The Excitable Optimism of Sekhnet

From time to time Sekhnet, who meets countless people during the course of her work gathering news for a national network, reports a fascinating conversation she had that relates to my life and plans.  She brings me a business card, or contact info written on a scrap of paper and urges me to call them.   Often things come to grief, since I am not always quick to make these potential contacts.   That most have so far been in vain is no excuse for my glass-half-empty pessimism.    

She heard a bright and funny man give a fantastic talk on becoming pitch perfect at sales meetings, during interviews of any and all kinds.  He pointed out that people have one chance to make a good first impression and clinch the deal, and that there are a hundred ways to blow it.  Read his book, aptly titled “Pitch Perfect” and you can weed out many of these ways, have a crisp phrase ready, delivered in the same winning style you see before you today, saying exactly enough to make your point crisply, and not one phrase more.  

Being pitch perfect is the difference between getting a major donation, or any kind of big yes, and getting that gassy baby smile and limp handshake at the end of a meeting too long by crucial moments.  The man’s talk and style were both excellent, she enjoyed it and found it valuable.  She bought his book, which I read cover to cover.  It was excellent.  

I took the next step and contacted his office to make an appointment for the four hour personalized master class.   It was, not surprisingly, $4,000.  I explained that I represented a small, money-strapped non-profit and was cheerfully told the tiny non-profit rate was $3,600.   My silence was met by an offer to do the half course, more than 60% as good as the full one, for only $2,000, certainly our budget could manage that.  

Well, I thought, the $2,00o, a quarter of our operating fund, could go for that or for two new animation set-ups.  I thanked her, even as a bit of bile was coming up in the back of my throat.

Sometimes helpful people, hearing my idea for the child-run interactive animation workshop, have suggested I pitch the idea on Shark Tank to get funding.   Shark Tank is a show where business owners try to strike deals to get funding from a group of wealthy sharks who evaluate the ideas looking for monster profits.

Experience has taught me the difference between what I was trying to sell and something an angel investor in the Shark Tank would salivate over. In Shark Tank the family that invented the fantastically lucrative Squatty Potty was looking for millions to take their product, a short plastic foot stool that made passing stools as easy and pleasant as operating a soft serve machine, to the next level, international super sales.   The investors were looking for a credible sign that every million they put in would have a good chance of turning into ten million for them.  It is straightforward.    

If the idea is to transform a boring public school classroom into a fun ninety minute imagination-fueled, problem-solving, peer-teaching playground where kids have the final say on every aspect of the product they are producing, a short bit of stop-motion animation, a process that leaves them collaborative, energized and engaged in learning and teaching, no angel investor worth his dorsal fin will so much as stop circling to sniff that particular patch of water for blood.  

“Sounds like a great idea, you got funding?  What’s your marketing budget?”   These are the first two questions anyone bright and practical asks when I finish my brief answer to “so, what have you been up to since last year?”  

“You have to find fellow idealists,” Sekhnet has always told me.  

I was referred to a non-profit called idealist.org, signed up.  Was invited to a mixer at a bar.   Went and met the people who worked for idealist.org.  They explained all the benefits of being a member.  I joined.  I haven’t had an email from them, or anyone else on the site, in years.  

I had an email from two guys who founded a nice outfit to introduce non-conformists with big society-improving ideas, a mutual help organization for idealistic types.  They would match people up according to their skills, interests and needs.  The first rule, when you met, was to listen to the other person’s idea and needs first and think about how you could help.  In the end, their emails stopped coming too.  It was a great idea, but I guess they didn’t have funding or an adequate marketing budget or business plan.

Having lunch with the sister of an old friend the subject of the nonprofit came up.  She thought it was a great project and then told me about a woman she’d recently met, a dynamic older woman, who was on the inside of Mayor Di Blasio’s Department of Education.  She was a great lady, and good friends with this woman’s good friend.  She shepherded many great new programs through the Education Department’s doors, knew how to get them funded and contracted as pilot programs, that was her speciality.  She was, literally the perfect person for me to meet.  In fact, we’d meet for Dim Sum, with the mutual friend, and I could run the idea by her at an informal meeting, that would be best.  

That offer turned into the old can-do idealist’s phone number being texted to me, followed by a series of supportive follow-up texts asking if I’d contacted her yet.  Presumably I was supposed to set up the informal Dim Sum meeting where the no pressure chat could unfold.  I called her a couple of times, introduced myself in short, hopefully well-pitched voice mails, I texted her this and then  this.   We never met for Dim Sum, nor did I ever hear back from her.  

