Scatterlings: An Interview with English Storyteller Martin Shaw on Nomads, Being Local and Belonging

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Martin Shaw is currently doing a book tour across Canada. You can find more information on that here.

You can listen to the interview here.

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Tad: Hi, everybody. This is Tad Hargrave from MarketingForHippies.com and various other endeavors. And I have the good pleasure and the good fortune of being here on the phone with Martin Shaw who is a storyteller and award-winning author who has written the book, A Branch from the Lightening Tree, Snowy Tower, and Scatterlings: Getting Claimed in the Age of Amnesia, his most recent.

He is director of the West Country School of Myth in the UK and he has also devised and led the oral tradition courses at Stanford University. And I’m sure many other things.

I had the pleasure to meet Martin and see him at work I guess earlier this year on the west coast of Canada at Hollyhock Retreat Center. And was suitably impressed and amazed to be in the presence of one such as this with so many old-time stories brought alive in a new way in the world today. And so Martin and I were just chatting before we got started. He’s been working on his current book, Scatterlings, which we’ll be talking about today, for the last five years.

So, Martin, reading the write ups and seeing the video that you made about it, it seems like such a poignant book at these times. Because we’re in a world where localism, where shopping local, and local food are becoming more important. But we’re also in a world of immigrants. We’re in a world of digital nomads where it’s become sort of this idealized lifestyle that you can have the laptop lifestyle and travel anywhere, where home just becomes a feeling. But also this world of refugees because of the destabilization of climate and political realities. And here you are, this traveling English storyteller, with something to say about it. And so it seems like such an important time for a message such as this. So I guess I lay that out as the overture.

And I’m curious why the title Scatterlings, what that word means for you?

“I realized to be honest that although my family were from a place, they weren’t necessarily of it.”

Martin: Scatterlings for me really is a term for everywhere and nowhere. When I was growing up, I think like a lot of people I come from a place — I come from the west country of England, from a county called Devon, where variants of my family have been there for 200 years.

But I realized that although my family were from a place, they weren’t necessarily of it. And so I began to suspect that being from somewhere might be a little bit overrated. I think by the time I was 20 I had lived in 14 different parts of Great Britain. And I would always use overly romantic terms to describe it.

I’d call myself a nomad or a gypsy.

But the truth is I wasn’t either of those things. I was a scatterling. And really what that means is, as I said, of everywhere and nowhere. You know, it was as though I had traded depth for endless growth. In doing so, my knowledge was three miles wide and two inches deep.

And as a storyteller and a mythologist, which is a very sort of endangered species type of profession these days, I realized that stories from everywhere are now available to us all the time. And with that, I realized that they are somehow ruthless and in fact as a storyteller I felt weightless to some degree.

So, about five years ago, I effectively drew a sort of chalk circle of about 10 miles around where I grew up. And I said, “This is going to be my mythography. This is where I’m going to dig in. This is where I’m going to begin the labor of finding out what wants to disclose itself to me right here and now.”

What does it mean not to claim something, but to be claimed by it? What does it mean to behold a story or a stretch of land, not just to see it? You know, when you and I, if I took you for a walk where I live, we’d go for a little while. And you and I would see a thistle. But William Blake didn’t see a thistle. He saw a small, gray, glowing man waving at him.

That’s called beholding, and that has a visionary aspect to it. And you know, one of the kind of modern hysterias is this feeling about how do we become indigenous again? Like it’s a pill that we can pop. And funny enough, I’ve never met anybody worthy of calling themselves indigenous. I’ve never heard that phrase being used.

“a huge difference between being from a place and of a place is your capacity to behold it.”

But one of the things that I think makes a huge difference between being from a place and of a place is your capacity to behold it. A long time before I became a storyteller, a long time before I wrote books, when I was about 23, I took myself to a stretch, what we optimistically call a mountain.

You wouldn’t call it a mountain. You’d call it a hill. It was in Snowdonia in Wales, there’s a mansion called Caer Idris, the Seat of Arthur. And if you spend a night alone on Carta, you come down mad, dead or a poet. And so I went up for four days and nights without food to make absolutely sure, to see what would happen.

And I had quite unexpectedly, a deep and protracted mystical experience. I had an experience that doesn’t fit in the self-help books. It doesn’t fit in modern books about rites of passage. It was like something out of some Siberian anthropological report from the early 1900’s.

And it happened to a white kid on a Welsh hill in 1996. And so I was left in the detritus of that experience, wondering how on earth — how can a doorway like that still be open? A doorway where you can walk out of this century altogether? That’s what I did really. And the last 20 years has been a slow walk back from that into the village. Because you know, the epiphany of the wild is not enough.

“Don’t make a marginal life out of a marginal experience”

I say to my students, don’t make a marginal life out of a marginal experience. Initiations tend to take place on the fringes of things. But there is a secure route back into the middle. You know, people like Yeats was political his whole life. He didn’t just sit there as a poet at a great distance. He got amongst it.

After 20 years of stories, 20 years of witnessing and traveling stories from all around the world, it felt important in the time I had to realize I had been claimed by a small stretch of land, a place called Dartmoor. And to do something about it. To do the labor and do the work.

In some small way, I wanted to be a good little Shetland pony for the 10,000 secret things that riddled around me all the time. And so that’s what Scatterlings is.

Tad: Now I can imagine some people pushing back and saying, “Yeah, but part of the benefit of the time that we live in is it’s this globalized world. We exchange cultures and it’s so diverse and so eclectic. I can eat food from a curry shop over here, I can have a burrito over here and then I go to an African dancing class over here. Then I go to my Zen meditation over here. We’ve got this big, eclectic global world. And so globalization is wonderful. We get to travel, and that’s part of the benefit of being in these times. We don’t have to be so rooted anywhere. You know, we get to have this globalized experience, and isn’t that adding to the richness of our life to be in this more globalized world?”

And I’m curious what you would say to that?

“It’s easier and easier and easier to walk away from situations, from relationships, from people and from cultures and from ideas that we don’t see them through anymore.”

Martin: I’d say all of that is true, but it is also leading to an addiction to severance. It’s an addiction to severance we get. It’s easier and easier to walk away from situations, from relationships, from people and from cultures and from ideas that we don’t see them through anymore. We don’t see anything down anymore.

I think when I meet many people bereft in their emotional lives I see them as almost sort of paralyzed by choice. There’s a tyranny, actually is the word I would use. A tyrannical element to choice that is distinctly unerotic. It doesn’t feed life. It actually paralyzes you.

And the kind of globalization you’re describing means in the language of the romantics, and I’m definitely a romantic, it means you experience a lot of eros, but you don’t experience amor. A lot of eros, but you don’t experience amor in the sense that I can travel to Marin County or I can travel to the tundra of Siberia.

I can travel with the Kalahari Bushmen and I am moved and thrilled and interested. But when I am on Dartmoor, I am in the presence of something entirely different. And my body feels different. The tempering of my heart is different. And I’m very grateful that I have that relationship and that I can discern the difference.

Without that, I will move from flower to flower to flower to flower, experience to experience to experience, and I will marry nothing and my hands will touch nothing. And then I wonder why I want to blow my brains out when I’m 50. So, for me, that is part of the entanglement that comes with all of this endless opportunity.

I’m not an idiot. I understand all the good things about it. You know, it will be a long time before I’m rude about growing up on Sesame Street or listening to John Coltrane or going to the cinema or any of those things. I’m not a ludite. But I am aware that there is a tremendous price tag attached.

“I am aware that there is a tremendous price tag attached.”

Tad: That opens up a lot of loops. But one of the things that occurred to me as you were speaking is, certainly in a lot of circles I work with, there’s a sense of — of course most of my friends want to go to India because you have all the sacredness there and the Ashrams.

You can meditate there. And a lot of them want to go to South America and of course in South America you can do ayuhuasca and you can hang out with Mayan shamans and you can hike the Inca trail. And then people want to go to Asia and Thailand. Meditation! The full moon parties! All these other places.

Especially it seems for people of European descent, but maybe there’s something about this modern world. Because I imagine there’s a lot of people of a lot of different cultures that could relate to this sense. There’s always somewhere else.

And I can tell you that when I think of spiritual Mecca’s in the world, places you might have a transcendent experience, Devon is not one that would come to mind.

Martin: Yeah, and I’m relieved about that because that means it’s a secret.

Tad: There’s a woman named Grace Lee Boggs who was an Asian woman in the States, an activist. And one of the quotes she said, there are two that come to mind. One of them was, “The most radical thing I ever did was to stay put.”

The other one was, “You cannot change any society unless you take responsibility for it; unless you see yourself as belonging to it and responsible for changing it.”

But this notion of being in a place, that you found something extraordinary in a place that other people might look at and see as ordinary in some way. And it seems like there’s an invitation in what you’re saying for people to perhaps stop seeking the sacred in these far-off places and to draw that imaginary chalk circle around a certain place for themselves and to find something there.

13838583_10153778182205980_337657412_o (1)Martin: Yeah, that is true. That is true. Scatterlings is the end. You mentioned the other books, A Branch from the Lightning Tree and The Snowy Tower, and then this book Scatterlings. Scatterlings is the one, and it’s very much the end of a trilogy. It’s the most urgent of the three.

And it is a very gnostic book. It is a very esoteric book. It pulls no punches. But it absolutely does offer, in its own strange, circuitous way, something of a map that whether you are living in Detroit or in a fishing village or you know, in a city or anywhere else, there is something you can do with this. I don’t quite know what, because I don’t like franchises and I don’t like bullet points.

It doesn’t do any of that. But it’s got a taste to it, it’s own undomestic language. And language is important to me. The guy that you would have seen me with in Hollyhock, Stephen Jenkinson, is a great pal of mine. And he’s someone who really relishes his language. He believes that language has moved like reindeer over tundra to get into the meadhall of your jaw.

It’s that you matter. That you have a degree of consequence. And that when you are feeling things deeply, you need to elevate that to a point where you nourish more than yourself when you speak it. That doesn’t mean it has to be high faluting. It just needs to have a kind of truth in it that the old gods recognize.

So staying still for five years, you know, and I travelled, but my psychic world was here. You know, the intensity of my creative life was here. Raising a child was here. You know, that’s the most important part of anything that I do, is being with my daughter.

“… many of my friends like yours were gobbling ayahuasca or hanging by their testicles off trees in Sri Lanka or whatever the hell it was.”

So all of these things were relatively undramatic, undramatic. And you know, many of my friends like yours were gobbling ayuhuasca or hanging by their testicles off trees in Sri Lanka or whatever the hell it was. Raising kids, dealing with the ignominity of living in the west. These are kind of private but very real mythological struggles for me.

They are what I would call ordinary grandeur. And I just knew that that was what I was going to focus on, rather than anything else that seemed too dramatic. I wasn’t going to get thrown off the chase anytime soon.

Tad: So a lot of people I can imagine who are hearing this would say, “Well, I haven’t left my damn neighborhood in 20 years. I would never have this kind of mythical experience.” I’ve been traveling and I’ve been in a place and there was no chalk circle, but if there was, I wouldn’t have left it. And yet I haven’t had this experience of being of this place, rather than just being from this place.

And so what do you make of that?

Martin: Well, they sound tacitly or explicitly depressed. And one of the things that I would have recommended is, as I sort of referred to briefly at the beginning is that this all comes out of an experience called wilderness rites of passage. Where I got profoundly shaken.

I was shaken to such a degree, I had absolutely no idea whether I would come out of this alive or not. So when I talk about the process that’s in Scatterlings and actually long before I wrote Scatterlings, I spent four years living in a tent on a succession of English hills. Exploring the notion of does wildness and wilderness even exist in Britain anymore?

“if your idea of your neighborhood is waddling down to Starbucks and back, no we’re not on the same page.”

So I did the hard yards and that kind of thing. I turned my head in that direction. So no, if your idea of your neighborhood is waddling down to Starbucks and back, no, we’re not on the same page. We’re not talking about the same thing. Absolutely not.

You know, the book asks more from you than you will want to give. That’s for sure. And I can talk about that on the phone, you know. But the main thing is to read the book and see the price tag attached. And most people would not want to do it. You know, Rilke the poet, he says really the function of poetry, real poetry, is saying this to you, “You must change your life.”

“The function of poetry, real poetry, is saying this to you, ‘You must change your life.'”

You must change your life. And so the book and my particular stance in the world is not designed for a mass market. But what it is saying is that mythological intelligence, in other words, your capacity whether you’re living in a city or a suburb or out on some farm or you’re part of a traveling circus, your capacity to recognize not just that you are in the presence of the gods but that you recognize which gods are speaking to you at which particular times through conversations and circumstance. That is a skill that you can develop. What Seamus Heaney would say, he’d say, “You need to tune your ear.” You need to tune your ear. And if you are living in a place and you are profoundly stuck, your ear is not tuned to it. And there are many different ways that people go about that.

And again, in the ’90’s and the early part of this century, anybody that I met that presented themselves as a spiritual being thought language was rather out of fashion. Everybody was trying to get to the place beyond language. And so to become a storyteller felt a very antiquated act. You know, a very strange thing to do. But because I believed that language was a kind of holy currency, it was a way of bartering with weather patterns and claiming some sort of intimate relationship with oak trees and ravens. And I believed also that when you did that, in some strange way, what we loosely call ancestors would roll up and have a look. This all seemed to be part of the move from the fromness to the ofness. Language was actually a bridge into that for me.

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Tad: Speaking of language, you made a distinction in the video. You referenced it here between wilderness and wildness. That had me wondering. Because some people live in the concrete jungle, and there is no wilderness around them. And yet you seem to be suggesting that wildness is still available.

Martin: Yes it is. It is. Now there are different types of wildness. You can be thinking of wildness like the long grass that is growing up between two tenement buildings. You can look at, if not a wild environment, then a feral environment, when you’re looking at street gangs.

I’ve spent, many, many years working with what we loosely call at-risk youth, and in prison sometimes. And you see versions of wildness or attempts at wildness trying to show their hands all the time.

I mean, interestingly for me, I believe that discipline is the dance partner of wildness. That actually I don’t want to be experiencing expressive dance or interpretive dance all day long. Sometimes I want to see a flamenco. I want to see steps. I want to see discipline. I want to see homemaking skills. You cannot be a decent storyteller without homemaking skills.

Because in the Gaelic and Celtic tradition, if your life isn’t beautiful enough, if you are not a kind of little trembling bird of sound, then stories simply will not land on your shoulder. There’s a whole maintenance program designed to curate and look after stories. Otherwise they’re simply not interested in turning up.

“The stories in Scatterlings are not auditioning for our contemporary polemics. They don’t care. They do not care.”

You know, you’ll see this in Scatterlings. The stories in Scatterlings are not auditioning for our contemporary polemics. They don’t care. They do not care. They have an agency all of their own. I travel about and people are always saying to me, they say, “Oh, you know a bit about stories. Can you give us one mono story for now? Can you just procure it out of the ether with all of the complexity of everything we’re living through? Can you do that for us?”

