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.





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


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.


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



When Does a Little Chinese Girl Get to be Supergirl?

This story originally appeared in Huffington Post.

I can remember exactly how I felt the first time I saw Porgy and Bess and fell in love with the music and the story.

So I asked my mom, “Is there a Chinese Porgy and Bess?”

She didn’t think so.  I felt a little left out so I got myself the sheet music for “Summertime” and learned to play it on the piano.  And each time I did, I looked into the mirror hanging behind the piano and saw myself, a little Chinese girl humming this beautiful song and hearing Ella Fitzgerald’s voice in my head.

I wondered if the composer, George Gershwin, had written music for other stories, maybe something that had people in it that looked like me.  He didn’t. Later on, people would tell me that most stories have basic universal themes and can be everyone’s journey.

My brain understood that.  My gut did not.  But I was a kid and believed that was the way things were and you just went along with it.

What really happens

I didn’t realize how much I wanted to point to a character on stage and say, “That’s me!”  I wanted to see, hear, and feel a story that rang true for me.  I wanted to root for a real person and see myself in their experience.  I wanted the world to see it would understand me.

Of course that didn’t happen.  Not even when my parents took me to see Chinese opera movies in Chinatown where every one of them became a blur of rapid fire Chinese, kung fu fighting and monkey kings wreaking havoc on a mountain.  In Saturday morning Chinese school classes, I read primers printed in garish colors on rice paper that featured illustrations of Chinese people next to verbs and nouns.

It sent a message.  My story is about mythical ninjas and people pointing at things.

I didn’t bother to try out for my school production of Tom Sawyer.  Me, Becky Thatcher?  I couldn’t see myself in that role.  Every superhero I drew was a blond Supergirl.  The good guys, Cinderella, Marilyn Monroe… they were blondes.  Dark hair, dark skin was Boris & Natasha, Snidely Whiplash.  Chinese music that I shared with my class was “interesting folk music”, not classical music.  And the classical piano music I was learning was dominated by a closed circle of composers, all men, all European, all dead.  Without a word, I knew my place.

But I still wondered.

If the stories we share are everyone’s journey, shouldn’t the heros and heroines look and sound like everyone?

Is there room in piano repertoire for other people to create music to be respected and loved?

Why couldn’t I try out for Becky Thatcher?

What we can do

Many years ago, my sister took a trip to my mother’s home village in China. “Mom’s name was not in the family book,” she sputtered furiously. “So, if her name isn’t in the book, guess what – our names aren’t in the book either!  We don’t exist.”

The explanation was, even though my mom has 18 brothers and sisters and a couple of concubine stepmothers, the book only listed the names of the male children. Now, are you going to tell me I don’t have a story worth telling?

That did it.

How many more places can I be invisible, non existent?

I am sure my sister wanted to throttle someone for this terrible omission and out of respect for her elders, she bowed, smiled and hopped on a plane to New York ready to raise holy hell about it.

Meaning, she called me.  “You’re a writer, do something about this!”

What I did

I wrote a story about my family.  In my mind, this is the beginning of my family book in America from one of the newest members of this large family.  Rabbit Mooncakes is a picture book that shows many of my aunts, uncles and cousins celebrating the Harvest Moon Festival in Queens. To this day, they still argue over who is who, no, you’re the chubby one, I’m the one in this picture, that’s me on the right of Auntie #5.

It is everyone’s story. Female and male children, aunts and uncles, concubines, first & second wives, library boys governesses and a grandfather whose presence was larger than life.

Exclusion does not right past exclusion.  An incomplete story will not complete itself.

I learned a great piece of wisdom from a copywriter who said that copywriting is the art of persuasion on paper.

And the best way to do this is to enter into a conversation that is already happening in your reader’s head.  Listen respectfully, offer a story or another way to be curious about something and then be still, let the reader sit with what you have to offer and make a decision.  Any other approach would be akin to beating up a customer to sell a used car.