It reminded me of the introduction I’d had a year earlier to the director of a large arts non-profit, with a twenty million dollar annual budget.  I was told this woman, a good friend of a close friend of mine, would love my idea and her well-funded organization could definitely help.  If our mutual friend had been present at the meeting, things might have gone better, the well-funded nonprofit could definitely have helped.  As it turned out, I was chided for my defeatist attitude before the meeting, felt dread on the way to the meeting, and the results afterwards were the opposite of helpful.    

Sekhnet remains undaunted.  Her mechanic’s daughter, it turns out, by pure whimsical chance, works at a nonprofit that features creative programs for public school children in Queens.  This friendly young woman was very excited about the student-run animation workshop, gave Sekhnet her card.  Sekhnet has learned about such things, knows that I’m currently concentrating on a book about the life and times of a man nobody’s ever heard of, and told the young idealist that it might be a while, but that I would get in touch with her.  

The same goes for the twenty-one year old idealist she spoke to in the computer department at Costco the other day.   He works at Costco and is completing a business degree at Baruch.  He and his brother love stop-motion, are idealists, think a student-run animation workshop for young kids sounds amazing and want to help.  Plus, he’s getting the business education to help with funding and marketing.  Win-win-win.  He was cautioned that it may take a while to hear from me.  

Thanksgiving I hear Sekhnet piping at me from across the room, calling me by my Christian name, if I was a Christian.  I never know what the deal is when I hear her urgently piping “Eliot!”   She’s talking with a smiling, friendly woman who it turns out works for Simon and Schuster.   She works in HR, hiring and firing like a demon, but she has found her home in publishing, after years in electronic media, and loves being around book people. She reads like a fiend since she’s been working there.  Sekhnet informs her I’ve written a book, I get a big smile.  

“It’s a manuscript, a first draft, around 700 pages.  It’s like wrestling with an anaconda at the moment, but I’m really enjoying it,” I say to the big smile.  

“I love book people,” she tells me, with that beautiful smile.  

I describe the idea that gets me out of bed every day, excited to write: a three-dimensional portrait of a great idealist who was also a monster, and how he rose from dire poverty to live the American Dream, a historian passionately involved in the historical events of his lifetime.  A dreamer and a destroyer of dreams.

I tell her that one day, as I was writing about his painful childhood, the skeleton of my father sat up in his grave to bitterly dispute something I’d just written.  I’d dismissed it at the time, went with it, had the chat, figured I could cut it later.  Then found him popping up again and again and now much of the ms. is an ongoing dialogue with the opinionated skeleton, a talk I look forward to every day.  

The smile continued as she told me it sounded cool, and that this kind of soul-searching memoir is currently a very hot genre and that if I find the right agent things could go well with this idea.  She then told us of a website where you can do a detailed search, by genre , of agents, and that no publisher will accept anything unless submitted by an agent.  Sekhnet jotted down the name of the website where I could find the highly specialized agent I will need to find.

I then told her everything I knew and felt about Jim Dale’s deightful audiobook performance of the marvelous Harry Potter books.  I promised her that she would love it, based on everything she’d told us about the books she liked best, then smiled, curtsied to Sekhnet, and went to have another muffin.  

Irv Chimes In

“OK, so at this point you’ve written, let’s see, at last count, 91,180 words for this planned Book of Irv.  You’ve started another website to begin sorting through that mountain of words, which interested readers, so to speak, can find here  (along with a handful of nice photos of me) and… what?  Do you really, and I say this in all seriousness, do you really expect anyone to give even the rumblings of a shit about the life of your brilliant, bitter, complicated, charming, malicious father, no matter how engagingly you set it out?”  The skeleton looked idly off to the side as he said this, having no eyes to make contact with in any case.  

“You know, it’s an act of almost hilarious hubris, for a man with your long proven track record of non-participation in society, to think that suddenly you’ll be able to sell your idea of an engaging and soul-troubling book to a reputable publisher, be paid a few thousand dollars to complete it, with the help of an insightful and generous editor, see it published, well-reviewed, tour the disappearing bookstores and elitist universities promoting it, talk to Terry Gross and Leonard Lopate, and, somehow, get to carry on my work, whatever the hell that was.  Your own well-chosen words, Elie, from the other site:    

It is my foolish intention to carry on my father’s work by writing a book to move the hearts and minds of its readers and help to launch the non-profit of my dreams, a collaborative student-run workshop for the children of the doomed.  

