Wednesday, August 13, 2014

My Tribe Of Origin

Mom, Dad, me and my brother.

I grew up in a tribe. The nucleus of my tribe was my father and mother and brother but it extended far beyond the four of us.

Mom was one of seven children and Dad one of five. This tribe I was born into included their siblings, their spouses and their children. Being Greek, that also meant the tribe extended to include the cousins of our cousins as well as close friends of my parents.

Imagine a less exaggerated version of My Big Fat Greek Wedding and you have a typical gathering of the tribe. Lots of food, music, dancing, laughter, people talking over each other and a love so strong you could almost see it in the air.

According to the definition Seth Godin uses in his seminal book, Tribes, "A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea."

Our connection was our Greek blood lines with roots in the villages of Apidia and Kalamata in the Peloponnese region of Greece and to Crete -  as well as a desire on the part of our immigrant grandparents to keep our ancestral culture strong and alive. 

Seth Godin's definition continues:  " A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate."

When we were young it was easy to communicate. With the exception of one of my mother's brothers, both sides of my tribe lived between Brooklyn and Queens. Family gatherings were not limited to Christmas and Easter, to weddings, christenings and funerals, but were every day occurrences. Someone was in the neighborhood, they stopped by - no appointment or “play date” necessary. Last minute phone calls to see what we were up to and if we could come over for dinner were welcomed and not seen as an intrusion. 

Community and the idea of tribes were not trendy words reserved for marketing circles with the underlying intention of how we will make money. They were organic at a time, no one used that word to describe customer growth or the kind of vegetables they bought. 

It was just about family. 

The belief of my tribe was that in the end, there is no substitution for the connection of family - those people who get who you are with just a look in your eyes, who tell you what they think when you are not asking, and who will love you and stand by you no matter how many mistakes you make.

That was then and this is now. Lives take flight. People move in different directions. Our families take different forms. Stuff happens. The tribe splinters.

There was a time during my teenage and young adult years when I was okay with that. I wanted to get as far from my core tribe and my Greekness as possible. I was in search of me and I thought that as long as those connections were as strong as they were I was never going to find the person I might be.

Today I cling to them - even as I feel them slipping through my fingers. Today I understand that those connections are the foundation of who I am.

Within the last two weeks, I have lost two aunts. My Aunt Jean was my dad’s youngest sister and the last of his siblings. My Aunt Helen was married to my father’s brother. They were both strong women who loved and respected me and part of the now dwindling “village” of aunts who made their mark on my life.
Aunt Jean holding me at my christening. Aunt Helen looking on.

One of the key tenets of this tribe has always been that no matter how far away our lives get from each other, we all show up to support in these moments. It is not questioned. It just is what our tribe did, what it always did. It was the way we were taught. 

We show up for our parents, our grandparents, for the ancestors that laid the groundwork that took us to today, for each other and for ourselves. The gathering of the "tribe" in their honor reinforces the values they stressed - of family bonds, community, and unconditional love.

It’s been a tough couple of weeks. Yet through it all I found solace in the faces of my extended family who all showed up to pay their respects. Amidst  the hugs, the faded photographs of a world that didn’t include cell phones and computers, the sharing of memories and recollections of moments I had forgotten I felt a sense of being home. I was with my “people”, my original tribe. The ones that remember stories about me or my father or my mother that I don’t. The ones who look at me and still see the young girl who lives inside.

I couldn’t begin to count how many other ‘tribes’ I have been a part of to date. But that tribe - my original tribe is the one that no matter how far away I might get from it, I am always welcomed and always loved.

In the death of my two aunts I’ve experienced so much sadness, it’s difficult to get out from under. The only way I know is to focus on the gratitude I have - for the richness that each contributed to my life and for the “tribe” I was raised as part of that they helped to create. 

The tribe has splintered along the way,  no doubt, but its roots stand strong. They are at the core of who I am today. For that I am forever grateful.