Isn’t that powerful?  Awakening an awareness to something new without force, creating a space for reflection and leaving the reader with the agency to come to a new understanding on their own.

This helped me to create something meaningful that does a few things: a story you can recognize yourself in, an experience that builds your confidence, and opens new ways to be curious and creative about the things you care about.

What about you

We are all creative beings by nature.  What we share is a lifetime of experiences and emotions.  The stories only you can tell are waiting to be heard by someone else. Someone who wants to feel that they are not alone.

If that person is you, be bold and share your story.

I can’t wait for a new Porgy & Bess.

Or Supergirl.






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.

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The Most Important Thing A Writer Should Never Forget

Iris Chang

This article originally appeared in Huffington Post.

She was a force.

As I looked at her 2 books, The Thread of the Silkworm and The Rape of Nanking, I felt small and foolish sitting among a pile of old photographs from my own family history.

Many people have spoken of the tenacity, brilliance and compassion that drove Iris Chang, an American author and journalist best known for her best-selling 1997 account of the Nanking Massacre, The Rape of Nanking, to achieve so much in her short life. She was a thinker, someone who dreamed big and accomplished even greater things driven by a passion to tell a story that needed to be told.

“Civilization is tissue thin,” Iris wrote. She called this the most important lesson to be learned from the tragedy of Nanking. And she believed her research produced irrevocable proof of Japanese atrocities. She wrote:

“After reading several file cabinets’ worth of documents on Japanese war crimes as well as accounts of ancient atrocities from the pantheon of world history, I would have to conclude that Japan’s behavior during World War II was less a product of dangerous people than of a dangerous government, in a vulnerable culture, in dangerous times, able to sell dangerous rationalizations to those whose human instincts told them otherwise.”

The book hit the stores at Christmas, a tough selling season for serious nonfiction. It became a surprise best-seller. A groundswell of interest in the Chinese American community had quickly spread to booksellers and the broader reading public. Newsweek ran an excerpt, and soon Iris was a familiar face on TV news shows. Reader’s Digest devoted a cover story to her.        

from SFGate

Like others who were in awe of her as a confident young woman who excelled at everything she put her mind to, I feel my attempts to write anything are futile. Especially stories that are rooted in our shared Chinese American background.

Would my stories have the ferocious yet compassionate lens on a human experience?  Could I create something as resonant for my reader?

Something that has the power to comfort the troubled, and trouble the comfortable?

It would be very easy to give up and take up knitting.  To brush off the demon who is dancing on my shoulder daring me to write my story.  To turn away from the story I have been longing to tell.

But I know I won’t because my belief in my story is as strong as Iris Chang’s belief in hers.  She knew how words could bring to life the silent narratives of people with no voice. And that we have to write them.

That is what I tell myself when I sit down to write.

I often wonder if the stars feel like this when the sun rises.

Do they think, “Oh great, now that he’s here we might as well fizzle out.  Who’s going to even see us?”

But sunrise happens everyday.  And so does sunset, which is followed by a dusk, twilight and yes, the stars.  The light of the stars at that moment has its own magic and wonder.

If any of you have ever felt like this, rekindle the passion you have for the story inside of you until it burns bright with an inner flame and tell it.

You may not be a snowflake, but you can dream of being a star.



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.

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I am an Artist and… an Interview with Shervone Neckles



This story originally appeared in Huffington Post

Sometimes when I talk to people who work in the art world, they tell me they are arts administrators.
Then, there are arts administrators that are very clear about being more than that.
Meet Shervone Neckles.


I’m a first generation Afro-Caribbean American born to Grenadian parents. Raised in Brooklyn, New York. I’m an interdisciplinary artist, educator, community worker, art administrator, wife, and mother currently residing in Queens, New York.


Both. Initially, I was concerned with there being conflicts of interest, so I erred on the side of caution and tried to compartmentalize those roles. I immediately discovered how limiting and unnatural it felt to separate those roles. My flow of creativity is fueled by me bringing my whole self: culture, history, experience, training, vision, and passion to the work I do in the studio, community, and as an administrator. I’m learning how to comfortably represent both.