“Not exactly approved by the marketing department, and we’ll get back to the ‘children of the doomed’ line in a little while. Presumably, this book will also serve to fully explain why you devoted the last five years of your life to dreaming up, fine-tuning and conducting this now dormant student-run animation workshop for public school  kids in poor neighborhoods.  After describing, in maniacal detail, how your father instilled this difficult mission deep in your heart.”

Well, yes.  I’d make sure to inform Terry Gross’s people of that larger motivation.  I’d have to write an epilogue or something covering that, so she could ask me about it.  

“You do recognize how mad and unlikely of success this plan of yours is, don’t you?” he asked with skeletal stoicism, even as he flashed his now eternal grin.  

“You know, I recognize that you can write, you could always write.  It used to torture your sister, being compared to you, because you did whatever you wanted in school with seemingly no effort, while she had to work like a dog. In fact, in all my years teaching, I don’t think I ever had a student who put in as little effort as you consistently did, outside of the many kids I had to fail.  And that’s saying a lot.”

Back up a second, dad.  We talked about this the last night of your life, my sister feeling compared to me and how hard she had to work and all that.  In fact, you used the same cliche then: work like a dog.  Let’s clear up the record here:  you agree that my sister also writes very well.  

“Oh, absolutely, she’s extremely bright and articulates her thoughts crisply, no doubt about it.  I’m just saying.  It’s one thing to have that ability, quite another, as you’ve noticed with your few attempts to close sales on your talents and ideas here and there, that selling is a completely different exercise than clearly setting out a complicated truth, moving someone’s heart or letting your creative spirit soar freely.”  

Mmmm.  Maybe better to just talk about the fucking children of the doomed, at this point, than to linger over the daunting challenges I’ll be facing as soon as I start trying to flog this book in the marketplace of screaming, idiotic ideas vying for clicks.  

“We’ll get to the children of the damned in a moment, but I have a suggestion for you first.   Those two irrelevant (to my story) pieces you linked to in that long post yesterday about the talent for malice– the ones about your former friend Andy with the mental health issues — why not stitch them together with a little living connective tissue and send them off to some place like The Sun?  There’s a dramatic arc to that as a story, much of it already told, this mentally ill eternally needy little brother mooching off you for decades, manipulating you with much of the same psychological set up as your dear old dad– the relentlessly dark wit, the fierce self-hating intelligence– and how, in the end, the only way to resolve things with him was with brutality.”

“Interesting story, I think, and it’s almost ready to stand on its own, would take little work for you to shape it into a nice piece.  And maybe you could make a couple of grand selling it to a place like that, get your foot in the door, even at this late date.”

“Same with some of the chapters you’ve written for this book about me.  How many books have you read with that long catalog in the beginning crediting where the individual chapters were originally published?  That would be the way to get started, I would think, not that I’m any kind of expert on these matters.”

I vow to you now that I will order a copy of the Writers’ Market, like I’ve been planning to do for months.  Before this day is over.

“OK, that’s a start.  I won’t mention how many times you’ve inked that phrase into your little notebooks since February, with that optimistic little eternally unchecked check box next to it.  Look, I know your life is a bit of a challenge but look at it this way: you’re trying to do something important with your life, put your talents to their fullest social use, and most people must be content to work at jobs they hate if they pay enough– and those are the luckier ones.  The masses of people work in shit jobs they hate and don’t get paid nearly enough to do.  There’s something to be said for being the kind of idealistic idiot you stubbornly continue to be, plus, you have the funds, for the moment, anyway, to go for a life of integrity as hard as you can.”

You wear me out, old man, as you always did.  I’m going to open another window in this browser and order the Writers’ Market.  Then I’ll come back and we’ll say a few words about the children of the doomed, the children of the damned, and also, a few about the children of the goddamned.

Write the Book

So what is this book?  

It is more than one book, actually.

The subject of each has been dictated by the world, each book is needed to demonstrate my point.  These are entwined but distinct points that need to be separated out.  Let me try to disentangle and prioritize them, make them less abstract, seem less the ravings of a madman.

Book One —  to convince the reader of the obvious: how important careful listening, participating and empathetic feedback are in learning.   Make the case for why I care about these things so deeply, why others should too.