RIP Aunt Jean and Aunt Helen. May your memory be eternal.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

What I Don't Do Enough Of

There are a lot of things I do not do enough of. I don't exercise enough. I don't pick up the phone enough to call my friends as much as I text or email. I don't visit museums enough. 

Most importantly I don’t write and read enough.

The definition of enough is nebulous -  “as much or as many as required.” What is enough for someone  is too much for someone else and too little for yet another. Which means that while I may think I don't do something enough - from where you sit it may look like exactly enough.

Enough is a judgment call. While I like to think I don't judge, I do. Mostly myself, for not doing enough.

Over time I've learned to recognize the symptoms of not enough for me.

I know I am not writing enough when my soul feels hollow. When there are words caught in my throat and my energy wanes. When I feel I am not being heard and I know it is because I am not  saying anything. When all I want to do is lay on the couch and watch something mindless on television - including the commercials.

I know I am not reading enough when I am left uninspired and disconnected and when I can't or don't  write. Reading used to hex me into not writing until one day it began to inspire me to write more - to be as good as the author whose book I finished and sometimes to recognize that - yes - my writing is just as good as theirs. 

My writing does not yet garner enough income to pay all the bills. Yet being the operative word. But when I am busy with my other stuff -  the stuff that does pay the bills, I label reading to be a luxury I have no time for. Writing is something I start fitting in as opposed to prioritizing.  While I am aware on some level that I am not feeding myself enough of the fuel I need to be my best and most passionate self, the dance sustains itself. 

Until something happens to break the pattern.

I read. 

And when I say read, I don't mean Facebook posts or Tweets. I mean books. Fiction. Non-fiction. Like the one I just finished by Claire Cook. 

I mean reading something that matters.

I've followed Claire's path since I left corporate. For a long time I wanted to be Claire. Even though Claire’s married with two grown children and living in Atlanta life and writing is nothing like my own. 

I wanted to have Claire's success. I aspired to have my novel made into a movie and walk the red carpet. 

I no longer want to be Claire. I want to be me. But I would still like that success. Yet it won't happen - it won't have a shot in hell - if I am not writing.

Every time I read Claire’s very simple formula for turning out as many novels as she has (which she very wisely repeats throughout the book in case you are not paying attention) I heard the little aHa in the back of my brain.  Two pages, every morning before anything else. Times Roman. 12pt. Double spaced. Seven days a week.That’s roughly 500 words of which I have already exceeded here.  Not that hard to accomplish if one is disciplined enough not to let Twitter get in the way.

It's not like I had never heard that before. I have. I've done morning pages. I read The Artist’s Way. I know the power of discipline. In fact I have written about it in my own book on creating time. I also know that discipline to what is most important to fuel our souls - requires discipline.

Claire's book did not tell me anything I did not know already. Yet that did not make it any less worthwhile to read. Books like this one are meant to inspire and remind you of the things you've let yourself forget. Just like the characters in her novels do - the easy, breezy beach reads that transport, make you smile and just when you least expect it make you go aHa!

Claire inspired me to start today writing first - before anything else. Right here in this Starbucks on Broadway and 63rd Street, as the morning crowd forms around me.  She reminded me that reinvention - like just about everything else in life is not a destination but an ongoing process of tweaks and turns and is not for the faint of heart. Most importantly she made me see that somehow in this crazy, circuitous path of reinvention I have created these last years, of late I have not been doing enough of the things I love and crave and need to sustain myself the most. 

It may not yet be enough (there goes that word again) to pay the bills, but it is necessary to fuel my soul and free me for what does. 

Claire's latest book and first non-fiction is Never Too Late: Your Roadmap To Reinvention. An inspiring and anecdotal account of her own and continuing journey of reinvention, complete with good advice and useful tools. #recommendedreading

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Message For Facebook

Dear Facebook, 

We've been friends for awhile. According to your records, since May 8, 2008. For a long time you were a lot of fun and I genuinely believed that you really were interested in working to improve my experience on your network.

