Entrepreneurial Everest ~ Base Camp Mastermind

Numerous are metaphors instructing us to unite for outcomes both lofty and anchored ~

Many hands make light work.

Two heads are better than one.

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Reaching oceanic depths and Himalayan heights only happens with linked arms, minds, and legs. Consider the top headlines from 2011 – Arab Spring, the Wisconsin public employee protests, Occupy Wall Street…collective uprisings that reveal discontent and not so dormant frustrations at the state of our present realities.

While I’m not carrying a placard or camping in Zuccotti Park, I am participating as an agent of change. I believe many of us are transforming the world as we contribute our talents, skills, and passions more fully along the spectrum of our potential. For some, that means consciously raising children to be kind, loving, and curious. For others, it’s sharing expertise as teachers, public safety officers, business owners, or blue collar workers.

For me, it’s writing…developing my voice…discovering what’s meaningful and essential and building that into lifelong, sustainable revenue streams. I’ve plunged head first into the creative class.

I believe that the more of us who come alive and come together collaboratively will allow a just society to bloom and prosper. The smaller the better, for now, so that we can truly see and hear each other…in order to understand what’s meaningful and essential to us, our families, and our communities – and what’s not acceptable anymore.

After decades of conveying what was not wholly mine (not necessarily a bad thing if the environment is wisely chosen) or either reflexively reacting to other perspectives or swallowing my own point of view, I’m learning to listen more deeply instead. What’s tricky is I’m formulating ideas of my own and giving voice to them – maybe my most courageous act so far. Yet, sometimes these two dynamics are at odds: curiosity for what lies within another versus what lies within me. I’m not always successful with navigational balance. Ah, the joys of toddling…

Yes, it’s all about listening…and gathering. Co-creating community. Organizing a like-minded alliance to support our individual efforts.

I had the good fortune recently to attend a few gatherings of changemakers: one, a Marianne Williamson-inspired spiritual powwow, another, a combination TED talk / dance party / professional women’s conference.  The most intimate happened around a Brooklyn dining room table, over a lovingly prepared meal. Four of us shared our growing ventures and their inherent challenges, and we gained valuable insight ~ in the spirit of those opening metaphors.

1 + 1 + 1 + 1 = Mini Mastermind.

What do you get when you mix a kick-ass red-carpet photographer, a heart-centered personal trainer, a radically optimistic writer, and a hands-on healer steeped in both spiritual and academic methodologies? A base camp of golden insight with a view of grand peaks. Care for a crampon? Here’s a few takeaways to grab an entrepreneurial foothold of your own:

1. Invest with your competitors occasionally. See how they’re doing what they’re doing. You’ll learn something new, keep an eye towards new ideas and trends, and most especially, you’ll feel better about YOUR work – because no one ROCKS it like you do!

2. When your guiding force is to help others, becoming a financially healthy business or organization allows you to continue providing value for your clients and customers. Charge what you’re worth. This may be the most responsible action we can take for the work we believe in. “Sustainability” is not just an overused mainstream ploy – it’s LIFE.

3. When we’re in tune with our deepest passions, we are a tidal wave of power, enthusiasm, and magnetism. This makes us irresistible to people, and our future prospects. This is soul-centered marketing, when we’re just being our fabulous selves!

4. Social media is your friend. It’s permission marketing at it’s most widespread, it can be fun, and…it’s free. Use it to promote your good work in the world, and to support those who are, too. Reciprocity rules!

5. Set daily, weekly, and longer term intentions. Do it out loud, preferably within a support network. Follow up with actionable steps and a timeline. Be very specific.

However you’re engaged with making the world a better place, know that millions are doing just the same, in diverse and convergent directions. In gratitude for the collective energy & wisdom, I’d love if you shared one of your mindful masteries below. I KNOW you’ve a gem or three in your pack.

See you at base camp!


PechaKucha Night

“Whose coat is this?”

“Mine,” I say, to the thin, grey-haired woman marking the chairs on either side with various winter accoutrements.  “Oh, sorry.  I went to get a glass of wine.”

Another woman, coming up behind me, leans over and says, “It’s alright Sandy, I’ll sit on the end.”

“Are you sure?” I ask.  “I can slide down so you and your friends can sit together.”

“No, dear, we’ll all be friends by the end of the night,” she declares, smiling.  “Hi, I’m Georgeanne.”

And so my first PechaKucha commences.