This is a fraught book, perhaps more than the others.  It is a do or die attempt to sell, more than my name or skills, a big idea I’ve already invented the machine to demonstrate and have put into  practice dozens of times in classrooms in New York City. 

The world has largely moved away from these quaint values of care and appreciation, at least on a mass level.  If I’d make a business out of helping kids learn these old-time, hand-made type skills, I have to tell the story in a way that will engage and excite.  I need to find the way to inspire a creative and caring sector of a world that values, far above everything else it also espouses, competition and the metrics of who is wining and who sucks.  

Until I find the way to tell this story compellingly enough to get it funded, or finally give it up as a bad job and find something else to do, I continue to lose the only competition everyone readily understands.   Quicksand, my friends, in which I swim in extreme slow motion.

Book one, the detailed and compelling case for wehearyou.net, (or whatever you want to call it) an interactive workshop where public school kids’ imaginations run the show as they work together to master the interlocking skills needed to produce original stop-motion animation.  This is clearly the hardest of the three books to write.

There are two easier ones that come to mind– the easiest would lay out the devilish details, fleshed out by memory and imagination where the world has wiped away all trace, of the destruction of the roots and trunk of my family tree by centuries-deep hatred that finally had the technology to carry out its ultimate goal– killing every last one of the fuckers, everyone like me.  

This had happened before, has happened many times since, has tangled roots and a million implications.  It has haunted me since I learned of it as a boy, applies over and over as we read the news today.   Who gives a shit about this story? Probably a few middle class people here and there.  It is a story that will mostly have to wait, it would appear, or show up as a long article in some journal somewhere, along with my research into the unfathomably sad, sick history of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.

The third book is the tip of the iceberg, really, the iceberg itself being the preceding book.  Or, picture, instead of the iceberg,  the fruit of the destroyed tree, if you prefer another cliché.  To understand how somebody of great intelligence, humor and charm can act like a cornered rat, lash out viciously at loved ones, you need to picture the exact circumstances that put the rat into his dreaded corner.   This would be the most interesting of the three, perhaps, and require the least by way of imagination.

But let me tell you a little story that might be the best way to set the stage for the first book, the story of my most tangible real-world quest.

In a region of Italy ravaged by World War Two, in a village called Reggio Emilia, the first thing the parents built, when peace finally returned, was a school.  This school was built in a charred landscape, for children who had known only war.  The parents wanted a better world for their children and their first priority was imbuing these poor devils with a love of life, a deep appreciation of the wonder of creativity and every hope for a beautiful future.

To that end they made the school beautiful, had the children plant and tend a garden to make the blackened earth blossom.  When the plants in the garden were cared for, green leaves magically sprouted and their fruits ripened in the sun. These delicious ingredients were harvested and lovingly cooked.  Kids and their teachers prepared and ate the things the earth produced, the things they had brought forth from the earth. 

Colors, flavors, scents, everything that could excite the senses of young kids was brought into play.  The childrens’ excitement  guided the things they studied.  Adults carefully listening to the children nurtured their creativity, childish intellectual curiosity and everything else that makes students into life long learners.

I was told of this program by a friend who’d encountered it in San Francisco.  It reminded her, she said, of my program, since it placed adults listening to children’s ideas and discoveries in the forefront of education.   She believed it was now a worldwide movement, that there was probably a Reggio Emilia school or two in New York City.  

I was delighted to find a couple in New York City. You will not be surprised to learn who the children in these Reggio Emilia schools are– they are children whose parents can afford the $35,000 a year tuition for their kindergartner.

Below is what Reggio Emilia says about itself (see ruptured appendix 1).   Here is what a writer for a major magazine has observed– a fairly obvious point about which children need this humanistic approach to education the most.

Which completely ignores the question of how these creatively engaged kids do on the life or death standardized tests designed by testing corporations to measure learning and guides us back into the crippling cul de sac that I must somehow leap out of if I am to proceed, if my long-stalled program is to go forward.  In a world of limited resources, whose children will get the rare, difficult, precious thing and whose children will get the predictable, easier, more crippling one?

If you will excuse me now, I have to go bash fucking City Hall in the face and get back to practicing so I can find my way to Carnegie Hall.

More tomorrow, when I must somehow avoid writing anything in this vein, or this vein.