Similar to an ethnographer, an art administrator explores issues of power, inequality

and inequity through extensive fieldwork in an effort to advocate and empower creative workers. An art administrators’ data collection and methodology can vary from surveys, focus groups, interviews, workshops/webinars, tracking/mapping, funding initiatives, artist-lead actions, and other observations.

This level of fieldwork requires an art administrator to:

  • genuinely believe in the power of art and its ability to inspire change
  • approach the work with a level of openness, curiosity, wonder and excitement
  • be willing to take risks
  • have vision and purpose


In the studio:

I recently closed my solo exhibition, Give and Take in Portland, Maine at the Space Gallery, which was partially funded by Queens Council on the Arts. The exhibition investigates the social meaning of beauty, identity, and cultural authenticity within black womanhood by centering on an all-black figure from whose perspective the viewer follows from youth to maturity. I’m currently working on traveling the show to other cities and I do have a few upcoming group exhibitions in the spring, summer and fall.

I also intend to continue connecting with community members throughout my Queens neighborhood as well as in other cities through my Creative Wellness Gathering Station. Since March 2016, I’ve been conducting a series of social experiments, which channel the knowledge and wisdom of community members to recall remedies and natural methods folks use to heal and cure everyday ailments. Together with my local Queens residents I have developed a collaborative process that uses lively conversation and interactive demonstrations to explore the origin, multi-purpose, and mixing techniques of a selected group of herbs displayed and offered at my wellness station. Participants are able to identify at least one applicable method and create an herbal mix to support their individual wellness needs. While hosting these social investigations, I plan to begin the second phase of the project, which involves the fabrication and photo-documentation of a Creative Wellness community garment.

In the office:

As the Artist Programs Manager of Professional Development at the Joan Mitchell Foundation, one of the national programs I oversee is the Creating A Living Legacy Program (CALL) Program: an intergenerational and social initiative designed to assist mature artists in documenting, organizing, and preserving their life’s work. The lessons we gathered from our fieldwork led to the creation of our first publication, the Career Documentation Guide for Visual Artists in 2012. This was followed by our partnership with the Arts & Business Council of Greater Boston and Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts and the publication of the Estate Planning Workbook for Artists in 2014. In 2015, the Foundation partnered with Voices in Contemporary Art to create the CALL/VoCA Talks a series of public conversations and recordings that feature the stories and work of the CALL Artists.

My focus now is on raising the national awareness and dialogue around the importance and process of preserving the rich cultural legacies of artists in our own communities. I have an interest in connecting with community workers, institutions, organizations, and funders who are deeply invested in capturing and celebrating their own local cultural producers and bearers.

I’m also interested in how history-making, authorship, and advancement of technology is redefining how and who documents, preserves and shares our historical narratives.

I see beginning this advocacy work through conversations: connecting with folks from arts & culture, libraries, academia, business, civil societies, technology, and long-standing community members. I know this new phase of work will challenge and require me to be in full and complete alignment.


Studio work:



Instagram @Shervone_neckles

LinkedIn @ Shervone Neckles



Joan Mitchell Foundation




  • Strengthen your listening skills.
  • Good work, visionary work doesn’t happen in complete isolation- get out of the office/studio, connect with people, have conversations, participate in programs, events, attend workshops (not only as a facilitator but as a participant or observer, volunteer), serve on a board (community/institution). Get involved – be vulnerable – it’s part of the process towards personal and professional growth.
  • Value your work and what you as an individual bring to the work.
  • Counter the feeling of scarcity by being more generous, share your knowledge, information and resources. We are constantly made to feel as though there is never enough. If we all decided to share, there would be an abundance of resources.
  • Let’s rely less on others to provide, fix, or resolve and instead look towards our own communities: there is value in our collective body of knowledge.
  • Be open to feedback, create your own rituals for self-reflection and build a close circle (friends, family, colleagues and mentors) that will offer you honest criticism.







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.

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