Born in Tokyo in 2003,  PechaKucha, which means ‘chit chat’ in Japanese, is the brainchild of two designers who wanted an efficient yet lively forum to present their work and new ideas, as well as mingle and network.  Each presenter gets to show 20 slides for 20 seconds apiece, and share their passion with the audience.  The concept has taken off worldwide, and there are now events in hundreds of cities.  I have the good fortune to attend one just down the road in Thomaston, at Watts Hall Auditorium with an overflowing crowd – just another example of the creative economy’s momentum, even, or especially, in Midcoast Maine, far from any dense urban locale.

The room is a who’s who of local talent and leadership, and is enthusiastically  emceed by Senator Chris Rector, an amiable man with strong local ties and support.  (I hope he takes kindly to my letter opposing the Governor’s environmental hatchet job).  Eight people take center stage over the course of an hour, and the topics range from texturally sculpted forms (Jacques Vesery) to equatorial coffee-picking (Yvonne Smith, Roaster at Rock City Coffee) to the history of women in Champagne (Jane Barnes, wine pro and partner on the Schooner, Stephen Taber).

(Sculptures by Jacques Vesery)





While the presenters are both oral and visual storytellers, their styles swing from scripted to off the cuff.  Peter Digirolamo, soapmaker at Trillum Soaps, is cheeky as he flips leaf-shaped notecards downstage à la David Letterman after reading winter-related haikus from each one, while colorful slides of almost-pretty-enough-to-eat soap blocks charm us.  Elizabeth Greenberg, Director of Education at the highly regarded Maine Media College in Rockport, waxes poetic about memory and nostalgia while her ephemeral photographs seduce us with their dreaminess and longing.

Abbie Read, Artist and Garden Designer

There’s more than a glimpse at rich and interesting lives behind the cross section of those gathered and my view of all the resources tapping away here is blown wide open.  I learn how Maine coastal and island communities are leaders in US alternative energy solutions from Suzanne Pude, Community Energy Director at the Island Institute as she shares documentary-style scenes of wind turbine installations on Vinalhaven Island in Penobscot Bay.


photo by Karen Oakes, Vinalhaven resident

The action is equally compelling on either side of me, perched on folding chairs.  To my left I meet a longtime local newspaper columnist, Georgeanne, who covers the Home and Garden beat, among other newsworthy topics and after inquiring about my earlier life in restaurants, fills me in on all the best tables from Belfast to Rockland.  On my right is Sandy, who I learn is a caterer and massage therapist, just another one of those cool, many-hat-wearing personalities tucked into towns with names like Friendship, Owl’s Head, and Port Clyde (formerly Herring Gut, not the most appealing moniker in Vacationland).  I take her number down right away – a good masseuse should always be on speed dial.  I’m beginning to think that vibrant isn’t just a word reserved for downtowns and springtime – because smack dab in the middle of what might seem like nowhere I find a hotbed of creativity, vitality and homespun community, with an open bar and no posturing.

Like flipping through a guidebook to the Renaissance Lifestyles of the Self-Reliant and Visionary, my first PechaKucha cheers me with its generosity and lack of pretentious agenda.  A roomful of strangers is just a group of friends I haven’t met yet, and I leave with a couple new ones already.  Who says there’s nothing going on in February?

Pecha Kucha Night


Need A Penny? Take A Penny. Got Life? Save A Life.

Tragedy hits.  What do you do?  Freeze or take action?

I tend to jump in, wanting to help.  More than most anything else, I thrive on feeling useful;  it gives meaning to my life.  A gimme-the-reins kind of person, I prioritize well, delegate easily, and know to apply direct pressure when the blood starts to spurt ( a scary story I’ll save for another time).  However, I’m not really trained in the finer points of crisis management;  in many life-threatening emergencies, apart from dialing 9-1-1, I am often helpless.

Once when my nephew was very small, he had something in his mouth and I feared he might be choking.  I was nearly paralyzed, except to run to my sister, whose pragmatic nature would surely take over.  He was fine, she was fine, it was me who panicked.  I just couldn’t think my way through the fear, because he is so beloved to me.  What I needed was a skill set to fall back on, a clear set of steps to follow so that I could accurately assess and manage a traumatic situation, and keep those pesky emotions at bay.  I needed emergency training.