 

ruptured appendix 1

At the heart of this system is the powerful image of the child. Reggio educators do not see children as empty vessels that require filling with facts. Rather they see children as full of potential, competent and capable of building their own theories.

Children have the right to be … active participants in the organization of their identities, abilities, and autonomy.. .  “better citizens of the world”… (this system) also credits children, and each individual child, with an extraordinary wealth of inborn abilities and potential, strength and creativity.  Irreversible suffering and impoverishment of the child is caused when this fact is not acknowledged [my emphasis– ed].

Each day and every moment, we, the teachers, follow the directions of the children and adapt ourselves, always observing, documenting, listening and interpreting their goals, theories and strategies so we can gain insight into their thinking, always ready to make changes and support the children in their discoveries.

“Tell me and I’ll forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I’ll understand.”  Chinese Proverb

source

 

 

 

 

Generativity vs. Stagnation, again

There is no shortage of irony here.  

I am striving to bring interactive creativity and fun into places where these things are spoken of highly but rarely practiced; myself, creative, yes, but not having much fun.  

The program I’ve already implemented is capable of injecting some encouraging news into the depressing discussion of American education, the non-discussion of real participatory democracy; I am a marginal participant not actively discussing the issue with anyone who cares.  

The program is therapeutic, I saw haggard women with chronic disease transformed into laughing girls at the end of our sessions; it gratified me, but, burdened with logistics, I was not laughing with them.  

I’ve solved dozens of logistical and psychological problems so far, though some very large, possibly insoluble, ones remain.  With the best of intentions, as I try to maintain my focus on promoting this inclusive, participatory program, I have somehow become a kind of hanging judge.  

Nuance has become harder for me to discern; holding multiple truths in mind, and choosing the one that casts the best light– not always possible.  I listen to the prosecutor making his relentless case, nod my unsmiling head.  Fine, I think, give the guy the chair, let the Court of Appeals worry about it, there are many worse tragedies happening everywhere.  Bang the gavel, next case.  

I’m not always able to refrain from doing what was so hateful to me watching my father do it:  reducing a person to the sum of his faults.  We are flawed, all of us, and gracefully accepting the flaws of others is an important part of being a decent person.  Whipping a fucking goat?   Really?  I take pride in not being the sort of person who inflicts harm, particularly on those with limitations.  Lately I couldn’t rest until I’d given a particular animal a hard kick in the ribs.  The thing was perhaps less than perfectly thoughtful, or even characteristically oblivious, but in either case, why the need to kick it? 

The seventh stage of Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development is called Generativity vs. Stagnation.  Being productive, successful and involved in the world during the middle and later stages of adulthood versus being isolated and removed from the world, dogged by feelings of failure and hopelessness.  The eighth and final stage, Integrity vs. Despair, takes place at the end of life, looking back, when one feels satisfied at a life well and authentically lived or is bitter and full of regrets.  

I embarked on a project of encouraging expression, using free play as an educational strategy.   I undertook this ambitious project knowing nothing about how to plan and build a business, how to run an HR department, how to secure funding to hire professionals needed for several live or die jobs.   I have no connections or friends who can fill these gaps.

The program is a success, as far as implementing it in five minutes anywhere, as far as how easily it does what it purports to do.   The student-run workshop vindicated my best hopes for how it would work.  The creativity and competencies of young kids, and ailing adult women, for that matter, exceeded my expectations.   Yet, not having a network of people in a position to participate productively… so far enforced stagnation.  

Those who don’t understand what I am striving for, or who take no interest in it, who now quite sensibly avoid the subject, I can’t help thinking of as partial jerks, even as I know I have only a passing interest in all the details of their working lives.   I was surprised and touched when a hard-working friend took a few moments to enquire about the progress of my program a couple of months ago.  I told him the program itself, curriculum and all, works smoothly and wonderfully wherever we’ve done it, and that now I am focused on packaging, promoting and selling it.  

I described my initial hope– that kids would work together to produce original animation in a workshop setup where adults would set things in motion and step back as children learn and teach each other.   This big taste of autonomy fosters students’ confidence, brings out peer-mentoring and leadership skills.  It has happened quickly every place we’ve done the workshop, about a hundred times so far.  

Now that the program itself works smoothly, I told my friend, I am wrestling with the crucial tasks of packaging and promoting it.  I told him I’m optimistic that someone in di Blasio’s administration would be quite interested in the presentation that I have recently put together, that is just about ready to roll.