And my feeling is the stories we need arrived really perfectly on time about 5,000 years ago. They’re stepping forward now. The first thing that I recommend is, if you’re interested in stories, you need to live a life efficacious enough, humble enough and beautiful enough for stories to actually show up. Stories are not interested in us just beholding beauty. They want to see us make it. They want to see us make beauty and then they get interested and then they show up. And then they start to, as I said earlier on, arrive in the meadhall of our jaws.

“Stories are not interested in us just beholding beauty. They want to see us make it.”

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Tad: Is there some relationship for you between beauty and wildness?

Martin: Yeah, there is. There is actually. And I think most people can understand that very quickly. But civilization is also not the dirty word for me that it is to a lot of my contemporaries who would just be done with it. They would just like Rome to burn all day long and that would be the end of the matter.

And I’m not interested in that either. You know, it is a paradoxical time that we’re living in. You know, there’s no one that I know that on some level is not a hypocrite. Nobody. And you know, I would say this: at this point, for you and I, our incompleteness is our authenticity. It is. You know, I’m not saying we stay there. I’m not saying we stay there, but for me anyway, my incompleteness is my authenticity. Anything else is just hubris. And then I try to work at it in my own stumbling fashion.

Tad: Well, you mentioned the relationship between storytelling and homemaking. And I’m curious, because that word ‘home’, of course, gets used in a lot of different ways in this culture. And it’s come to mean a lot of different things. So I’m wondering, what does home mean for you? And what does homemaking mean for you?

Martin: I think there’s some practical stuff attached to that. Seven or eight miles from where I’m talking to you now, my dead are buried. You know, my aunt is buried, my grandpa is buried. My great-grandfather is buried, my granny is buried. My other aunt is buried. So there’s something to do with bodies in the ground. That’s partially to do with home. I can’t access that sensation by the Pacific Ocean. I can’t access it in Norway. You know, I have to be in a particular place.

You know, it’s funny how we talk about the difference between a house and a home. ‘Home’ I have to say for me is also a lot to do with books. I’m an enormous reader and I’ve lived in different places. But certain books, certain images, certain paintings, they orientate me, but I do not mistake that for what someone would call an axis mundi. That’s not my Yggdrasil. That’s not my holy tree.

So I have a sense, wherever I go, to some degree, I feel stabilized. But without question, when I am entering Devon, it’s to do with the smell of the air. It’s to do with the seasons I have witnessed over and over again. It’s to do with the child that I’ve raised. It’s to do with the rain in my face. It’s to do with all the failures that have landed on me in this place over the last 44 years. It’s a really nuanced confluence of things that for me give me a sense of home. And it’s not even a comfortable sensation. It’s just a thing. You know?

Tad: So is homemaking a skill, do you think, that we have to develop? Is it an innate human capacity, this idea of making home? Because for some people of course, maybe they’re a refugee or something else, or maybe they’ve moved for a different reason and now they find themselves in a new place that is not home. And some people have never known home in the way you’re talking about it: the bones of their ancestors. So then we’re left with this, I guess we have to make home.

“when you go deep enough into the local, you find the nomad.”

Martin-Shaw--224x300Martin: You do. And how does one do that? One of the things I found so fascinating about spending five years ruminating on your home ground, from where I come from, Devon, is when you go deep enough into the local, you find the nomad. There’s always a nomadic agency at the very center of the local. For example, a few years ago on a hill very near where I lived, a place called White Horse Hill, we discovered the burial cairn of a young girl. She was 14 years old. And she died about 4,000 years ago, or had been ritually executed. I’m not sure. And there were bearskins in there. And there was all sorts of jewelry. But the reason why we knew she was a big deal was that there were 200 little amber beads right there on this remote Devon hillside. And where did those amber beads come from? The Baltics. The Baltics. So that was going on 4,000 years ago. Trade was going on 4,000 years ago. One of the things I do in Scatterlings is I collect language that has remained outside of Samuel Johnson’s dictionary, but was being used by farmers and sheepherders sand rural people in Devan for hundreds of years. And without question the root of their language for calling animals is Aramaic.

“And without question the root of their language for calling animals is Aramaic.”

You know, so in other words, one of the things as I’m trying to get soaked into the local, the further into it I go, the more and more scent I get from cultures from hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away. You know, I mean Dartmoor itself is 365 square miles of wilderness, but, for a long time, it was the bottom of an ocean. For a long time, it was a redwood forest. For a long time, it was covered by hyenas and elephants. I love the idea that an elephant is more indigenous to Dartmoor than I will ever be. I think that’s very charming.

So I don’t lock in too quickly. I stay curious. Put it that way, Tad. I stay curious about what the word ‘local’ is. Because actually, and I’m sure this is the same way you are, there’s a hysteria around the word local that after a while I find unattractive. It’s just become another word, you know. So actually one of the things that Scatterlings has to own as a book is local stories, local myths, local legends. They do not do what a Russian fairy tale does. They do not do what a big Irish saga does.

They are much more low-key. When you really do get a story that is based and locked into a particular stretch of the dark river, that oak tree with the moss on the northern flank, the information it gives is discrete and quiet and really requires you as a storyteller to bring people into what I call the mnemonic triggers, the landscape triggers of that story.

“You don’t tell those stories to 4,000 people.”

You don’t travel the world with those stories. You don’t tell those stories to 4,000 people. There seems to be an invitation the other way in saying — and that’s what happened with the book. It felt as if the land was saying, “We will disclose these stories to you, but the condition is if you’re actually going to tell them you have to tell them in place.”

And so that’s what I can see as part of my practice over the years with this book. It’s actually working with quite small groups in Chaw Gully or by the great weatherstones or wherever these stories actually arise out of the ground from. There’s a wonderful phrase from a writer called Sean Kane and he says myth is the power of a place speaking.  is the power of a place speaking. Not that myth is people speaking or an oak tree speaking or a jack door. It’s the place. And you and I can be part of that place briefly, sometimes. But I’m touched by that. That’s enough for me to go on.

“Myth is the power of a place speaking.”

Tad: That reminds me of an experience I had 10 years ago. I was at the Gaelic College and I ended up connecting with a storyteller, George McPherson up there. And he had all these stories that were so particular, like this rock. You know, what you were saying has me thinking. So much to say.

One is how this culture becomes very — identities can become so Puritan and so pure. So “I’m from this country,” or “I’m from this,” with no sense that the ancestors of those places came from other places at some point. And there’s been all this migration over the years.

People say, “I’m Scottish,” and it’s like from this place. But you know, where? When exactly? So there’s that. And, of course, we see the toxic bloom of that coming out in the United States right now with the rise of white supremacy. Which is this sort of toxic white as a pure thing, which of course has a larger story of often coming and fleeing from Europe.

And then a sort of freezing of this cultural identity of you know, Scottish or Irish or whatever it is. And it makes me think. One of the things Stephen Jenkinson said once was that the main capacity of storytelling is actually story hearing. The ability to hear stories.

So part of what I’m hearing of what you’re saying is there’s this notion that people in their communities, when we really look at our communities and neighborhoods and where things came from, each of those things has a story. And that if we can look at everything and say, “Where did you come from?”

Look at the dandelion in North America and know that they came from Europe. They got brought over. I’ve even heard people make claims that earthworms were not here, that those came over from Europe. You know, cattle and all these things. So there’s a capacity, even in looking at one square mile or one square foot almost, one could want to know, “Where did you come from? How did you get here? What’s the story of you? What’s the story of us?”

And then it just seems like there’s some — that seems connected to the capacity for homemaking.

10515116_10152921283898336_362192035662851658_oMartin: I agree. In this book I wrote, Snowy Tower, the epilogue of the book is called Foundational Stones to Myth Telling. And it’s all about that. It’s just saying, “Try this out, try this out, try this out.”

It makes people a little worthy for a while. Do you know that expression? Worthy? So you’re a bit anal. You’ve got people kind of wandering around with jackets that are sort of pressed in vats of their own urine and things like that. They’re a little humorless for a little while, but you get past it.

I mean, I have students who for example, there will be a small room in their house and everything that is in that room they know entirely the story of that table and how it was made. Or the shoes or the musical instrument. They can go right back to the source of it usually because they made it themselves. So, that’s a mighty task. It’s a wonderful task. But if people want to work in that manner, that’s a place that you can go. You can just say, “I’m really going to get to know how it is to handle wood, or to build a boat. I’m going to dig into this.” And the further you go, as I’m sure you’re aware in your own life, you get paid back pound by pound exactly what you put in. And you will know that you are on the right trail with it when you are no longer enjoying it for a period of time. And you continue. I mean, that’s one of the things in Scatterlings I’m talking about for a lot of this book. The book was not written on a crest of euphoria. You know, the book was a very diligent, slow, trucking through four very difficult winters.

Trying to find my way across Dartmoor without a map. So in other words, I would find a story or a story would find me that still had a beginning and middle and end that was describing a particular section of the moors. And I would go up there and I would walk — I hesitate to call it that, but you could see it almost like a song line. I would try and find my way from one end of the story to the other. And the commentary on the stories was not a kind of exegesis in comparative religion or comparative mythology. It’s what happened on the walk. It’s the belief that when you start not only listening to a story — you know, the suggestion you were saying about how we listen to stories, not just tell them — it’s also how we walk them. You know, to walk a story, to walk the geography of a story. To try the myth line of a story. And you do it in such a fashion that what discloses itself on the walk, whether that’s animals you encountered, people that came towards you, you know the way the weather turned, it’s all a form of divination, for me anyway.

And that’s kind of my disclaimer really, is that I am of a mystical disposition. And so it’s not necessarily that these are things that would work for anybody. But they are sincerely laid down in the book as well as I can, as well as I can do that.

Tad: Do you think that not being at home is connected with not knowing the stories of things and not knowing the stories of a place?

“The result of not knowing the stories of things means you do not know the story of yourself or your place in it.”

Martin: Yeah, I do. Because the result of not knowing the stories of things means you do not know the story of yourself or your place in it. And when you don’t know the story you’re in, you in the end will be victim — and I do say victim — to enormous floods of anxiety. It doesn’t matter how much money you have. None of that matters. It’s absolutely crippling and debilitating. So you know, you end up in a very bleak place. I mean, I’m sure with pals of yours one of the discussions at the moment is around the word despair.

People are saying to me, “Is it legitimate? What do you think about the word despair? Is it good to feel despair for the world?” And I’m cautious about that word actually. I’m cautious about it. I think sorrow is one thing. But true despair, true despair, that is a very, very terrifying proposition.

And to bring it back into the realm of stories again, you know, the myth teller — there is such a thing as a myth teller’s contract. In a tribal community, stories are the nutrient that are going to hopefully get you from one end of the winter to the other. You know, it has survival at its core.

And the stories that we remember are the ones of significance. Someone asked me the other day, they said, “Why isn’t there a story about the day that nothing really happened?” And I said, “Well that’s a good question.”

The reason why is that stories that come from oral cultures come from a time where we didn’t have an iPad that we could continually put down information into. We had a finite memory. So the stories we remembered were impacted with really important, vital information, psychic information about how to function in this world with dignity and a little bit of style.

And with all of that in mind, the contract of the myth teller is to get a group into as deep a place as you possibly can. In other words, into the arena of ritual. To the bottom of the well if you’re going to use a fairy tale term. But you are contractually obliged to get them out again. That doesn’t mean you say, “Ah, you know, and then it was just a dream and then everybody woke up and la, la, la.” It’s not that. It’s not that. And it’s not quite hope either. Or if it is hope, it’s a very sophisticated version. But to some degree, you do not leave people in the wound of the story as if that alone is enough. Because it isn’t enough.

“Your wound does not edify the gods.”

Your wound does not edify the gods. You know, again something I think in the book I talk about is I meet a lot of folks these days and I say that they are experiencing what I call the seduction of the wound. If you’re growing up in an anesthetized culture where nothing really is happening, to get in touch with something that feels painful feels truthful.

You know? So, for me, the first place that I wanted to go when I was a kid was the mosh pit. You know, that’s where I wanted to go. If I was launching myself off a PA system 12 feet in the air above a screaming bunch of punk rockers, I was alive. And it was going to hurt when I landed, but it would be a trance-breaking kind of hurt.

And it was a form of contact, because I was banging up against people in a peculiar kind of dance. But that in itself is a move towards waking up, but it is by no means the end of the story. You know, that might have temporarily edified me, but it didn’t edify anything else. And with my own students, part of homemaking skills — we’re coming back to that theme again — part of homemaking skills is saying — say you’re a writer– waggling your pen around in the ink of your pain is a seduction. It’s a seduction. There has got to be a more vital form of nutrient than that.

And so with the stories that I’m involved with, the stories that have claimed me, the ones that I’m telling, they have some very hard, what I would call prophetic, not pastoral information. We don’t need more pastoral stories telling us we’re doing all right. We’re not doing all right. If Trump has a possibility of being elected, we’re not doing all right. If England is under the hallucination that leaving the European Union is a good idea, we’re not all right. So I’m curious about how we raise our game with our artfulness in the years that we’re here.

“waggling your pen around in the ink of your pain is a seduction.”

Tad: You know, when you talk about wounds, it strikes me that one of the ways we can deal with wounds, certainly there’s directly addressing them. But there’s also giving them some bigger context that they’re in, which seems like one of the roles that myth has played. You’re not the only person to have felt this way and that there’s a bigger story at work around this thing.

It’s not just that. And so there’s this notion of being inside of a story. And yet, that seems so antithetical to our times, which our times — we’re so hungry for freedom and yet the way we define freedom in this culture, this modern world, seems to be about a lack of limits. So freedom means no limits.

Which of course has the consequences of a rootless and weightlessness. And so I’d be curious to hear your understanding of freedom. Because in the words of Stephen Jenkinson again — we’ve referenced him a few times — he has a line he says, “We are modern and we are confused by freedom.” So I’d be curious to hear your understanding of freedom.

Martin: Yeah, I mean I don’t think about the word very much to be honest. It doesn’t register. You know, as long as I remain curious, curiosity is a more interesting word to me than freedom. Because what does freedom mean? Does freedom mean that I’m not indebted anymore? You know?

Does it mean that I don’t owe people stuff? I hope I owe people stuff. I want to owe people stuff for the rest of my life. You know, the old Platonic — in Greek thinking there are these modes that they call growing down. Growing down into the business of living. And one of them is you know, that strange troubled nest that is your family.

Accepting that there is some sort of divine principle at work. Or if you’re an orphan or wherever the hell you grew up, there’s some dynamic principle working from the beginning trying to get you to remember something. And there’s an indebtedness to that. There’s an indebtedness to a small stretch of land.