But then you went public and as things work in our world, needed to get to the business of making serious money. I can't blame you. Money pays the bills.

Unfortunately the valuation of your business far exceeded the reality. That's a lot of internal pressure. A lot of creative thinking on new revenue models. Particularly challenging in a world that no longer wants to feel "sold to" or "marketed to" or "pushed."

Again - as a businesswoman I get it. As a digital strategist and former advertising salesperson I get it. And as an adjunct professor in digital marketing I get it.

But it's starting to get out of hand. You are starting to not  listen to me, your customer.

For weeks you have been annoying me - trying to get me to download your Messenger App. I assumed you understood my closing the pop-up meant I was not interested. But apparently you didn't get it. It continued to appear - which annoyed me even more.

Now I get an email from you telling me if I want to continue messaging from my iPhone, I have to download your App. Since you have not been listening to date -  I will repeat - I am annoyed. In fact, now I am REALLY annoyed.

I don't like anyone telling me what I "have to do" much less a social network that - to put it bluntly - is just not as much fun as it used to be.

My newsfeed is cluttered with stuff I didn't ask for.
Sponsored posts outweigh those from my "friends."
Every time you change an algorithm I have to go into my privacy settings to make sure you have not defaulted them back to what you want them to be. 
And, I'm tired that every time I take a peek at a new pair of shoes they follow me around like a lost puppy. 

I don't want your new Messenger App. And I won't be downloading it. Today or anytime soon. Truth be told, I don't even like to use it on my desktop. You already have more information about what I am doing and who I am connecting with than I would like. You can call it "private" messaging but I know the truth - someone over at FB headquarters is mining that text for data that you can use to make more money. I am not interested in adding to that stockpile. 

So if one of my Facebook "friends" happens to private message me - they'll have to wait until I am in front of my computer to hear back. I am okay with that. Because really - if it's so important to reach me - they have other choices.

Email. Text message. Other social networks we are connected on - the ones that are still fun and/or useful - like Twitter and LinkedIn. Besides, if it's really critical - they can do something decidedly retro - pick up the phone and call me.

My guess is the reason you are forcing this issue now is because there are a lot more people like me who have been refusing to download the Messenger App and you have sold this through already to clients and need to deliver.

I get that. 

But I don't care.

However, you should. 

The way I see it - new social networks will continue to proliferate in much the same way that cable networks did, going after niche markets or in this case - like-minded people. Some will be more successful and others not so. But in every case they will mirror what cable did - continue to pull share away from the broadcast networks - all because they did a better job of listening to what people really want. 

So Facebook, we are not through.  At least not yet. As I said earlier, I teach this stuff - so I like to keep my hands in it. But if you thought trying to force an unwanted App at me was going to increase my engagement - it is doing just the opposite.  You see - I still watch broadcast television - just less of it. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Story

Once upon a time there was a story.

The story had a beginning, a middle and an end.

It had a really great opener that hooked you in.

It had interesting and complex characters you wanted to know more about.

It was told around campfires, written on stone tablets, acted out on stage and printed on leaflets. It was shared at parties and in bars and on park benches. It was listened to on wireless radios, made into movies and television shows.

The story kept spreading until one day something called the world wide web was invented.

Now there were new ways to tell the story. In blog posts, podcasts, You Tube and Vine videos, Tweets and Facebook posts. Sometimes the story was told in words and sometimes in pictures. Sometimes both.

But the one thing that never changed was the story itself.

Yes - there were new twists and fresh takes. The characters varied, appearing in an assortment of shapes and sizes and with unfamiliar names. 

No matter how many different ways it was told or tweaks  made or mediums created through which to tell it - the story kept drawing people in. 

It hit that sweet spot. The one that connects hearts and souls. That makes us pause and think, laugh or cry, happy or angry. 

The one that makes it a story worth sharing.