coincidence that the best conversations begin with open ears, not open mouths.

Many writing teachers say that to be a better writer, read more books. This is sound advice for people communicating through words on paper. For everyone who wants to become better at speaking, listen more.

And listen better.

Once a month, I sit with 5 young women who are emerging leaders of color in Queens and we practice listening in a peer circle. And forming better questions that clarify, probe and magically help each of us to snap back to those wonderful Aha! moments. This is a simple and oh so effective way to get people into the practice of listening with power and intent that has forever lowered my tolerance for insufferable conversations.

We listen in focused silence to each other, 20 minutes per person.

When was the last time you held the uninterrupted attention of 5 people listening to your every word?


We speak in reflective questions, never statements.

No one hijacks the conversation saying things like, “Oh, that just happened to me last week, this is what you should do about it…” or “I know exactly what you mean.” What we can ask is, “Can you clarify what you mean when you said…?”

 

All of our deeper and more probing questions can begin with either What or Where.

This forces you to rethink and reframe what you want to say into a question that makes the person reflect on what they just said. “What would success look like for you?” Simple, but it works.

 

We are clear about what we need and what we want to share.

Sometimes you need to talk through a knotty problem, sometimes you want guidance, but most of the time you just have to trust that you already know the answers and that the shared focus of your peers will ricochet that back to you.

 

Sharing. It is such a casually explored word.  

At it’s best, it can change your worldview. At it’s worst, it is no different than knitting an ugly Christmas sweater for someone you love.

You love to knit, you love these wild and woolly colors, you’d love to give this to someone near and dear to you who you didn’t give the chance to tell you what they really want or what would make them happy.

Is this sharing?

No, this is colonizing, an activity measured in skeins.

Sharing without listening is an exercise is self flattery.

Listening, done well, is the beginning of empathy.  It makes for better conversations and knitwear.

 

 

 

20140603_142704

About the Author: Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer helps artists & creative people grow their careers with great grant writing strategies & mindsets she has developed over 15 years as an veteran grant panelist, grant maker & grant writer. Get her FREE Master Grant Strategy Worksheet and a weekly dose of insights from a grant reviewer’s point of view.

Music Lessons for the Overwhelmed

Mozart

I am having coffee outside of a little cafe in Astoria with a Dear Friend with a heavy heart who says,

The world is filled with so many things to do,

lovely people to work magic with,

to create music and the kind of sound that can fill our daily darkness.

Oh, but I am so crushed by these demanding things and what can I do about it?

 

I am stuck at a crossroads and I can’t see my way out of my problem which in a nutshell is, how do I engage people who don’t want to be engaged in what I am doing?

What else can I do besides everything I am already killing myself doing?

How can I get people to support my work?

Dear Friend, when I learned how to play the piano, I loved knowing that each note on a page could be made into a sound. A specific sound. When I learned how to create harmony on the piano, I discovered that it was crucial to choose the right note, for the right sound. Picture this: a classroom in the Mozarteum in Salzburg filled with first year piano students – me included – struggling through a figured bass problem, a kind of musical shorthand, to fill in the melody and harmonies. In German. Gott in Himmel!

Add this note, or maybe repeat that in the right hand, how about an embellishment of rippling notes… all of this should make that lonely bass note fuller and well, more musical. More will sound better.

No.

My teacher was not impressed by my scrawling or anyone else’s frantic attempt to create masterpiece out of an 8 measure exercise. With his red pencil, he hacked away everything I had added, tacked on, lumped into a chord that resembled overgrown caterpillars and snorted, “Double the root whenever you can.”

Double the root? You mean just repeat what the bass note is? But what about all those other notes? How interesting is just the bass note going to sound?

Now here’s the crazy thing about what he said: the music was simpler. It was something I could sing. It rang true.

I am actually humming that little melody in my head as I am sipping my coffee.

Dear Friend, it is a rare thing for anyone to watch another person working like a dog, eating lunch after lunch glued to a desk, buried under the weight of the world and still struggling to scratch out a precarious existence and say, “Hey, I want to be part of that!”

Do less. Do what my Aunt Lillian advised my Jewish mother-in-law, “Mildred dear, the era of not killing yourself has just begun.”

More arguments, impassioned pleas, pictures of art starved children will give you what you need to appeal to a person’s sense of doing the right thing, like eating more vegetables. Guilt, shame and embarrassment come in handy.

But most people, as a rule, will not eat their vegetables because they know they should, a function of human nature. However, all people will happily drag 10 of their best friends to table if they themselves grew, chopped, boiled, grilled or sauteed the vegetables.

My figured bass problem had a simple solution. I doubled the bass note. I reinforced the tone that grounded every other note and opened up a place for other harmonies to be part of. It became music, something for people to sing and to own.

What if you created a space where another person might see themselves making a difference? Or become part of the work, like a string of harmony?

What could happen if you gave people things? A voice to their passions? An invitation create a bigger life through your work? A gift of making music for themselves and a gift to anybody longing to hear it.

Altruism will not keep the lights on.

But paying attention and attending to that one human need common to all of us, to create meaning of this life we share together, we can make a kind of music that belongs to all of us.

 

Music is the shorthand of emotion

Leo Tolstoy