And it goes on to these four modes. But it culminates in creating a life to approach the unpayable astonishment that one should have at the experience of being gifted a life at all. So I want to be in the presence of unpayable things and I want to try to pay them anyway. So freedom, in any conventional sense, it’s just not on my radar I’m afraid.

Tad: It just strikes me that in this modern world we want to be free of everything, which includes free of a story. You know, “I just want to be my own person. I want to be an individual. I’m not a part of this bigger story that you want to tell. I’m just myself.” And yet the loneliness that seems to create in these times.

It means they’re dead. It means that guy died in this experience.”

Martin: I know. If you really want to make people uncomfortable when you’re having a gathering and people are talking about words like ‘initiation’ or words like ‘indigenous’, talk to them about the word submission. The function of submission in a rite of passage worth its salt.

There comes a point where you have to find out what it is like to bend your head. And at that moment, the polemic of your feelings matter not a jot. I remember a few years ago a guy rang me up and he said, “Yeah, I want to do your wilderness fasting, but I have to eat all the way through. We’ll just clear that up now so I can eat.”

And I knew the guy and I said, “Do you have a particular book on your shelf?” And I knew he would. And I said, “Go and open the book up.” I had it too. And I said, “You see page 82? You see this aboriginal ritual going on where all those guys are lying on the ground and every third or fourth guy there’s like a white stick coming out of the ground?”

He said, “Yeah, that’s really weird.” He said, “They’re out in the desert doing something like what you do.” And I said, “Yeah.” And I said, “Do you know what the white sticks are?” He said no. It means they’re dead. It means that guy died in this experience.

“And you’re telling me you’re going to rock up with a McDonalds and a Frappachino and expect to have an equivalent experience?” You know, ring me in eight years. Which is actually exactly what happened. He went out last summer.

So you know, I don’t know. Strange times that we’re living in. And you know, I’m very aware with Scatterlings and I’m very aware as a British person living in Britain, my situation with landscape is not the same I would suggest as an American of European origin living on Turtle Island. It’s different. And we have all sorts of gradient of relationship up until the present day, that Scatterlings has to tackle. It’s not as if I’m sitting here thinking, “Well you know, 300 years ago the red man was sitting in the forest next to where my house is.” It’s a different crisis. It’s a crisis of equal weight, but it’s slightly different. So one of the things the book has to do is deal with what I call English liminal culture. In other words, even through the Industrial Revolution, even through the political spheres, where were the pressure points? Where were the acupuncture points in British history when people were trying to reach out to the mysteries?

They were trying to reach out to what David Abram calls the more than human world. When was that happening? So one of the things is I hope for folks whose names maybe end in MacGregor or Vaughn or O’Brien, there are all sorts of clues in that book about this is a place you could go. This is a place that you could check out.

This is a place where you could raise your game, raise your wisdoms about what stands behind you.

Tad: I suppose that leaves me with one more wondering, which is a big one. It seems like so much of this coming to understand and find this bigger story that we’re in, this capacity for homemaking, this capacity to be of a place, has a lot to do with the relationship we have to the particular things of the place.

I didn’t get the sense you were sitting in Devon on a hill overlooking everything from a distance. But you talked about really walking through it. And in particular that moss on that rock and this tree and the way the branch is broken and that way.

And so there’s something about particularities, which of course could be just as true in a concrete inner city environment. There’s particular things to be seen there too. And yet one of the things you said in the little video you made for the book is this whole thing is about courting.

And one of the things you said earlier in this conversation was, you used the phrase what wants to disclose itself to me? And you made the distinction between beholding and seeing. And so it seems like there’s something about our manner of approach to the particularities of where we find ourselves that determines what we find.

“there are whole new growth pine forests on Dartmoor that were entirely planted for the construction of warships.”

Martin: Yeah. I mean, for the longest time, the forests where I come from have all the glittering, gleaming eyes. You know, when you go into a wild place, there’s many more eyes looking at you than anything you think you’re looking at. You’re always being looked at.

And what they have seen for a long time is us coming and looking at ancient trees as 2×4’s – as planks rather than a tree. They’ve seen us planting. There are whole new growth pine forests on Dartmoor that were entirely planted for the construction of warships. And so the very reasoning for those things to be there is for an act of war.

And so for 20 years I have often gone into wild places and I’ve stopped eating. One of the reasons you do that is because it is a primordial set of manners the wilderness understands. Because it means you say, “For a while, I am no longer devouring, but being devoured. I will be devoured.”

And I place my sword on the soil, and I bend my head. And you recalibrate yourself for a while to the humors of that place. To the hearing and the listening of that place. And so that’s why my relationship began to change.

Because quite frankly I was vulnerable when I was out there. I was cold, I was frightened. I was unpractical. I’m not a practical man particularly. So it was always a struggle for me, that kind of thing. But I did it with a particular type of humility because the old ones can smell if you’re on the take. They know. And they go, “Oh, it’s you again.” And so the manner in which they disclose things, the manner in which you move from seeing something to behold something is simple. Lay down your arms. Lay down your arms. And that is the beginning I would say of a different kind of conversation.

Tad: Thank you. I’m wondering if there are any last words you’d like to say. You’re about to go on this huge tour of Scatterlings all across Canada and be sharing this book with a lot of people. It will be a part of your life the next little while. So I’m just wondering, are there any last thoughts that you’d like to share?

Martin: I’m thoroughly looking forward to coming. And I’ll read you something from it.

Tad: That would be wonderful.

Martin: This is just a little bit. Two or three minutes. And it’s really the beginning of going out and looking for stories looking to get claimed.

I went out looing for stories in dark places. In caves, hundreds of feet into the base of hills. The immensity of tree roots and stones suspended above my fragile head. I leant slow words down there. Words flushed deep with water and bolder dust.

I took myself to dreaming places, forgotten places. Places deserving of shrines. I built small shelters in ancient solitary haunts and sealed myself into the dark for days and nights. It was in those places I learnt many holy names for time. Time is malleable as a concertina, as robust as Irish cattle, as slippery as the trout escaping the hook.

Each of the secret words was true wealth for my parched tongue. They required payment in full and I was not sad to give it. I went looking for stories in the palace of the birds, the pastoral murmur of the wood pigeon. The thrilling blue calls of the tawny owls in their midnight kingdoms. I learned feathered words up there, sounds that whittled a new and fragrant shape to my jaw.

For a little while, I was a boy of the moonlight, cloaked and rooted by the base of great trees. It is no great brag to say that a part of me is still there.

So yeah, there’s a bit of the book.

Tad: Thank you so much. So if people want to know more about the tour, they can go to — there’s a website DrMartinShawCA.wordpress.com.. And if they want to find out more about you and your work and about the school and learn more about you beyond this tour, where should they go?

scatterlingsMartin: There are two websites. One is called DrMartinShaw.com and that has a lot of my wider work. I do a lot of work with Celtic translations. I’m just finishing a book of translations of Lorca the poet. Various sort of stuff I’m involved with. I also lead a conference called the Great Mother Conference every year in New England.

And then the other website is SchoolOfMyth.com. And that’s my little school, my little hedge school that I have down in the west country where people come and study with me from really April to December. We gather five times for three days at a time. And we go very deeply into the kind of areas that we’ve just briefly discussed this evening.

Tad: Wonderful. Well, thank you so much. I know it is now 11:00 PM your time and you’ve been very gracious with your time. May your travels be wonderful and full of unexpected delights in every stop, and the seeds of many good things be planted in your life and the life of everyone who comes to your events.

Martin: Okay, thank you so much.

Tad: Take care. Bye.

Interview with Stephen Jenkinson – Am I Ready to Teach?

In February of 2015, I sat down to write a blog post that it felt ridiculous for me to be writing. It was entitled, 36 Reflections on “Who am I to teach and charge for it?”.

Being 39 years young at the time, and an elder in training at the very best, it felt like a strange thing to even presume to have an opinion on and yet, it was a question that rankled in the hearts of so many of my friends and clients – a silent torture of feeling called to teach on one hand but question their credibility to do it on the other. One on hand there is the call to proceed as if they might be needed, and on the other hand wondering what the best manner of proceeding might be.

And, so I found myself wondering what Stephen Jenkinson, author, speaker and founder of the Orphan Wisdom School, might have to say about it. I had interviewed him on the related topic of Right Livelihood in May of 2015 and hoped he might be willing to have another conversation. The request was made and sat on the heaping pile of the considerations of the days of Stephen and his wife Nathalie until a moment was found.

The conversation was sprawling and braided together the topics of teaching, culture, elderhood, globalization and cultural appropriation. The word ‘patience’ kept recurring like a caution in it all and reminded me of Wendell Berry’s line, “To be patient in an emergency is a terrible trial”. He implored us to see our cultural poverty and the woundedness that emerged from it but to ask that woundeness to earn its keep before giving it the megaphone and spotlight it might crave.

I hope these words are food for you and might enable you to provide food for others and all those yet to come.

You can listen to or download the audio version here.

stephen

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“From whence comes the, let’s be frank, demand for more teachers?”

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Tad: Greetings, everybody. This is Tad Hargrave with “Marketing for Hippies,” and I am joined by Stephen Jenkinson (pictured above). Stephen is a teacher, author, storyteller, spiritual activist, farmer, and founder of the Orphan Wisdom School, a teaching house and learning house for the skills of deep living and making of human culture.

It’s rooted in knowing history, being claimed by ancestry, and working for a time yet to come. Welcome, Stephen.

Stephen:  Thank you, Tad.

Tad:  It’s good to have you here. Months ago, as  a result of being in the Orphan Wisdom School, this question started to emerge, this wondering about being a teacher, coming from a lot of my clients wrestling with this, feeling like they’re looking at the world, and feeling like more teachers are needed, and feeling called into that.

And yet also feeling cautioned and not sure whether people asking them for wisdom or saying, “You should be a teacher,” is something that they should follow, or a temptation to avoid.

That, meshed with things I’ve seen in this scene of “In a weekend, you can become a reiki master,” people becoming life coaches in a year or two years. We just have this situation of people wondering, “Am I ready to be a teacher?”

A while ago I emailed you about this, and your reply was, “Who needs more teachers?”

Stephen:  [laughs] Yeah, a measured response.

Tad: Yeah. I guess I wanted to open it up to you to see what thoughts you had and reflections you had on this for people who are wrestling with these questions.

Stephen:  How about give me a located and concrete question to start with?

Tad:  Sure. There are people who are — and to think of people, I mean in the Orphan Wisdom School who I know people have come to and started saying, “You should teach what you’re learning here at the Orphan Wisdom School. You should be a teacher of that.”

Or people who are studying with various shamans or medicine people around the world. Their friends are coming to them and saying, “Oh hey, you’ve been studying this, and you know more than we know anyways, so why don’t you do a workshop or host something, and why don’t you teach a bit of what you’ve learned.”

They don’t know what to do with that. I think, from what I’ve heard from some of them, their wrestling with that. “Should I respond to that, and share some of what I’ve learned? Or should I demure and engage in some other way?”

I don’t know if that’s any better…

Stephen:  No, no better, [laughs] but let me not put you through it a third time.

One question, one place to begin is to wonder this. From whence comes this request? Not your request to me, but the request that you’re relating to me now? From whence comes the request/demand — let’s be frank — demand for more teachers, which I’m not sure that’s what it’s a demand for, but let’s start there.

The people who are asking for this, their request comes from? And the answer most certainly would be a combination of a proliferation of teachers already. Somehow that breeds the demand for yet more, on the one side. And on the other side, it comes from a fairly telling lack of familiarity with that thing that they’re requesting.

So the first thing to wonder about is whether this request is what it sounds like. I’m not inferring anything nefarious in here. I’m talking about something subtle, and the subtlety of a demand or an expectation for there to be more teachers is frankly a demand for what? It’s a demand for greater access to this thing that people are demanding.

That’s my first hesitation, is, “Look where this demand or expectation is coming from, and ask yourself whether or not it is to be served in that raw, frankly naked — and I might as well go the whole route and say — adolescent and uninitiated form.

Because any deep contact with a — let’s call it, in generic sense, a wisdom tradition, that’s really rooted somewhere, and at some place amongst some people in some particular time… I believe the first consequence of some kind of deep encounter with this is a more or less humble refusal to uproot it, to tear it from its home place and to insist that it proliferate where you live, where it has no kin, no homeland, no tradition, no history, no anything.

I don’t know if you can smell it… What I smell is something in the order of a kind of a conversion mentality, that most people who are making these kinds of requests or demands are ancestrally derived from them, and the conversion mentality — and I’m not just referring to Christianity, although it seems to take the biggest hit in this regard — but all of those religious traditions, and those traditions that claim not to be religious, who are engaged in some kind of transplantation, missionizing, almost across the board what you see there is it’s a kind of low-grade and maybe unintended assault on time, the specifics, the diversities, the rootedness of various times, of various places, and peoples and cultures.

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“this expectation or demand for more teachers strikes me as utterly in keeping with the globalization mind that many people who are requesting it would understand themselves to be categorically opposed to.”

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By which I’m saying that to my mind, this expectation — this is a bit of a leap here now, but this expectation or demand for more teachers strikes me as utterly in keeping with the globalization mind that many people who are requesting it would understand themselves to be categorically opposed to. Do you see what I’m saying?

This is a great dilemma, no? We fancy ourselves to be opposed to NAFTA, and because of that, we imagine ourselves to be free of the instinct to globalize.

Well, I’ll tell you. I see it everywhere, the assumption, for example. You can’t imagine how many times I’m approached on the road and elsewhere, usually in a kind of a conspiratorial fashion, as if I would be on the inside, obviously, of what they’re about to ask me, and very, very kindly disposed to it.

They’ll start talking about ayahuasca. That’s the big one, especially the further west I go on the continent. The general thing is, the tone of it is, “But ayahuasca’s cool, right? Me using it,” and then they go into detail about how Mr. Shaman took them aside in the Amazon, or maybe not the Amazon. Maybe the Fraser River, in BC, and because it was Mr. Shaman and he comes from x place, or she comes from y place, this all legitimizes the whole enterprise.

I think the underlying assumption of the whole thing is, “Well if it’s in the world, then it’s for everyone, right?”

Tad:  Mm-hmm.

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The real learning of these things, in the places where they’re actually learned, means that you don’t have an undisturbed life, that the willingness to learn these things rules your days, and that your daily life is enthralled to this learning.

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Stephen: I don’t think so. I think that these things are specifically in specific parts of the world for specific reasons, and why don’t we learn that instead? Why don’t we learn about diversity and locality, instead of generalized ability based on the extremities of bereavement, culturally speaking? That most people who are making these kind of requests are living in day in and day out, generally unawares.