A friend who lived in New York City on 9/11 metabolized that disaster in a similar manner.  She didn’t just want to be of general service, donating money or time, she targeted a specific goal and became EMS-trained.  No small response, it was an honorable and inspired action.  Her commitment to civic duty surfaced in my memory this past autumn when I saw a man dying in Central Park.  (Read about it here.)  Afterwards, I vowed to learn first aid and CPR, so being a mere bystander wouldn’t be an option anymore.  While my instincts to jump in are strong, I needed competency to be effective.

This discovery of duty, of harboring a strong sense of social responsiblity surprised me.  Duty had never surfaced before;  in fact, besides the military and medical fields, duty seems to rub up against the rugged individualism of the United States psyche.  Where does it otherwise reside in such modern democracy?   To each their own, problems and all, right?  Well, my evolution from dependent child to (sometimes too) independent adult has been bumpy, and I’m happily embracing a new relationship with my inner citizen.  So, this past weekend I followed through, turning my vow into action and became CPR/AED-certified, the first of many steps to lead a more politically engaged and community-minded life.  Oh, how many others have gone before.

Now, I can approach someone in distress and offer trained help.  I am capable of opening someone’s blocked airway, breathing for someone when they can’t, keeping a heart pumping and if necessary, even use a defibrillator.  When someone chokes, suffers a stroke or heart attack, or just needs comfort until the medical professionals arrive and do the real work, I am prepared.  I just hope it never comes to that.


Community Life In A Northern Town

Being away for so long, almost three weeks this time, I felt a tad disconnected upon returning to Maine life.  It’s like I’m moving here all over again.  This was mostly intentional, in that I allowed myself to BE exactly where I was – in New York with friends and in Connecticut with family, which was my most successful trip back home yet.  I gave myself permission to not write over the Christmas holiday, and while I missed it, I am glad I did so – it freed me up to immerse myself in Broadway shows, dinner dates with friends, and the revelry of end-of-year merrymaking.  But now that I’m back up north, I want to jumpstart my life here.  I want to welcome Maine back with haste and open arms.  Indeed, my heart did grow fonder…

Years ago I took a quiz in Utne Reader, one of my favorite alternative magazines, about how consciously I integrated community into my daily routines  – questions ranged from how often did I speak with my neighbors to my interactions with the people in my peripheral world, like my mail carrier, the local deli cashier, and the guy who picks up my garbage.  I did alright on the test, probably because I had been living in the same place I had grown up.
However, I learned that quality can shift when you’re somewhere new and it takes deliberate effort to incorporate the ancillary population.  I didn’t realize how much the fabric of community life is strengthened by those types of relationships until I lived in NYC, where people go out of their way to avoid eye contact and even discussing the weather is sometimes considered TMI:  too much information.

It’s easy here, though, to talk with people – it’s expected, even.  Hence, my first couple of days back have been entirely pleasant.  Politeness rules the incidental.  At the post office, I wasn’t just greeted with a foot-high stack of mail:  holiday cards, January issues and (happily in the age of online banking) almost no bills,  but also a warm “Welcome back!  How was your Christmas?”   My postmaster would make Emily Post proud.  She even enquired about my pre-holiday cold and if I have fully recovered.  I value these moments more than ever before.

I proceeded on to the local health clinic, where I needed to get a refill on antibiotics for a lingering ailment that pretty much laid me out for most of Christmas week.  Health always seems to top everyone’s list of resolutions with good reason, doesn’t it?  The nurse practitioner I met with was friendly, efficient, and chatted me up for a good 15 minutes after we settled the bill.  Another reason I like living here is that even without health insurance, I can see a medical professional without breaking the bank, and get more personal attention than I have since my family doctor of many years passed away.  She recommended a new pharmacy to get my prescription filled, Jensen’s, in Rockland and what a treat it was!  It was minimalist in decoration and display and had the feel of an art gallery/cafe – complete with coffee, tea and muffins and a comfortable seating area in which to wait.  I’ve never been in a drugstore as peaceful and well-designed as this, and the pharmacist was as helpful as could be.  Even here I was engaged in conversation with him and another customer.  No rushing in and out;  we had time to share small talk.  These benefits of small town living are really having an impact on me.

Next, I wandered around Camden, doing a little post-holiday shopping for next year, and took a moment to appreciate the winter harbor – the late afternoon  light in January is magical, isn’t it?