He told me he now understands the important goals I set for the program, the workshop’s many great applications.  He said he was impressed by how well thought out it was, acknowledged the tremendous amount of work I’d done and the ingeniously simple design of the program.  He wished me success, strength to my arm and told me he agreed that di Blasio’s people would be very interested in a program capable of producing a cadre of peer-teachers entering Middle School.  

This reaction was as wonderful as it was rare.  We have but one measure of success in our society and until friends read about the program in a NY Times piece, or hear a well-crafted moment about it on NPR, it is a dream I am dreaming alone as I sleep my fitful sleep.

One more note in the polyphony of my imperfect sleep: my attempts to avoid bitterness in old age seem ironic to me much of the time these days.  These attempts are hampered by the difficulty of living by words I have written on pages many times with various calligraphy pens, words I must inscribe in my heart as I find ways to become more actively and productively involved in the world:  cultivate mindful empathy.  Everybody we encounter is fighting a hard battle against killer odds.  Just because somebody almost never keeps their word, for example, is no reason to write off the rest of their virtues.  

Now, if you will excuse me, there are some kittens in the garden I have to go be sarcastic to.

kittens

A Slightly Odd Thought

Thoughts are more susceptible than most things to being, at the same time, reasonable and helpful and bizarre and unhelpful, according to the angle they’re viewed from, how the light hits them. 

In discussing whether I might actually be mad, trying to do the quite possibly impossible thing I’m trying to do, the teenage therapist and I seem to agree that the jury is still out.   Clearly, the most sensible thing to do is find something to do that brings in money.  If it’s something that also brings personal satisfaction, helps others, is enjoyable and challenging — that’s great.  But given the choice between earning a living or being in a constant state of turmoil over a ridiculously challenging thing requiring a good deal of self-reinvention while not bringing in a groosh or a kopeck… most people, on every shade of the elusive sanity spectrum, would choose the former.

I am ambiguously blessed, at the moment, not to have to occupy myself with the vexing question of how to pay my bills.  Five years ago I inherited enough money to support the average person three to five years.   Not lavish years, mind you, but average years for the average person living a modestly middle class life.  I have always tried to keep my expenses low, my options open for working the fewest hours in a conventional job.  Five frugal years later I still have money, riding on the “free market” roulette wheel like the trillions scooped off the slanted table the last time the richest and cleverest gamed the system prior to the “collapse” (or wholesale fraud, if we want to be more accurate) in 2008.  For the moment I am not worrying about that, though, of course, I probably should be.   My not worrying is another tick on the side of the ledger the jury may lean toward when deliberating over my relative sanity.

But here was the slightly odd thought that snuck up on me the other day.   I’m working strictly on marketing now, as much as I can, focused on presenting the workshop in a light that will make it hard for public school innovators in the de Blasio administration to resist.  This marketing work is also necessary for interesting and recruiting the best possible people to work with me on the program.   I’ve spent many hours removing all self-deprecation, self-doubt and frustration when I describe the program.  I’ve eliminated all references to the likely impossibility of my task.   I focus, when I can, on how well the program I designed works for its intended purposes.  

I am making my language terse, yet natural.  In the first minute I now summarily answer the most obvious questions: who I am, what brings me to the room and why this program is so important and valuable.   I am isolating the talking points, keeping them simple and rotating them, repeating each one enough times for the message to hopefully sink in.  You want to involve children in their education, make them eager partners in their own learning?  Give them a stake, let them learn what fascinates them and let them teach each other.   You really want children to become creative problem solvers?  Put them in a room full of art supplies and technology, with an exciting end-product they can enjoy, and adults who set things up then take a back seat, and watch what they do.   Etc.    

The odd thought, yes, I’m coming to it presently.  I’d been stuck for a while trying to complete the pitch.  I need to be able to present a snappy and memorable show during the structured yet natural twenty minutes I will get to pitch it some day.   Improvisation in a sales pitch is foolishly risky business, as I’ve learned in a gently brutal manner.  Wrestling with the technology to make the AV (I reveal my age with this anachronistic reference to “Audio Visual”)  side of the presentation has been an added frustration.  Every added frustration makes the mountain I have to climb steeper.  The fucker is already almost vertical, any steeper and I’ll have to find or design special shoes to allow me to walk upside down.  Another of five dozen, sometimes ridiculous, workarounds so far.  