So the old adage, food makes hunger, is absolutely accurate. It’s not just true in the kitchen, but of course, it’s true culturally, spiritually, and the rest. When you are in the presence of something that seems bonified, legitimate, rooted, planted, ongoing, and that it’s earned its keep, the instinct in there somewhere is, “Where do I sign?”, without any willingness to realize that the labor of preservation of learning, of memorizing, and more learning, of losing and learning, of being entrusted at too young an age because of cultural mayhem and learning. All of that goes by the wayside.

And if it’s in the world, and it can be reduced to a weekend — oh, let’s be fairer than that — it can be reduced to a two-year program, once a month and… whatever it is, my point is that the real learning of these things is not something that your undisturbed life would be amenable to.

The real learning of these things, in the places where they’re actually learned, means that you don’t have an undisturbed life, that the willingness to learn these things rules your days, and that your daily life is enthralled to this learning.

Maybe you know people who are willing to go that route. I, myself, given the travails and the slings and arrows of normal life in urban North America, I don’t know that many of them. But I’m sure that the people you’re referring to who are making these requests and demands don’t fall into that narrow and devoted category that I just described.

I’m not saying that they should. I’m simply trying to observe a dilemma that I think underlies this expectation, so there’s the first consideration, is ‘from whence comes the request or the demand?’, and the answer is it comes from a place where the things that are sought do not live. There’s the first one.

The second one is something in the order of the machinery of teaching. This is something I’ve thought a lot about myself, and for what it’s worth, at least to get it started, I’d offer this up to you.

Teaching can be distinguished from other kinds of activity which would nominally, at first blush, might look like the same thing, but I don’t think they are. Teachers — and I have to generalize to say anything at all, so before anybody’s ready to take me down in flames, let’s just consider, before we vote, because I’m not voting. I’ve just been asked to consider out loud here, too, so let me see if I can do it.

Teaching as a function is a metaphoric function, by which I mean this. Teachers, even the best teachers, are conduit. I don’t know how to say it, plural of conduit — conduii, I suppose it is. They’re a pipe, and the things entrusted to them more or less flow unimpeded either to the next generation or the next semester, or whatever the arrangement is. That’s what the root meaning of the word “metaphor” is. It’s something in the order of to carry across, to transmit, if you will, this kind of thing.

There’s absolutely room in the world for that faithful function. Absolutely, that’s true. I think what’s missing in the function is a kind of discipline, if you will. Let’s start with a little etymology on this one. You’ve heard me talk about this one before, I know.

Discipline, the same etymologically rooted in the word “disciple,” and vice versa. People don’t like the word disciple in North America. They prefer teacher and student, I suppose, but disciple’s a little strong. It sounds a little mindless, right? A little abandoned, and the rest, a little slavish, and we’re not big on that thing.

The thrust of these two words happens something like this. It infers the following, that kind of quixotic combination of acquired habit and reigned in inspiration that you are willing to take upon yourself, for the sake of the — love is usually the word that is used here, but if that seems too strong, for the sake of the…OK, I’ll say it differently. Sorry.

That what discipline and disciple infer is that because of what you seek, in the name of what you seek, and from whom you seek it, you will take upon yourself a degree of studied, purposeful habit, and restraint, and all that goes with that, in the name of the devotion you have for the person you propose to learn from. That’s the kind of matrix of the thing.

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The truth of the matter is that we are bereft of the institution of apprenticeship, really, and that’s to our deep, deep detriment, I think. We have workshopitis,

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I don’t see the proliferation of teaching that goes on now as having, frankly, the patience and the belief in time in that such an arrangement, I think, probably requires. The truth of the matter is that we are bereft of the institution of apprenticeship, really, and that’s to our deep, deep detriment, I think. We have workshopitis, God knows, and we have weekend warrior syndromes and all the rest, but the idea of a long, unrewarded, unrecognized, unspectacular, ordinary, mundane, not-on-a-website kind of learning where there’s no sign that you are, in fact, learning, and the willingness to find the deep patience required in proceeding, minus any sign that what you seek is what’s happening.

That’s what’s missing, and that what I think the proliferation of teachers actually aids and abets, the unwillingness to slow down, to be an amateur, and to never graduate from that status.

So if anybody’s been in the Orphan Wisdom School and is presuming to turn it around, if you will — I’m not talking about the motivation now. I’m talking about the mechanics and the consequence. They’ve done so without ever asking me what I think about it, I could tell you that, because I’ve never been asked about what I think about that, or what my take on it might be. But you’re hearing it now.

Do people really imagine that as a consequence of one or two years, which amounts to between 10 and 20 days of sitting in the Orphan Wisdom School, that this is tantamount to the years that was required of me to be able to distill what I try to make available in those 10 or 20 days.

I don’t think anybody, when pressed, would ever say that they’re somehow similar, but yet the willingness to go ahead and teach this stuff after, frankly, nominal exposure to it, whispers that it is.

Or it whispers that the times are so desperate, that we don’t have time for time. [laughs] That could be true, too, and I would say to you, if that’s the sentiment, I understand it, but I would say, [breathes in] “It smells like more of the same to me.”

Does that get us started now?

Tad:  It’s, I suppose, a question that comes up for me is, given the incredible poverty that we see in our culture, the lack of elders, the lack of initiation, the lack of apprenticeship, the lack of culture, in any meaningful sense…I just finished reading “The Sibling Society” by Robert Bly, so it’s sort of the absence of that whole vertical structure. What might we better be asking for instead of more teachers?

Stephen: How about this, Tad? How about investigating this instinct of asking for? How about coming to that with more hesitation and less resolve than we’re accustomed to?

That would be my instinct first, not to, “Hey, here’s the new boss. Here’s the new thing. Here’s what’s going to replace the poorly sought other thing.” You know what I’m saying.

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“I’m saying that the instinct to get it, to have it, to be it, to wear it, to eat it, to snort it, to festoon yourself with it, to bewitch yourself with it, to feather yourself, and fur yourself with it, that’s the thing to be wondered about, because I don’t see those instincts, to do all those things, informed by a real willingness to learn them. I see them as informed by a demand to have them.”

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I’m saying that the instinct to get it, to have it, to be it, to wear it, to eat it, to snort it, to festoon yourself with it, to bewitch yourself with it, to feather yourself, and fur yourself with it, that’s the thing to be wondered about, because I don’t see those instincts, to do all those things, informed by a real willingness to learn them.

I see them as informed by a demand to have them. That’s the first thing.

It’s that demand that perpetuates this witheredness that you alluded to earlier, I think, and it’s not just delayed gratification. It’s, “Is the world really here, materially and in its spirited form? Is the world really here to enhance our sense of well-being? Is that the fundamental dynamic? Is that what’s granted to us?” It sounds awfully like Genesis to me.

“You name everything. It’s yours, baby,” kind of thing. If some shaman looks you in the eye and says, “You’ll do,” why should you take that as it’s your turn?” [laughs] What if they’re wrong about you?

  There’s a wonderful story that, I know it in a kind of Buddhist iteration, but I’m sure there’s other iterations of it. The gist of it goes like this. Somebody, let’s say, who’s Catholic or Jewish — it doesn’t matter what his ancestral affirmation was, and he’s seeking a path, the path, some path, and maybe he’s in an ashram, I don’t know, something.

  At some point, he asked the guy in the robes how can he, he — the young guy — get to the status of the fellow with the robes. The fellow with the robes says to him, “You’re Catholic, aren’t you?”, and the guy said, “Yeah.” He said, “Well, be a good Catholic, that’s how.”

  It’s so dispiriting, because what merit is there in being a good Catholic? Now, I’m not saying there is. I’m not saying there isn’t. I’m trying to say something else, which is…Well, maybe this is the heart of the beast. I see a lot of people who come to things that I do, and five minutes into any verbal encounter with them, you quickly discover that they’ve taken up all manner of traditions from the world upon themselves, either formal conversion or times in the wilderness, or whatever it is, whatever the compound fracture is. 

  They have it, and the thought that seems never to have occurred to anyone who’s done these things, when they speak at least with me about it, is this. Is there such a thing as real ancestry? Number one. If there is, is ancestry instantly and forever obviated, neutralized, withered, and rendered irrelevant as a consequence of dying? 

If the answer’s no, it means your ancestors, present tense, are cultured, and that part of them being the dead, as an honorific title, part of them being your ancestral dead is that they have not graduated from the ancestry that they themselves knew in life.

  I think this is very possible. Take all that and then wonder about the hordes of generic North American people who are seeking an affirmation from a religious, or spiritual, or cultural tradition that’s not their own, and ask yourself whether or not there’s any consequence at all that accrues to their ancestors who they so readily abandoned in the name of being from somewhere.

  And is it not possible, if any of these things are true, that the desire to seek out and seek out and demand yet again from the Amazon jungle, or from the Himalayas, or anywhere in between, doesn’t actually deepen the cultural misery and void that has animated, I think, a lot of what you’ve been doing in your life, and certainly has animated what I’ve been doing in mine.

  I think the answer’s yes. I think the solution that poverty whispers is, “More poverty.”

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*

“Well, the Dalai Lama and a lot of other people know very well the old history of Tibetan Buddhism, and it’s not glorious.”

*

Tad: It strikes me, sitting with this that what I see, and I’m sure experienced in myself often is this. I’ve been looking at wisdom traditions. It feels like there are two impulses that it’s coming from.

One is this, “How can this help my life today?” I’ll actually read from something I saw online recently. It said, “What is shamanism? How can I learn from these ancient indigenous practices and incorporate them into my modern life? How can I embody a balanced relationship in all of my relationships?”

  But just that framing of it, of how can this help you in your life today… So, I feel like that’s one of the thrusts of ‘how do we use it?’, and I’ve heard it talked about as these ‘spiritual technologies’, in our modern life, and then this other thrust is something more about, “Yes, I’m critical about this culture, and so I want to get out of this culture,” because yes, North American culture, you’re right. It’s impoverished, it’s terrible. It’s destroying everything, and so I…

Stephen:  Count me out.

Tad:  Yeah, right.

Stephen:  Count me out, right? Sorry. I’m sorry to interrupt. Yeah, go ahead.

Tad: Yeah, there’s that, “I don’t want to be a part of it, and I see that the religions, whether spiritual or the religion of progress of capitalism, I see that that’s all bankrupt,” and so there’s this deep hunger and desire for a direction to get out of it.

Stephen:  Sure.

Tad:  So either it feels like these get used either to get me out, or help me get deeper in and be more successful in it, yeah.

Stephen:  Sure. Look, man. I don’t say these things out of any joy or malice. I say them with lament, with great sorrow, that so many of the solutions that we craft turn into more of the same.

  But how the hell could it be otherwise, though? If we are following our own bliss…I just hacked a fur ball to say that, but I risked it. If that’s what we’re doing, from whence comes this bliss?

  For 50 or more years now, there’s a segment in North America that’s believed, that has consistently believed that this idea of bliss, personal bliss, is somehow above the fray, is somehow and in no way tainted or touched by the malaise that you’ve just read from, that people are trying to escape, that somehow bliss is…Or your personal path, or personal truth — it doesn’t matter how you describe it, you understand the thrust of the reference.

  The idea that there could actually be a part of you that’s not impoverished, that’s deeply informed, and that would know the real thing when it saw it, and would know how to behave in the presence of the real thing. That’s absolutely breath-taking in its naiveté. To me, it is. That’s number one.

Here’s number two. The various traditions that respond most favorably to their search engines on the Internet, [laughs] ask yourself whether the old history of these traditions is known by these people who are seeking them out. I can promise you that each one of these traditions is very likely to have a degree of historical darkness, or enslavement, or cultural imperialism, that is has inflicted as well as been on the receiving end of, but man, who knows about those?

  Who knows about that part of things? Well, the Dalai Lama and a lot of other people know very well the old history of Tibetan Buddhism, and it’s not glorious, just to take one example, no?

So these things that we seek out more or less uncritically, hoping, believing, imagining, requiring that they are a kind of pollution-free zone, that they’re above the things that we ourselves are trying to get away from, that’s a very naive thing, man, because they’re there. That stuff’s there.

  I don’t say this, I hope it’s clear… I don’t say this to discredit any particular tradition. I’m saying the real, the deep practitioners of these are, I’m sure, doing their best to live this stuff out, to wrangle it as best they can in their devotions and in their daily lives. I’m sure they are, but I’m sure they’re not doing this, believing that they’re somehow on the other side of all that stuff.

  Think about this. There are a lot of religious traditions, spiritual traditions, or cultural, ancestral ones, that have a practice when people — mainly men — return from armed conflict, war, and the rest, that they don’t let them into the villages, that they have to go through a rather prolonged ceremonial sequence to, at one level, the obvious level, detoxify them from what they’ve seen and what they’ve been obliged to do. Yes, that’s true.

  But the deeper realization is none of these things are undertaken for the sole or even primary sake of the returning war veteran. They’re undertaken, a) for the sake of the village they’re trying to re-enter, and b) for the sake of the people that they killed and made homeless and all the rest, and orphaned, and… All of that, and the ancestors of all of those people, and the descendants of all of those people.

  You see, there’s a lot hanging in the balance, when you take a life, and the deep practitioners of real human culture understand that if you’re okay with it, [laughs] that’s nothing.

  If you get on the other side to your PTSD, that’s nothing, man, because the real root of PTSD is the kind of, you could say, ripple of consequence that you didn’t intend, but that ensued, nonetheless.

  Well, this is one little iteration of what I’m talking about when I say “when we seek out a tradition as if it’s pristine.” These traditions internally understand themselves to be otherwise. I’m sure of it.

  This is a degree of torment that perhaps when you thought about talking about this, [laughs] it didn’t seem it was necessary to visit, but here we are.

Tad:  It has me think about purity, and I think especially in the New Age, for lack of a better term, scene, there’s this idea of purity, and that that’s kind of the point of life, whether through our raw vegan diets that we eat, or the spirituality as pristine, and that pristine seems to mean a lack of culture, that it’s pure, in a way, and that this is cross-cultural, that this is just from a more evolved spiritual level, where everything is pure, and everything is untainted and intact, and…

Stephen:  It may be not really humanly derived. Maybe not really a product of human endeavor, but somehow granted from the forehead of Zeus or the equivalent.

Tad:  Yeah, and then there can’t be any cultural appropriation of that, because there’s no culture.

Stephen:  Because there’s no culture to appropriate, exactly, because it’s there for everybody. I can’t make a distinction between that and fir trees, or oaks, or anything that the people who are the MacMillan Bloedells of the world, see these things as a renewable resource.

  Tell me the difference between that and what you just described. I’ve never seen the difference. I think it’s the same orientation. The grandchild of the MacMillan Bloedel executive is the ayuhuasca king.

*

“My heart is broken. I never want it to mend.”

*

Tad:  One of the things you speak a lot about in the school is heartbreak and poverty, and it seems like the…I’ve noticed in myself, when there’s that inclination to — which I’ve had in various points and various forms in my life — that instinct to teach, that instinct to want to be in that role. I can also feel like there’s a way of avoiding the heartbreak and the poverty, and getting…

Stephen: By teaching?