Heading back to my car, I cross paths with a paisley Prius with vanity plates that said GANESH.  I wonder if the driver’s intention is to remove all obstacles for the Green Movement to flourish in 2011?  If so, he has my vote – heck, I’d drive a funky-designed car if it meant clearing away environmental impediments.  As much as I’d like to give up driving to combat climate change, I must admit I love it too much – so my next vehicle will be either have to be electric or at least a hybrid, but that’s another post.  In any case, the driver nodded, smiled and waved as he rolled by, continuing to brighten my day.

Lastly, I signed up for a free yoga class that I found in the local newspaper, The Free Press, easily the best regional weekly in the Midcoast area.  I plan my week by their cultural and community listings, and am never disappointed.  I meet many people this way, and really am beginning to feel a part of the rhythm.  The Shivashakti School of Yoga hosts classes in a repurposed school building that also features art instruction, a dance studio, and a coffehouse/open-mic night.  Rachel, our yogini, led us through a gentle, but intense hour and half that was more than enough to hook me for the next few months.  Her grounding and approachability won me over;  that she trusted enough to offer a free class was icing on the cake.  I am so looking forward to stretching, toning, breathing, and just plain being with her as I attend to my health and well-being in the new year.

Such simple pleasure to be found in everyday courtesy and community – how cynical we can become when the world races past us and we lose the kindness of small moments of connection.  It was so nice to get away, and it is so nice to be home again, getting back to writing and hiking and the daily encounters I’ve come to cherish.  It’s like sinking into a hot tub of fragrant bubbles and soaking away the cares of the rush-a-minute world.

You Say Po-TAY-to, I Say Po-TAH-to

“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”
“What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?”
“I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet.
Pooh nodded thoughtfully. “It’s the same thing,” he said.

On good recommendation, I read a story of wonderful suspense this week.  The American naturalist John Muir recounts an Alaskan adventure with an unlikely companion, a little black mutt named Stickeen.  At one point, they venture far onto a glacier in driving snow, and are faced with a huge crevasse they must navigate to return safely to camp.  How they fare I’ll leave you to discover, but know that this predicament, though not always as dire, can be universal – the turning point of our life, and teach us much about ourselves.

I find myself sometimes in a similar place with my writing:  encountering a chasm I have no idea how to traverse.  I stare at it, walk the length of it looking for a bridge, even attempt to jump across, when I’m feeling brave enough.  What I’ve found is that having companions on the journey keeps me from giving up, because even though our drive for survival is instinctually powerful, when there’s another being by my side the drive becomes exponential.  In these circumstances, I  am empowered by a greater responsibility, and gratefully hitch  myself to my imagination on one side and to my companions on the other, and then get a running start…

In writing class today, I was asked by another student where my creative discipline comes from, for I write just about every day.  Different days yield different answers, and today I reference some of those treasured souls who inspire me, the ones I do not personally know:

  • Julia Cameron, an author who taught me to write Morning Pages, three lengths of (mostly) drivel & (occasionally) gems every single day, and the lifelong habit that it forges.
  • A. A. Milne, who created the Pooh, Piglet, Tigger and Eeyore characters, each who exist inside me and show true simplicity, equanimity, curiosity, joy and acceptance.
  • Henry David Thoreau, who had the courage to meet himself alone in the woods and advise us to “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.  Live the life you’ve imagined,” which is inscribed on a bracelet my mother gifted me many years ago.
  • Ani Difranco, a folksinger who circumnavigated corporate structure by starting her own record company at age 18, and who expresses herself with stunning integrity, intelligence and lyricism.
  • Constantin Brancusi, a Romanian sculptor who taught me to see the essence of objects and ideas through his distilled, elegant forms.

These are all people who persevered over crevasses and chasms, I am sure, to let loose their voice, their vision, their life’s purpose.  I am never without them, nor many other creative souls who listened to the knowing deep inside and shared their gifts with the world.  It is not enough that one recognize the inner voice;  we must liberate it, nurture it, guide it.  We must relentlessly practice it.  Discipline is crucial, as is the community we cultivate in order to support it.  Ultimately, we do not operate alone.

On a different day, I might answer that my discipline comes from considering the alternative – having to go get a job.  At this point in my journey, I will do anything to avoid punching a clock, having a boss, or submitting myself to someone else’s vision or rulebook.  For me to live authentically, I must listen closely and follow the rhythm of my own drum(heart)beat.  There’s magic there, and freedom and joy and – yes – commitment, struggle, even gaping holes in the glacier.  But to be alive is to discover oneself, and that is the most exciting  adventure of all.  Won’t you accompany me?

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