But this week I was finally able to negotiate the last technical hurdles with the program I’m using to create the pitch (a total of five hours winning over ever more supportive and expert tech support) and it gave me the ability, at last, to record version after version and watch them back.  Recording myself was a useful bit of advice I received a few weeks ago when the very idea of watching my sluggish progress set my teeth on edge.  Being able to finally see my work played back eliminated the rehearsal-to-myself motivation problem, and the equally vexing one of finding someone to do me the favor of watching each version and helping me assess my snail-like progress.    

“Wait,” you will say, “you supposedly have an organization, a non-profit founded in the Spring of 2012.  Why do you still need to find people to do you a favor?  Call a meeting and….”  Shut the fuck up, would you, fuckface?  

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, ignore this well-meaning yet provocative clown and my client’s outburst as well.  My client suffers from acute Founder’s Syndrome, a well-known condition that eventually afflicts the CEO of virtually every one-person organization.     

Anyway, now that I can work on the pitch and watch it in progress it’s much easier to see transitions that are bad, points that are not made clearly, glitches, clumsily worded talking points and so forth.  Clearly this is the work of a committee, a team, but since I have neither, it’s taken way, way longer to complete.  Now that it’s finally not so difficult to see and fix weak points I’ve made good progress the last week and it’s now virtually done.  I’ll be presenting it to a successful non-profit entrepreneur on Tuesday and once more have the benefit of his experienced feedback.  He has mastered a pitch that is successfully selling a once one-man program related to mine.   My pitch is ready now, 48 hours before the meeting, though I plan to polish it a bit more, if I can. 

Now the slightly odd thought, after one last bit of set up.   I ran the short new segment by Sekhnet the other day.  It contained my freshly written “who am I, why am I here, why should you care?” rap.  She was distracted from my short personal and professional message by the flash of oddly unrelated animation on the screen.   She was right to be distracted, I could see at once.   I set to work making the proverbial enormous changes at the last minute.  Had I presented that first version to the social entrepreneur I’d have lost him in twenty to sixty seconds and he’d be bracing for a wasted 20 minutes with a clearly mad person with a single good idea and a hundred bad ones. 

Several hours of concentrated work later I had a 49 second animated clip that I can actually link to this post (later) explaining who I am, why I am here and setting up why my program is something you should check out.   These simple questions had been impossibly ticklish ones for me to answer.  I knew the new version was pretty good.  Ran the less than minute by Sekhnet.  “I like it,” she said, after a little laugh at 0:20 where I’d inserted a little bark of levity, “it really shows how much work you did developing the program”.   Went back to work, tweaking a couple of things I noticed while showing it to her.  I fixed several other small weak links in the pitch.  

At the end of a very productive day I stood at the mirror shaving.   As I watched myself I noticed a small twinkle in my eye.  In that small moment of satisfaction I glimpsed an entire universe of truth and I had this odd thought:   it’s easy to have ideas and it’s morally satisfying to have ideals;  living them is the hard part.  I don’t personally know many people working as hard to live their ideals directly, to see their unique ideas mischievously afoot in the world.   It is hard, maybe impossible, work, but it’s the best work I could hope for, it occurred to me in that moment.  I am also blessed, by pure luck of circumstance, to be free and able to pursue it for as long as I have been.  

I pushed aside the thought of all of my more successful friends, figuring out how to live well doing things that are also important, or sometimes not;  pushed aside the often odious comparisons that come so naturally to all of us here in the Free Market.  

I am free, the twinkle in my eye reminded me, and lucky to be doing important work for which I am uniquely suited.   I’ve learned to savor the small but crucial moments of reward that are invisible to most people.  This could be a sign of madness, of course, seeing these tiny, isolated moments as a blessing, but I prefer (in the custom of all madmen) to think not.   It’s crucial to drink fully of every life-sustaining moment of reward we feel in order to persevere in any difficult undertaking.  I’ve learned to suck every drop of  juice from these rare and subtle moments of reward one must be vigilant to enjoy. 

If my life is harder, harder to explain and less materially sustainable than the lives of many people I know — these are all part of the price the world extracts from those who dream of a more merciful society and struggle to make these dreams real in the world.   There is a price to be paid for being different, clearly, and it’s not just a theoretical price.  Part of that price involves the occasional questioning of your sanity.  

It was an excellent moment in front of the shaving mirror, even if, at the same time, a slightly odd thought.