Tad:  Yeah, because then I know something, or I’m trying to help people get out of that, and it’s something I just see a lot, I suppose particularly in the New Age scene, but I guess I could imagine in other religions, too.

  If the instinct for more teachers is driven by this poverty and heartbreak, in part, of where we’re at, and yet what’s being taught is the getting over the heartbreak, and replacing that poverty with some new fancy information. It just strikes me that there’s not a lot of room on the altar for the heartbreak or the poverty.

Stephen:  Who that you know seeks out heartbreak? I’ve told you a story about a guy I knew who prayed for it, remember?

Tad:  Sure.

Stephen:  When he and I watched the film “The Elephant Man,” that’s what came out of his mouth at the end of it. He said, literally, to me, “My heart is broken. I never want it to mend.” He was not seeking a pristine sort of post-morbid restoration of his self-esteem or something. No, man. 

  He was seeking memory, and he realized, I think, that his capacity to remember the deep things that he was born to and that were entrusted to him at some point in his life, required that his memory be engaged, active, and informed by the realities of his time.

  And from him, although this image is not his, but the understanding is, I’ve taken this in the last year or so…I fancy — I even have an envy where the practice of rosary is concerned. I didn’t grow up with anything like that. I didn’t grow up with anything to speak of. I sure didn’t grow up with that, and I think it’s cool beyond measure, and here’s why.

  It is a kind of choreographed memory. You might — not you, personally, but someone might find this inauthentic or contrived. Well, okay, then you try to remember on your own.

[laughter]

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*
“… you become recognizable to them the instant that you begin to resemble the time that you were born to.”

*

Stephen:  It ain’t easy, man, and all the heavy hitters, and all the heavy cultures in the world know very well how hard it is to remember how to be a human being while you’re out in the field trying to be one.

  Often it’s the first casualty. Your memory of how to be one is the first casualty of your renewed efforts to try to be one, so these rituals of all kinds are fundamentally, in part, a way of choreographing your memory without leaving it up to you. In other words, the distinction would be your being reminded instead of being expected to remember. Different function.

  The rosary is in that realm. I think it’s as funky as it gets, but here’s what I think. I don’t know that our time is any more fraught than other aspects of our time, but I don’t know that it isn’t. I would suggest this, that…

  Man, there’s an eagle right in front of my house, just diving into the water. That’s amazing. Just as we speak, right now. Literally, right in front of the house, over the river.

  I’m sorry, I got distracted, as I was watching there. [laughs] It’s a sign, baby.

  [laughter]

But I’m not going to say of what. I don’t know.

Okay.  So now, those beads. It seems to me that the particular afflictions of our time have to appear on those rosary beads, that in fact the beads are not a way of not being in the time that you’re in or solving the time that you’re in, or give you an alternative to the time that you’re in.

  I think that they must be an incarnation of the time that you’re in, and the way I’ve taken to say it is those beads have to be engraved with the nature, including the poverties of your time, etched into every bead, and when you feel them, your times, your contemplations, your yearnings, your strivings, your happiness, your deep satisfactions as well as your heartbreaks, all of those things have to, I think, bear the mark of your time.

  And this is what renders upon you the possibility of being a reliable human being, reliable to other people, reliable to the non-human world, which is, frankly, most of the world, reliable to everything that had granted us our days, which may not be overly visible, and maybe particularly reliable to those ancestors who have you in mind, who find that you become recognizable to them the instant that you begin to resemble the time that you were born to.

  Now I’ve never said anything that good in my life, I don’t think. That last sentence, that last sentence, if I die tonight, that’ll stick. I think that’s as true as anything that’s ever occurred to me. I’m very lucky that I heard myself say that.

*

“For what it’s worth. No elder wants to be one.”

*

Tad:  [laughs] It strikes me so much how that doesn’t get a chance to show up in a manner of understanding the world, or teaching, or wisdom. That’s the sort of universal “It’s always been true.”

  I supposed I find myself wondering…Gosh, I suppose a whole other thing, but in so many traditional societies it seems like teaching — and I don’t even know if teaching is the right word, but the elders who are the ones doing that, and that there’s so many people today who are drawn to that idea of being an elder, and then self-appointing themselves elders.

  I’m curious, to your understanding of from maybe a more traditional standpoint, it feels connected to this teaching piece of how does one know when they are one? How does one know when they are ready? How does one not get prematurely out of the gate and do damage as a result? Nobody wants to be Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Stephen:  Okay, are you ready?

Tad:  Yeah.

Stephen:  For what it’s worth. No elder wants to be one.

Tad:  Yeah.

Stephen:  The desire to be an elder is the particular purview of those who are not. It’s very counter-intuitive — crazy idea. Not that welcome an idea, but “how do you know if you’re an elder?”

“Hey man, that’s not an elder question?”

“Well, wait a second. You’d have to know in order to be one.”

“No, no. That’s what it looks like from here.”

  Here might be a good parallel. I used to work in the death trade quite a long time, and it became very, very sexy during that time to take upon yourself the self-appointed task, generally, of crafting a living will or advanced directive declaration. 

For those who are not entirely sure what it is, it basically means that when you’re no longer able to operate or articulate or what have you, that the caregivers around you and the loved ones are guided by what you would have wanted for yourself should you have been able to direct them in that moment.

It sounds very good. Here’s the dilemma. “Who wrote that thing?”  

“Well, I did.”

“Yeah, but where were you when you wrote it?”

“Well, I was able to write it, so that’s obvious, I was able to articulate it.” [laughs] “I was able to consistently express my wish over time,” which is one of the hallmarks of being sane, apparently in our culture.

“Yeah, but you weren’t at the time that you were instructing people about, were you?”

  “No.”

  “No, you weren’t, were you?”

  “No.”

  “In fact, you’d never been there, had you?”

  “No.”

*

“…The real skill of elderhood in a time as demented as our is, the real skill of elderhood is the skill of being able to have elders in your midst, not the skill of being able to be one of those people, you see?

*

  And so all the articulation came from is an artifact of never having been there, which means you were engaged in a very volatile and probably useful fantasy about what “enough already” would look like, and you know what happened more often than not?

  When people got there, it bore almost no resemblance to what they imagined. This goes right back to the patience thing I was talking about at the beginning. The people who are longing for personal elderhood are the people who’ve never been there, because elders are not people.

  Elder is a function. It’s not an identity. It’s not, in that sense, an achievement. It’s being achieved by not being sought. It’s functionally servitude. That’s what elderhood is, functionally. It’s servitude. It’s mis-apprehended leadership. Our understanding of leadership is, to some degree, above the fray. Those are the people you trust, that kind of thing.

  The elders bear the thumbprint of the makers of their time, and they’re wrought by that. Let’s go further and say overwrought by that, and it weighs heavily in a time like ours, to be an elder in a time that allegedly seeks it, but has no use for it when it’s present.

  The real skill of elderhood in a time as demented as our is, the real skill of elderhood is the skill of being able to have elders in your midst, not the skill of being able to be one of those people, you see? Because if elders are not sustained in their function, in their trouble-making function, they will never be there for you when you seek them, and there will be no elderhood for you to take upon yourself.

  The only way to become an elder is to seek them out, in that sense, to employ them, to recognize them and to give them something to do. How are you going to do that if you, yourself, want to be that elder that you seek? That you want the confirmation.

  I’ve said, using the word “pushback” these days, but I prefer the more authentic rendering of hostility, which I think is what happens. You can’t imagine how much pushback I get if I ever have the kind of marred judgment of talking about these things out loud. You can’t imagine the degree of offense that people beyond a certain age take upon themselves, and it basically comes back, Tad, to this.

  “When is it my bloody turn? When do I finally get to cash in? When does it…?”

  You understand what I’m saying.

Tad:  Yeah.

Stephen:  It’s so sad. The answer is, “Man, as long as you’re asking that, you ain’t never going to get there.” It’s an exercise in controlled futility masquerading as a pilgrimage. 

  These things are mysteries. They’re not strategies. They’re mysteries, even now, in a blighted time like ours. We have blighted mysteries, but we’re not bereft of mystery. One of the mysteries about elderhood is, “Well if you’re seeking elderhood for yourself, then this is an uninitiated understanding of what it means.” So then you have to go back to the drawing board.

  “Okay, so I’ll go get myself some initiation.”

  “Man, you’re 48 years old. What are you talking about?”

  “Yeah, but it’s not too late.”

  “No, it bloody is too late for what you’re talking about.”

  Do you know why it doesn’t work for people at 47 years old? Or 52, [laughs] or 29, or 21? Here’s why it doesn’t work, because they can put your ass out on the top of a mountain, they can freeze you to kingdom come, they can not feed you, they can expose you to the torments of the age, they can threaten you with the oncomingness of the demons of the dark, all of that shit, but, somewhere in there you’re going to be able to say, “I’m cool. I’m out of this shit on Monday. I’m cool. I can get in there. I can imagine myself on the other side of this shit right here.”

  Now here’s the thing. A 12-year old can’t, and that’s why these things, in certain fashion, are timed when they’re timed. There’s lots of other reasons, too, but that’s one. So you see, you get to a certain age, that the machinery of the deep molecular conversion to a deep humanity can not have its way with you, because you become too clever.

  Something like this, I was superintending the death of kids for a while. It was a pretty rough ride, and of course the parents were, needless to say, out of their minds with all of this and the great lament that the parents had, if you really obliged them to verbalize it.

  It was not so much that the kid was dying, but that the fundamental, the epic rip-off of this was that the kids were not going to get to have a full life. That was the operative phrase, “full life.” You’ll see why I think this is pertinent now.

  So I would usually say, “Well, why don’t we just go ask the kid?” Seven years old, dying of leukemia in the hospital, but let’s ask him anyway, and the parents would be horrified that you’d even think of it, and then they ask you to go ask him, because they couldn’t bear it, and properly so, they couldn’t bear to go and ask their kid, so I would literally do so.

  I did it many times, and I can tell you that kids, up to a certain age are absolutely mystified by this question of whether or not they are being deprived of a full life. It simply does not compute, as they used to say. Do you know why?

  Because they have no capacity for the understanding of potential life, that’s why. Because the only life they’ve ever known is the life under their fingernails. In other words, their life is a lived life, not a hypothetical life, not a possible life, not a “if” life. The life that they’ve inhabited is entire, and — maybe the word “complete” is not right — whole. That’s the word I’m looking for. Their life is whole.

Up to a certain age, which it looks to me to be somewhere between 9 and 11 is when they learn how to be crazy like the rest of us, when they learn how to nurse a grievance about not getting their allotment, their hypothetical allotment. When they open up The Book of “Supposed To” and start reading from it, when somebody at school looks at them between the eyes and says, “You’re not living up to your potential,” and they take that inside themselves as an authentic rendering of their lives, that their real life is yet to be.

  Something happens, and we seem to have to learn that. The big dilemma now for that is that the capacity to inhabit the functions of elderhood, or to be inhabited by them require your understanding of yourself not to be one of…You’re like a human in waiting, or you’re some kind of potential something, or if you just fill in the blank, then you will just fill in the blank.

  The plea I’m making, I suppose, is that the degree of patience that I’m talking about approaches the primordial. It’s not some delayed gratification strategy by another name. The patience I’m talking about is the likelihood of you getting what you want. Your want being informed so deeply by your bereavement, because of the troubled time you were born in, guarantees that the troubled time will continue in its current iteration.

  The willingness to forgo being delivered from it so that you might be of some use in it is the patience that I’m pleading for and kind of a secret intonation of that is that might be at the very least, a proto elder function. The willingness to forgo the payday that you were certain that enough feathers and enough ayahuasca and enough being approved of by a smaller browner person than you was going to give you.

*

“Sit at the door and see if you can discern the sound of knocking when it happens, instead of flinging it wide open and saying, ‘I’m here. Any dangerous work for me to do?’, or things of that kind.”

*

Tad:  Do you have time for one more question?

Stephen:  One more boss.

Tad:  Sure. In the school, you make the distinction sometimes between the teaching and being a practitioner.

Stephen:  Yes.

Tad:  And that feels relevant to this whole conversation.

Stephen:  That’s the part I left out at the very beginning. I was going to come back to it, so thank you for prompting me. Did you want to ask something about it, or do you want me to just speak to that?

Tad:  I notice when I said, “How do you know when you’re ready to be a teacher?”, and in the email you replied, “Who needs more teachers?” That’s the place my mind went to, was the, “Do we need more people at the front of rooms imparting information, or do we need people living this and weaving it into their everyday living, and practicing the arts of hospitality, and practicing courtesy, in whatever they end up doing?” I suppose that’s where my mind went with it.

Stephen:  Sure, and a fair response would be to say, “Well, we don’t have to choose between those things, do we?” It is possible that somebody could be a deep practitioner of human life and then on occasion have a breakdown of good judgment and talk to people about it.

[laughter]

*

“I think that’s what friendship is, and I think that’s what these practitioners, as a function among us, are, is they make the world somehow worth the trouble.”

*

Stephen:  You’d like to believe that those two things are possible, and I suppose they are, but I think what I’m saying is that teaching shouldn’t be a time out from what you’re teaching about, and too often, way too often, it is.

  So if you’re really have been entrusted with something that you’re absolutely persuaded is the stuff of the ages, let the world let you know that. Sit at the door and see if you can discern the sound of knocking when it happens, instead of flinging it wide open and saying, “I’m here. Any dangerous work for me to do?”, or things of that kind.

  It’s enormously seductive now. There are so many people willing, very temporarily, to listen to you, that the seduction is, “This must be the sign, that you should be talking.”

  Bob Dylan always said, when he was a young, young man, in one of his songs, he said, “I know my song well before I start singing it.” But he also said, “To live outside the law, you must be honest,” and that’s very compelling to me, because our normal understanding of law-abiding citizen is that you are honest, that you tell the truth, that there’s this faithful orientation to think, “Nothing of the kind, baby.”

  If you’re a law-abiding citizen, you don’t even need a conscience. You need a capacity for basic obedience, and that’s what the law requires of you, and that’s all it requires of you. It doesn’t require discernment. The enforcers of the law don’t say to you, “Now, Tad, which of these laws do you propose to obey today, because you know, it’s really up to you.” No, there’s no discernment at all.

  There’s no discernment at all. One thing only — “Obey,” and there’s no honesty in that, because there’s no discernment in the rest.

  On the other hand, if you propose to find yourself, or you do find yourself on the outside of the thing that you wish you could have been able to change, that outsider status, that’s the beginning of the possibility of you wrangling something that’s more authentic than obedience, and that, in his lyric, he called it honesty.

  So, yes, I think that the proper alternative to the multiplying of teachers is that if we had people practicing life instead of coaching somebody else in it…Let’s go one step further and say I propose to you that it is not a function of human being to teach human being to provisional human beings. I don’t think it is.

  I think that you have to take upon yourself as best as you’re able to a degree of humility that might be in the realm of…I think it was Rumi, but it might have been one of his cohorts over there, who regularly in his poetic kind of ramblings pleaded with people to wake up, and the way he often said it is he would end a particular iteration or plea or something with the phrase “like this,” and of course, you’re reading it on the page. You’re not exactly sure what the reference might be.

  But I think this is as close as a practitioner might get to teaching, is to, just in case you’re missing it, that practitioner might look up from the page or the spoon that he or she’s carving, or the shoe that he or she’s making, or whatever it is, and say, “Well, it’s like this,” and then look back down and keep going, because maybe you missed it, and they break form.

  So it’s not an orthodoxy I’m talking about here. It’s not the new ten steps or anything of the kind. It’s a kind of nuance, I guess, and the idea of being a practitioner, that’s the way I crafted an alternative that I thought might be available just with a phrase, that the mind could think something else, other than, “How do I impart this thing?”

  You don’t impart it. You practice it, and in so doing, see to it that it’s still in the architecture, and this means you have to rely on witnesses, not shanghai students, not…What’s that thing they used to say when they…Pressed. Not pressed students. That’s the old thing that they, when they would gather drunken guys off the wharf and turn them into sailors for the royal navy during the bad old days.

  So the press gangs of ashrams and the rest, maybe we could set that aside for a while, and entertain the subtler possibility that if there’s a real good practitioner, that if we’re willing to find practice and not inspiration, if we’re willing to find somebody who, in a much less spectacular way than we counted on, is seeing to it that the thing we’re seeking is in the world without them writing a book about it, or having a website for it, and that that way of seeing to it that it’s in the world is the thing that we’re seeking.

  To know it’s in the world…Okay, maybe I’ll end with this. I have a friend. I’m going to name him. His name’s Peter von Tiesenhausen. Quite a handle. Peter von Tiesenhausen’s one of the most accomplished sculptors in this country now. He lives in rural Alberta, up in the north in the Peace River area.

  I just called him my friend. We virtually never see each other, and somebody could say, “What kind of friendship’s that?”, and I say to you, “Well, here’s what kind of friendship it is, that on occasion, if I’m writing to him or something, I’ll say to him the equivalent of,” and he’ll say something similar, “You know, as long as I know that you’re in the world, then it’s a good world to be in. And I don’t need, much as I’d love it, but I don’t need the ongoing hit of visits and flowers, much as I’d love it. But if I have to choose between, I’d rather know that you’re in the world,” and then I’ll say to him, “so you’ve got to let me know when you’re not, because then what binds me to this place would become a little looser than it was.”

  I think that’s what friendship is, and I think that’s what these practitioners, as a function among us, are, is they make the world somehow worth the trouble.

Tad:  Stephen, thank you so much for taking the time. I know you’re in the midst of a lot of things going on right now.

Stephen:  That’s very true.

Tad:   And I don’t feel like a very good interviewer, but somehow you have wrangled something wonderful out of my stumbles and attempts and my questions, and so I’m grateful for that, and so grateful for your time, and for all the time that you’ve put in to be able to make something of this conversation, and for all the time that people put into you to deliver you to our doorstep. I’m just grateful for all of it.

Stephen:  It’s a great heredity we’re in, isn’t it?

Tad:  Mm-hmm.

Stephen:  None of this happens, Tad, and I’m not blowing smoke up your kiester when I say this, and I appreciate what you just said to me, but none of this happens if you don’t ask and you don’t proceed as if maybe, maybe, I might have something that’s been entrusted to me that’s worth hearing. If you don’t proceed that way, who knows, including me, who knows?

  But when you ask, I’ve got something to live up to, and that living up to seems to me to be…That’s the partnership. You ask, which means…I’m not naive about it. I’m sure that some place in your life, you’re being hit up all the time to do these very things that I’ve been talking about, and probably slandering during the last hour or so.

  I’m sure you are, so I wasn’t talking about something that you’re vaguely interested in, but doesn’t really touch your days, and I know that’s a risk for you to wonder about these things, because people who are in on what you’re doing are probably looking to you for the very same thing.

  So we really both took a chance, and we’re both hoping that there might be some merit in having done so for somebody who might, by accident, come across this rambling enterprise that was our conversation, and if we both kept up our ends, maybe there is.

Stephen J

Blog for Clients: An Interview with Corrina Gordon-Barnes

Screen Shot 2015-12-17 at 5.21.53 PMI’ve known Corrina Gordon-Barnes for a few years now and my respect and affection for her have only deepened. She coaches, consults and runs a very fine blog for conscious service providers. She’s got a lot of thoughts worth hearing about how to create a blog for yourself and how to do it in such a way that it actually gets you clients rather than wasting your time (In fact, she’s made her popular Blog for Clients course available as a self-study training course).

Blogging is something I know a bit about, having written 600+ blog posts myself. However, I can tell you that I’ve written precisely zero of them with any sense of strategy. It’s been a way for me to get clear on my own thoughts. What Corrina is offering here is a far more strategic, wise and profitable investment of time than anything I’ve done.

So, I thought I would invite her to share her thoughts on the matter.

Screen Shot 2015-12-17 at 5.27.36 PMTad: What is the difference between blogging and blogging for clients?

Corrina: I like to use the analogy of cooking.

Scenario one: I’m by myself. I’m cooking a soup. Yum, I’m going to really enjoy this soup. I’ll just cook according to my taste, I won’t consider quantities, I’ll just focus completely for myself; my and my soup is what I’m all about.

Scenario two: I want to feed my friends. They’re hungry. They’re coming over in two hours. I think about their allergies, their taste preferences. I plan out my cooking so I have enough provision for all of them and so that it’s ready on time for them.

This is the difference. Blogging is for me; blogging for clients is when I focus on others, think about their needs, think about how I can serve them, and then work backwards, getting strategic? about how to meet their needs through what I’m offering.

When we’re blogging for clients, we blog in such a way that it gives potential clients a taste of our approach, plus – importantly – what we have to offer through our paid-for products and services. When we blog, we give our potential clients an opportunity to fall in love with us, to feel safe with us, to feel that somehow we’re aligned and belong together. We’re in the same resonance.

Blogging might be fun in and of itself, but blogging for clients actually leads to clients, increased credibility and increased income. Blogging for clients is not about writing as a hobby; it’s about blogging as your key marketing activity. It actually works for you, supporting your business to grow and flourish and become profitable. AND it’s thoroughly enjoyable.

Why do most people’s blogs get so little engagement and no clients for them? What are they missing?

They don’t first decide what they’re selling and then work backwards from there. They don’t reverse engineer their blogs. In my self-study training course, Blog for Clients, we start with the product or service you want to sell more of, or have people hire you more frequently for, and then we choose blog topics and structure the blogs with this end in mind.

Wow. That’s so simple. Totally.

People at first worry about being strategic or having structure, they worry it’s going to limit their freedom or creativity, but here’s the truth: the writing of the blog actually can be more creative and free-flowing, once you’re writing from strategy and structure.

Another thing people miss is that they don’t give blogging enough of a chance. They give up too soon. And they don’t learn how to do it properly, from people who’ve figured out what works and what doesn’t. They stumble along, trying to figure it out themselves, rather than giving themselves the chance to invest in a learning journey with this incredible marketing approach.

Blogging is the #1 way I built my business over the decade I’ve been self-employed. People look at the word “blogging” and think it looks like something teenagers do, or people who have too much time on their hands. They don’t realize the power at their finger-tips!

What are the top three blunders people make when blogging for clients? And what should they be doing differently?

Blunder #1: They try to speak to everyone, a “spray and pray” kind of approach, rather than honing in on ONE ideal client and writing every blog for them.

Solution: Write each blog to ONE person. I actually start my blogs, “Hey Hannah”, picture my ideal client, write the blog, and then delete the greeting at the end!

Blunder #2: They don’t blog consistently. It’s sporadic, impulsive; they’ll write a flurry and then go awol for months. Think about your favourite TV show or magazine; we love that feeling of regularity, of being able to expect something will show up in our inbox or letter box or screen. We come to trust the producers.

Solution: Commit to an editorial calendar; hold yourself accountable for contributing great value regularly to your community. Be in it for the long-game.

Blunder #3: They forget that a blog is a conversation. We have a whole module in Blog for Clients about how to inspire more comments and what to do about them (because people worry about spam and trolls and negative comments).

Solution: In the way you write, and in your encouragement of comments, remember that a blog is powerful because it’s a heart-to-heart two-way conversation.

Any last advice of thoughts to people who are building their blogs to get clients?

We’re not born knowing how to do marketing.

Likewise, we’re not born knowing how to do blogging.

I often hear from people after they’ve taken Blog for Clients, they say something like: “I nearly didn’t take this course. I knew how to write. I liked writing. I didn’t realize there was actually an art and science to blogging; I thought I could just figure it out” – and they’re so grateful that they learned how to do it so it actually WORKS for them, business-wise. Otherwise, we can enjoy blogging but we won’t see the fruits of our labour. And our business won’t reach the level it can go to, with blogging as the catalyst.

About Corrina:

Corrina Gordon-Barnes wants to live in a world where marketing is fun, clients turn up easily, and money flows to those who do work that helps and heals.

As a certified coach, marketing teacher and self-employment champion, she’s been featured on MindBodyGreen, The Daily Muse, LifeByMe and MarketingForHippies and published in The Ecologist, OM Yoga, Diva, and The London Paper. She’s author of Turn Your Passion to Profit: a step-by-step guide to getting your business off the ground.

When she’s not writing blogs and teaching courses, you can find her reading chick-lit, making vegan blueberry cheesecake, and trying to catch her niece and nephew on the monkey bars.

Take her self-study training course – Blog for Clients – and read her book – Turn Your Passion to Profit – to discover how to stay happy and profitable on the self-employment path at http://youinspireme.co.uk

Interview with Loolwa Khazzoom: Penetrating the Mainstream

Mainstream-MediaThere’s no word with greater sting to it for progressives and radicals than ‘sell out’. And yet we want to reach as many people as possible with our message. This creates an inner conflict of wanting to ‘get the word out there’ and then the fear of what it might mean if we do. Not to mention the fact that the world of PR seems to be utterly inaccessible. How on Earth would you ever book yourself an interview on NPR?

It seems unreasonable.

So, with all of this in mind, I dropped a line to Loolwa Khazoom who had interviewed me years ago to get her thoughts on this all.

Tad: You talk about helping alternative types penetrate the mainstream. What do you mean by that?

Loolwa: Many progressive types, especially activists, have an antagonistic relationship with the media, which is discussed as The Media, with a knowing scoff and roll of the eyes. Activists are especially frustrated, and rightly so, with the kinds of mind-numbing garbage that often passes as stories in the press. Among other issues, there are a lot of lazy journalists out there, who are basically serving as mouthpieces for the representatives of corporations and government bodies.

Reporting is often a she-said, he-said assembly of quotes, instead of an in-depth investigation into a particular matter. Journalists often do not want to do the work necessary – ie, to go out of their way — to get the facts on various issues and challenge the people being interviewed. As an upshot, activists end up pulling out their hair over the kinds of reporting that goes on in the news. Not understanding how the media operates, and feeling powerless to change the way things go down in the press, activists end up protesting or boycotting the media itself, in addition to fighting the good fight on a cause of choice.

Rather than opposing the media – which doesn’t do anything for the cause, whatever the cause may be – I am a proponent of studying and mastering the media, so that we put it to work for us instead of letting it be used against us.

And what do you mean by alternative businesses and projects? Who exactly are we talking about here?

It’s really the gamut of anyone who is rocking the foundation of “the system.” The central issue is that paradigm-shifting visionaries are working to change the very system in which the media is entrenched. So without understanding how the media works, said visionaries find themselves constantly frustrated by and on the outskirts of media coverage.

This might seem obvious but . . . why would someone want to penetrate the mainstream? What’s the problem you are seeing that you’re trying to address through your work with clients?

If we want to change the world, we need to reach it. Yes indie media is a fabulous platform for us to find and communicate with each other, but therein lies the limitation: We communicate with each other. We need to communicate with the people who are not already touched by and part of our little revolution, in order to grow said revolution. The key is learning how to communicate in language that our target audience understands.

Bringing it to the “duh” level: If I am speaking in English to someone who only speaks Spanish, I am not doing an effective job of communicating, am I? It is incumbent upon me to learn Spanish, so as to get across my message. Just about anything can get through the mainstream press, if it is communicated in the language of the press. Activists just need to learn that language.

Are there any downsides to penetrating the mainstream?

Not if you know what you’re doing.

I could imagine some people might have a big fear about “selling out” – that to “go mainstream,” you’ve got to compromise your core values, lie.

They don’t understand how media works. Editors and producers work off a very formulaic template. Once you know the formula, you can put it to work for you. The very same laziness that makes a reporter serve as a mouthpiece for the government can make a reporter serve as a mouthpiece for you.

Why do so many “alternative” businesses fail to penetrate the mainstream? What would you say are the three biggest blunders you see?

First, they think they can just go straight to the biggest and baddest press, without having any previous media exposure. Instead, they need to work their way up the media hierarchy, starting with the local and independent press, then proactively leveraging that to get increasingly mainstream exposure.

Second, they don’t understand the inter-connected, dare I say holistic, nature of a media, marketing, and PR campaign. Starting with whatever and whoever is in your immediate access, you work your way up the ladder in three places: venues (speaking on your topic of expertise), VIPs (collaborating with experts in your field), and media (print, tv, radio, and blogs). You leverage one to get the other, and each time you climb another rung in the ladder, you add it to your bio and flash your bling. It’s a game of perception, and you need to work it.

Third, they don’t understand the difference between advertising in media and getting featured in media. The first is asking the media to speak your language – ie, promote your business. The second is speaking the media’s language – ie, creating a story out of your business. Everyone and their dog wants to get their business into the media. You need to give the media a reason to write about you – for example, by creating a community event.

Let’s say you run a green cleaning business. During one of the national cancer awareness months, you can partner with the local chapter of a national cancer association, a local integrative medicine oncologist, and the local natural foods store that sells green cleaning products. Together, you can put on a program that educates people about the hazards of chemical cleaning products. As part of this program, you can share statistics of how environmental toxins are linked to the increased rates of cancer, and you can discuss the alternatives out there.

Through this program, you position yourself as the expert, the go-to person, on the best natural cleaning products for the home. What products do you use in your service, and why? What should people look for, and look out for, when selecting a green cleaning product? You pitch the event to local television, radio, and print media – including the local affiliates of ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, and NPR.

What you’re doing in this example is piling on your news hooks – ie, reasons for media to cover you: First, you have the national holiday. Second, you have the local chapter of a name-recognized cancer association. Third, you have a local doctor. Fourth, you have a local market, where people can go and get the products you’ll be discussing. Fifth, you have a business that people can hire to implement what they learn.

You are spoon-feeding the media what it needs to generate compelling content for their programs. The upshot is that you, and therefore your business, get featured in the top local press, which in turn can be leveraged to generate coverage from top national press.

If you were sitting with someone who wanted to penetrate the mainstream – what would be the three biggest pieces of advice you’d give them?

You need to get crystal clear on these two questions: What do you do, and who the hell cares? Those two basic questions lead to a whole slew of other questions. In a nutshell, you need to do some soul searching about what you do, why you do it, how you do it, how you are similar enough to others doing it that there is a point of reference, and how you are different enough to others doing it that there is a reason to work with you in particular.  

Then you need to get clear on what’s out there and what’s not out there. What are the intersecting fields of your work? What kinds of services are other people offering in these fields? What do they bring to the table? What do they not bring to the table? What is an unmet need that you are filling? What do you, and you alone, have to offer that is going to rock the foundation of this planet? You need to get super clear on the answers to all these questions, before you have any business showing your face to the world.

Once you have all that in order, you need to figure out the language to use in representing yourself. Keep in mind that the language you use for one person, organization, or media outlet will be different than the language you use for another. To simplify my point: If you are communicating with a young child about something, you need to use different language than if you are communicating with a middle-aged adult.

Before you approach a media outlet, study it. Who do they feature? What do they talk about? How do they talk about it? It is your job to fit your message into that media outlet’s format. It is not the media outlet’s job to rework its format to fit your message.

Can you share three stories or case studies of fringe dwellers who have, somehow, penetrated into a broader appeal than just their own immediate networks? And maybe some examples of projects or businesses that tried and failed to bridge that gap?

The bottom line is this: If you want to get into media, you need to do the work of getting yourself media-ready. You need to nail down your brand, target audience, and message. You need to apply that message to your online presence, through compelling website and social media content. You need to establish a name for yourself by speaking at numerous venues, collaborating with VIPs and bringing them into your network, and pursuing media coverage from local and indie, then increasingly more mainstream outlets. You cannot skip over any step of this process, or it won’t work. You cannot demand that the media conform to your way of doing things, or it won’t work.

I had a raw organic vegan restaurant as a client. When I first discovered this restaurant, they had one of these free blogging sites as their “website,” and they did not come up in the search engines when I typed in “raw organic vegan” with the name of the city where they were located. Actually I had been looking for a raw organic vegan restaurant in this town for well over a year before someone told me they existed. So it was evident they sorely needed my services.

The first step was interviewing the restaurant owner/chef about all the questions I mentioned previously – getting crystal clear on the brand, target audience, and message. The second step was hiring a web designer to create a professional site. The third step was writing compelling content that embodied the spirit of the restaurant in language that would interest the average reader. For example, in the “about” section, I included the amazing personal story of how the chef herself struggled with health challenges – leading her to transition to an organic raw foods diet. Everyone loves a good personal anecdote and an individual to whom they can relate. I also included the science behind why an organic raw foods diet has helped so many people heal naturally from the spectrum of diseases. Our society values science, so give them the damn science.

Once the website was ready, I launched a social media campaign – targeting the kinds of communities that would naturally gravitate toward organic raw vegan food . Then, and only then, I launched the mainstream media campaign – ie, once the restaurant had its game face on. I guided the owner on creating special dishes for calendar holidays and on creating community events and special promotions around those dishes.

For Mother’s Day, I advised the chef to create an organic raw vegan pie specially designed for expectant mothers, incorporating ingredients that support the pregnancy and birth process. I also called it a funky name that would grab people’s attention. I had the chef announce that the pie would be rolled out (as it were) in the restaurant on Mother’s Day and that the restaurant would offer a discount to all the pregnant women ordering the pie on that day. I also advised the chef to teach a class on how to make the pie, the week before Mother’s Day.

In effect, I established multiple time and news hooks, customized for the media: a new dish at a local restaurant — specifically, a pie, and who doesn’t love a good pie; a tie-in to a calendar holiday celebration; a unique health angle for the barrage of stories on Mother’s Day; a feel-good special for moms celebrating with their families on the big day; and a community event gearing up for the holiday. We used the same formula for Father’s Day, and both stories were a hit.

The chef was featured on all the local morning shows on the affiliates of ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox, as well as in the daily paper, weekly paper, and the local magazine – in several cases, twice over. In addition, the restaurant website shot up to the #1 result for any variation of a search on the words “raw,” “organic,” “vegan,” and the name of the city.

As a side note, media is critical not only for getting the word out to the universe but also for generating high-profile incoming links to your website. Google likes all the major media networks and will give you extra love if you have those networks pointing to your site.

Getting into media is entirely doable if you have the goods, if you know how to work a story, and if you are willing to put in the time and energy to make it happen. Make no mistake: It’s a lot of work. When you get a clip in a mainstream outlet, however, you can reference it for the rest of your life. It becomes the foundation upon which you can build your entire career. And that is priceless.

If people want to learn more about you and your work, where can they go to get more info?

My website is www.loolwa.com, because, hey, there were not a whole lot of competitors for that domain name. In addition to offering public relations management, I offer coaching and consulting services, and I am developing a series of multimedia programs designed for paradigm-shifting, thought-leading, pot-stirring, let’s-change-the-world-with-our-awesomeness, social entrepreneur types. As part of these programs, I will pass on all the tricks and tips I have developed over the years, for nailing the mainstream spotlight.

 

headshotAbout Loolwa Khazzoom:

Loolwa Khazzoom is experienced in managing successful media, marketing, and public relations campaigns, through 25 years of work as a media and public relations specialist, business owner, community organizer, and/or holistic health specialist:

  • She has placed her clients in prestigious media, including Rolling Stone, The Huffington Post, Forbes, and CNN.
  • She herself has been featured in top media, including The New York Times, Fox News, ABC News, and PBS’s “American Health Journal.”
  • She has written articles, including numerous cover stories, for leading periodicals including The Washington Post, Marie Claire, Self, and AARP.

In addition, wearing her various hats, she has worked with and/or connected her clients with top medical professionals – including Andrew Weil, MD, Mehmet Oz, MD, David Simon, MD, and Martin Rossman, MD.

Interview: Success for Artists & Creative Professionals with Dan Blank

unnamedI’ve known Dan Blank (pictured here) over a number of years and he has become my go to resource for clients who are aspiring authors. Dan brings and incredibly down to earth, brass tacks and honest approach to business building.

Recently, he hold me that he’d now branched into the broader field of helping people find and market their creative work (i.e. they’re worried that their career isn’t going anywhere; that they need to build a following; that they want to learn how to market their art) so I asked if I could interview him about it all and his new program Fearless Work for my blog. He graciously accepted. I think you’ll be glad of it.

What’s this new project you’ve got on the go?

It’s a program called Fearless Work, which is a course to help creative professionals find more time and energy to work on their art or craft. It focuses on helping people prioritize what matters most, work smarter, make creative habits stick, and manage their fear around big risks and a packed schedule.

Who would you say are the top three groups of people it’s for?

Anyone who is trying to find more time to do creative work amidst life’s many professional and personal demands.These could be artists, writers, designers, photographers, entrepreneurs, illustrators, musicians, and many others.

Working creative professionals. People who are entrepreneurial around their art and craft, and have turned it into a business.

They are finding success, but also finding barriers, and looking to break through to the next level.

Those who have dabbled with turning their art & work into a career, but want to now take it seriously.

Why did you create it? What need did you see? What’s the story?

After spending my entire life surrounded by those doing meaningful creative work, I always hear about their challenges — the things that prevent them from practicing the work they care the most about. In the past five years, I have run my own company helping these people, really being in the trenches with them as they strive for their goals.

Fearless Work is my way of creating a resource to re-shift aspects of one’s life to allow for more creative work.

What are the top three aspects of life that seem to get in the way?

  1. Yourself. What is most astounding is how many of the barriers that stand between someone and their creative work is often their own internal boundaries. They refuse to give themselves permission, or they are driven by narratives that kill their work before they can create it.
  2. Reacting to the demands of others and things external to you. This could be your day job, but it can also be the everyday demands of laundry and dishes.
  3. Being a parent. While most people I meet who are any age, whether they have kids or not, are very busy, I find that becoming a parent offers unique challenges. When you have kids, many of the process you have honed for yourself go off the rails because you are now fully responsible for other human beings. It’s impossible to overstate how much work this is: you literally have to wipe their asses. And, while this is a responsibility done with the deepest levels of love, that is also why it can be taxing in ways we never quite imagined before having children.

Fearless Work is also about ways to establish habits that allow for more creative work to be done each day. It is the culmination of everything I have learned in working with hundreds of creative professionals, as well as my own company.

I hear from people every single week, about how profound their struggles are. They feel they work more hours, give more of themselves, only to feel as though they are treading water, their dreams unfulfilled. The course delves into the practical actions that one can take (both internally and externally) to not only feel more fulfilled, but focus on what matters most in their creative endeavours.

Everyone feels overwhelmed, and 99% of the time, the only thing holding you back is yourself.

Everyone has challenges, and some of them are breath taking in their complexity: the person who is coping with a debilitating illness; someone who has suffered through a traumatic event; the single parent of 5 kids; the sole caregiver for ailing parents. Yet, I always speak to people who, despite these very real responsibilities, can manage to also find room for their own identity, and their own work. That all of these things are a part of who they are, and that even serious responsibilities don’t have to sidetrack who you want to be.

There are others who do a similar type of thing, what did you see was missing in it all that had you want to create this?

I love the various resources that are out there, and how inspiring each can be in their own way.

For my own experience working with creative professionals though…

I find that the business side of creative work is overwhelming for many people. While I always put the art first, I have deep experience in turning one’s creative vision into a viable business. It’s an obsession, really.

When I look back on both my professional and personal experience, it is across a wide range of arts. When I was a kid, I went to art school, and growing up, I did illustration, photography, poetry, sculpture, pop-up books, music, writing, a newspaper cartoon, trained to be a radio DJ, published a zine, did design work, and eventually I became an entrepreneur working with writers and creative professionals.

I hear these challenges everyday because of how many people/orgs I work with. I have to address them because these are the relationships that fill my life. None of this is theory, I am in the trenches with these people every single day.

I suppose, I see the “productivity” and “inspiration” side of this focused on a lot by others, but things such as mental health are often not being address. For example, I am the last person who will ever tell you to do more creative work by giving up some sleep. The idea of robbing someone of sleep in order to gain “productivity” is offensive. It cuts away at the foundations of their physical and mental health — that is NOT progress to me!

My company is five years old and I have established processes that I think others can find value in.

Why is this such a struggle for artists to take on the business side of things?

The answers vary, but one phrase that comes up often is “permission.”

Meaning, that after the artist goes through the struggle of creating work that matters deeply to them, they are confronted with the fear of permission, “Who am I to now ask people to pay for this?” Which is why many creatives wait to be “discovered.” For others to validate their work by sheer magic — without the artist having to proactively put their work out there. I suppose core to this is a fear of judgement, but also anxiety that many artists feel around their identity. Impostor syndrome is pervasive across professions, but I see it crop up often in creative fields. All of this is part of the stew that makes the business side of the arts extraordinarily complex for creative people.

I’d be curious to hear what other terrible advice you see out there for artists and creative types.

Most of the advice I see that turns my stomach are versions of get rich quick schemes. For the arts, it may not focus on money alone as the goal, but on the validation that many creative people seek. So yes it could be, “Make a million dollars with your art!” but it can also be “The world is just waiting for your message!” As many creative professionals will tell you, when they released their work publicly, it was received to dead silence. The distinction between the amateur and the professional in this context is that they took efforts to ensure it found an audience, and that this was truly work that takes time and pushed them passed boundaries.

What are the three top blunders that you see people make in addressing these issues?

Goodness, only three? How about six:

  1. Looking for a tool that will magically fix everything. The real value comes in establishing good habits and new processes. Are tools a part of this? Sure, but they serve the habits and processes, not the other way around.
  2. Thinking it is all in or not at all. Consider how many people start and fail at diets. They are either “on” the diet or “off” the diet, and change of this caliber needs has more layers to the gradient than this. This is about tiny changes a little at a time.
  3. Seeking productivity tips that adds more stuff to their already packed life. You can’t get clarity by adding and adding to your life — you have to SUBTRACT what doesn’t matter in order to find more resources to do the work that truly matters.
  4. Focusing on only time, not energy. Energy is a renewable resource that affects all areas of your life.
  5. Seeking “balance.” To be honest, I don’t believe in balance when it comes to how people traditionally talk about “work/life balance.” Balance is a lovely concept, but if you listed out all of your personal and professional obligations, I think the idea of “balance” gets in the way. Instead, I believe in clarity and priorities. The term I tend to use is this: OBSESSIONS. Making hard choices about what matters most.
  6. Managing their work life separate from their personal needs and goals. You have a single life, and a 24 hours in a day, you have to manage it as a whole.

What are the main good habits you feel like creative folks need most? Could you share a story or example of of a habit you’ve developed that’s paid off?

The habits that most creative people need to establish is taking small actions in a consistent basis. I mean, that is what a habit is, right? Break down a larger creative vision into tiny component parts that you can control. An example would be how I wrote the first draft of the book I am working on. I reserved the first hour of the day to write, with the goal of at least 1,000 words per day.

Now, a distinction I made is that this was about quantity, not quality. I wasn’t judging if my writing was good or not, I just focused on getting words on the page. Within less than 40 days, I had hit my goal of a 65,000 word first draft. Before I put the restraints on the habit (1 hour, 1,000+ words each day), the idea of writing a book was nearly incomprehensible. All I saw where challenges.

Also, I find boundaries to be extraordinarily useful in the creative process, and that they are useful in how we work as well. For instance: I don’t fly. I won’t be shy here: it scares me. So when I created my business, I put a simple rule in place, “No flying for work.” Now, this meant I put a severe limitation on potential revenue streams. I have done a lot of speaking, and this limitation meant that I could never truly seek out a highly paid speaking career, seeking out keynotes and the like. Revenue stream #1 in the toilet. I also do come consulting for organizations, and this limitation meant that I couldn’t seek out large clients outside of those in area around New York City. Any large organization client would likely want a series of in-person meetings, and since I don’t fly, that meant I couldn’t say yes to that. Revenue stream #2 in the toilet.

And yet, 5 years in, my business is doing fine. These limitations allowed me to OBSESS over other areas I am passionate about, such as developing online courses that could reach people anywhere in the world, and be created from my home. For the Fearless

Work course, my team and I have worked on it for months, through an incredible amount of OBSESSIVE research. For much of that time, we had to ignore other potential opportunities to grow my audience or my business. We are all in on this course, and it feels extraordinary to so fully devote yourself to something.

What are the top three things people could do on their own to address these issues effectively?

When approaching the idea of Fearless Work — to do more of the creative work that matters most to you, I find these three things can help you find greater success in working through the process:

  1. Make it social. Surround yourself with like minds. Don’t struggle by yourself.
  2. Focus on clarity, especially around your goals. It is astounding to me how vague people’s goals often are when you scratch the surface. Oftentimes, you find that there is nothing there, just a vague idea. Why? Because they were too afraid of the obligation that comes with truly tackling their dreams.
  3. I would rather see you focus all of your energy on establish a single TINY positive new habit than create some complex system that fools you into thinking you have solved it all. Start small.

For more info on Dan’s program Fearless Work click on the image below.

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Video Interview: Danny Iny on The Positioning Matrix

As many of you know, I’ve just launched a new website all about how to successfully navigate the often difficult and perilous journey of figuring out your niche. More about that soon.
 
But one of the best tools I’ve ever come across in figuring out your niche was something I heard about from one of my favourite colleagues Danny Iny. It’s called The Positioning Matrix. I recorded a 45 or so minute conversation with him about it where we tried to figure out the niche of Danny’s ideal massage therapist. Good times. The film quality is pretty fuzzy but the sound’s good. 
 
This tool is so simple but can have such a profound impact. Go watch the video and then give it a try and let me know, in a comment below. what you come up with because I’d love to include your example in a thing I’m working on.

 

Here’s the PDF of his notes.

Free Hour Long Interview for NDUpdate.com

Screen Shot 2014-01-28 at 3.58.49 PMI was recently interviewed by Matt Strickland from http://www.ndupdate.com/ for an hour about my thoughts on marketing for naturopaths. In it, you’ll learn my take on . . .

  • How to market yourself genuinely and be successful
  • Why figuring out who is a good fit for your practice is a key to success
  • Figuring out your niche
  • How to connect with other practitioners
  • What hubs are and how to connect to them
  • Why relationships are a key to your success and how they help everybody involved
  • Why your most important web page is your homepage
  • How to write an effective homepage
  • Why a good headshot is important
  • The value of social media
  • Which social media to get involved with
  • Having a personal Facebook account vs a business account

Listen to the hour long interview at this link (no need to opt in or pay anything): http://www.ndupdate.com/tad-hargrave-truth-marketing/

Niching for Hippies – Interview with Sarah Juliusson (24 min)

Screen Shot 2013-10-14 at 9.02.02 PMSarah Juliusson runs My Birth Business where she helps midwives and doulas with their business and marketing.

I was really excited to chat with her about this whole business of figuring out your niche in the lead up to my Niching for Hippies program.

Below is the audio for the interview and, below that, is the summary of what she had to say.

 

 

 

What do you think is missing in the conversation about niching? What do you see that you think others are not seeing that could help people find their niche?

Niching is a tricky area to explore as on the surface it can seem quite simple. I consistently see examples of niching gone wrong, usually by creating a surface niche, choosing a single characteristic that defines your niche and your care. Initially this may seem like a niche – for example “I am a birth doula serving pregnant women in Seattle.” So here our niche to the beginners eye can seem quite specific: pregnant women in Seattle seeking birth doula care. In fact, this is a broad stroke that doesn’t come close to defining her true niche – using single characteristics such as geography and pregnancy may seem to paint a clear niche, but in fact these are only foundational characteristics for a true niche. Without further definition, this niche will not serve her practice.

When I actually talk with this imaginary doula, however, I may learn that she has a particular interest in supporting families planning a home birth with midwives. As well, her ideal clients will be interested in taking advantage of her complementary skill of aromatherapy. She herself is in her 40s, and has a special draw to supporting women over 35 who are pregnant for the first time. She finds that clients of this nature have a real hunger for quality information and research about birth and loves helping them get connected through her large library of resources. I could go on, but you get the picture, yes? It is easy to paint the niche with characteristics that may seem specific but in fact are only broad strokes that just barely begin to capture her niche and unique selling proposition.

What’s most important in niching? What’s a distraction?

IMPORTANT: Years ago I built a website for one of my childbirth education businesses. As I worked on the site vibe, the phrase that kept coming back to me was that I wanted the site to feel like a really comfortable couch. I wanted my ideal clients to find the site and instantly feel so at home that they would want to have a seat, drink some tea, and take their time learning more. When i think about niching, that comfy couch is really what we’re going for. If I have infused my marketing vibe, language & imagery with key elements that speak to my niche, then when they arrive on my site they will instantly feel at home. Without that virtual couch provided by a clear niche, those ideal clients will arrive at your site or pick up your card and have no particular reason to want to stick around and learn some more.

DISTRACTION: When defining their niche i see many clients hit almost a wall of fear – concerned that by defining a niche for their practice they will be shutting out potential clients. When your income is dependent on each and every client that hires you it is easy to get caught up in saying yes even when it isn’t a great fit. By tailoring online and print marketing materials to a niche, many holistic professionals worry that they are closing off too many options and it keeps them from defining their niche in an effective way. Instead, I find that a well developed niche opens doors.

Can you list three of your favourite examples of successful, niche businesses?

Birth Swell – http://birthswell.com/ – Jeanette & hilary have brought their unique skills & perspective in social media and communications and identified a major gap in the birth industry. Their niche market is a blend of practicing birth professionals and birth advocates who want to learn the theory and the practical how to’s for using new media and social media tools to build a business, change policy, and spread their birth (and breastfeeding and maternal/infant health) genius.

The Nesting Place – http://thenestingplace.ca – While Amanda Spakowski and the Nesting Place team of doulas & childbirth educators are providing similar core services as many other birth professionals in their region, the Nesting Place website does a great job of conveying their focus on parents who are seeking a guide, someone to help them feel less fear, and more confidence and connection, while supporting their birth choices without judgment. Their unique selling proposition stands out within the birth community, representing a model of care that goes far above and beyond standard prenatal class & doula care offerings in the area.

I have a new client right now who is going through an interesting discernment process regarding her niche. While she currently offers group prenatal classes at two great hub locations, she is increasingly feeling that the population at these locations is not a good match for her practice. As well, she is feeling a strong pull to focus her practice on the needs of families who are seeking a private prenatal class, wanting to cultivate a relationship-based practice that allows for more in-depth support than a group class would offer. It’s exciting watching her go through this transformation. It’s a great example of how when we are aligned with our niche, we enhance our own personal journey as a practitioner.

How do people know if they have a good niche? What’s the most important criteria to know if you have a solid niche?

It is very important to me that clients have a solid niche defined for themselves as a foundation before doing any website creation (or revision) or creating marketing materials.

Characteristics I look for include:

How specific is it? Could we create a persona based on this niche description? Personality, relationship, home decor, education level, income, etc… I like clients to create a pinterest board representing their ideal client to get a better sense of who she is.

Is the niche an excellent match for the nature of your care – both the services provided & your practice style and philosophy. Are you excited about working with her? Are you clear on what you have to offer her and why it is a great fit for her needs?

Understanding the relationship between the niche and the community – where is she likely to hang out? What other complementary services is she likely to be using?

Perhaps most importantly, you should feel excited about serving your niche!

What’s the simplest, most direct and most effective approach to finding your niche?

First you have to Believe in your Niche, and know that your Niche wants to find You.

I think the absolute foundation of finding your niche is believing that clients want to find you. Think about the massage therapists you’ve seen in your life – most of us have had a handful of mediocre massages before we find the therapist whose hands & spirit match what our body is craving. We walk in the door each time hoping that this will turn into a long term massage therapy relationship. Years ago my husband did an advanced business mentorship program and one of the lessons learned as he developed interview skills was that the person conducting the interview actually Wants you to be good. People are out there who need and want your help. Not just the service you provide, or the training & skills that you have cultivated, but the whole package of what you offer because of who you are.

The 2nd step is to Understand your Niche.

For me, this means creating an in depth portrayal of your ideal client. Making her so real that that you could meet her at a party and recognize her instantly. Let yourself understand her needs, desires, cravings, what she is seeking and what she will resonate with.

The final step is to Serve your Niche.

This means crafting our practice to truly match our niche. It’s not just about tailoring marketing materials to your niche. It’s also about taking a close look at your services, packages, and pricing to align with your niche. From a marketing perspective we are cultivating as many clues as possible to help our ideal clients find their way to the services they need. And finally, it means getting clear on what it means to serve your Niche – this means taking care as you grow your business to be sure you are adding services & products aligned with your niche, and sometimes saying no to clients who simply aren’t a good fit.

40 minute video interview on authentic marketing with nash ryker

The other day I did a forty minute video interview with Nash Ryker of http://yourepicdestinytv.com/.

We got to talk about some new ideas I have been having around authentic marketing, especially:

You can watch it here

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An Interview with Vrinda Normand: The Three Biggest Online Marketing Blindspots

June2013EventDay2V2Vrinda Normand is probably one of the best known copywriters in the whole conscious business scene.

She’s got the goods. Years ago, she did a 30 minute review of my sales copy for a new program I was launching and just tore it to shreds (and helped make it much better). So, I’ve seen her work first hand. She told me about the four stages that a potential clients needs to go through to want to work with you. And you can see seven mini samples of her work in this post.

And if you’d like to check out a series of free educational videos she’s recently put out on how to grow your business by creating virtual programs and products, you can check them out here.

She’s got a new program coming up that I want to make sure you knew about and so I did a little interview with her so you could get a sense of who she is and where she’s come from.

Vrinda speaks a lot about growing her business to seven figures – that might not be what you want but, believe me, she knows what she’s talking about and, at the very least, she can help you be a lot more effective at achieving whatever your marketing goals might be. As much as I am not drawn to the discussion of six and seven figures at this point in my life, I think it’s a mistake to dismiss it and the people sharing it. 

A big message she has here that is worth heeding is to stop winging it. Stop trying to make up the path to success by cobbling it together from things you see around you (that you might not fully understand). Vrinda is big on proven systems, checklists and making it easy for her clients. I’ve got a lot of respect for her.

Where did this program come from? What was the need you saw in the community that had you create this?

It all started when I was an investigative journalist for a Silicon Valley newspaper. I was getting burned out in my job, working too hard and not seeing the cover stories I wrote making a big difference in the world. Important political issues were brought to light but never significantly improved, and I started feeling unfulfilled and out of alignment with my purpose.

My career crisis collided with a health crisis – I became fatigued and my hair started falling out. I barely had enough energy to drag myself off the couch. I discovered I have a serious liver illness and I realized I could no longer keep living the same way – faced with constant deadlines in an underpaying job that made it very hard for me to take care of myself.

So I took a medical leave for a few months and started looking for a new career path. At the same time, I was getting natural healing treatments from a few holistic practitioners. They knew my career background and my situation and told me, “Vrinda, we need help with our marketing writing and YOU know how to write.”

They both invited me to attend a business seminar to learn more about how I could help them grow their businesses with my writing skills. That’s when I realized there was a whole new way I could help people and make a more positive difference.

When I attended the seminar – which was really the biggest eye-opener for me – I learned I could start my own business offering information products and group training programs to help people. This leveraged business model would allow me to break out of the dollars-for-hours cycle that kept me so overworked and underpaid.

I KNEW this was the right path for me. I was so excited to start my business. I invested in my first mentor that weekend and got the training I needed to create info products and programs.

The first product I sold, “E-Zine Articles Made Easy,” got a great response right away, and I knew I was on the right track for helping my clients get the support they needed. 

So in a way, my niche found me and told me how I could help them!  I now work with 1,000’s of holistic practitioners, coaches, consultants and other heart-based entrepreneurs empowering them to grow their businesses online with irresistible marketing messages and strategies.

I’m curious about your learning curve in doing online sales? Were you a natural at this or were there some hard learning curves for you?

As with anything, learning something takes practice and the results in the beginning are likely to be smaller as you’re still becoming competent at a new system or practice. 

My first program launches selling courses online were smaller, generating $20,000, then $50,000 and now we usually bring in about $200,000 with a successful online program launch. 

To get results and keep them growing, you need to follow a proven system – get one laid out for you by a mentor who’s accomplished what you aspire to. Don’t try to “wing it” by copying various things you see others doing online. This will just cause you a lot of headaches and lost income potential. I’ve seen too many people struggle this way.

The people who really master online sales success are those who invest in mentoring, put it into action and stick with it. You also need to be unstoppable – create your product or program and your online sales system, and get the professional mentoring and coaching to improve it as you grow. It’s a constantly evolving process.

And remember to have fun! No matter what level you’re at, growing your business online means you’re helping more people.

What are the three biggest blunders you see people making in online sales?

Great question!

BLIND SPOT #1 – SKIMPY COPY:  The first biggest blunder – or what I call “blind spot” – to watch out for is making your marketing copy (the words on your website) too skimpy, too short. 

Well, let me clarify. You want to write your promotional messaging in a succinct way, which means you use the fewest words to describe your point clearly, so it’s easy and quick for people to understand.

However too “skimpy” means you left a lot of important information out of your copy and people don’t have enough clarity about the value of your offer to take action and buy from you online. This is very common with online sales pages, especially when entrepreneurs are shy about making their page “too long” because they think people won’t read it.

The reality is, sales page copy can never be too long, it can only be too boring. So if you’re afraid people aren’t reading your stuff, you need to take a closer look at making your writing more irresistible, more compelling to your ideal clients.

And you need to make sure you have a complete formula to follow so you don’t miss any important pieces when enrolling clients online. Don’t be afraid to make your page long. Instead, make it thorough and highly engaging.

BLIND SPOT #2 – TALKING ABOUT PROCESS TOO MUCH:  The second “blind spot” is making your sales page too process driven. You focus too much of your messaging on the delivery of your program or product, so it’s all about your solution and how it works. 

That’s not very attractive to your ideal clients. They don’t care so much about process. What they care about is getting a solution to their problem and getting the end-results of the process. 

So focus on your ideal client and what they WANT, show them what outcomes are possible for them if they say yes to your program or product. 

This is very related to the first blind spot – process-driven copy is boring. So to make it more exciting, focus on the results and pleasures your ideal clients can look forward to.

BLIND SPOT #3 – TALKING TO EVERYONE: A third blind spot to avoid is making your copy too vague, not having a clear focus on a specific ideal client. 

You’d be surprised how many people think they know what a “niche” is but are still making this common mistake. 

When you try to please too many people at the same time, making your copy speak to different types of ideal clients because you don’t want to leave anyone out, the power of your message becomes watered down.

And even though you think you may attract more clients when you broaden your focus, you actually attract far less people because very few will be able to see how your message is relevant for them.

When your sales page has what I call “multiple personality disorder” your potential clients will become confused – they’ll see something that describes their situation but then they’ll see something else that’s very different. They’ll think your program isn’t right for them and go away without buying. 

 So to get the best results and truly serve people with your online sales copy, focus your page on 1 specific ideal client, and write as if you’re crafting a personal letter to 1 person. Imagine them in your head – this will make your page so much more intimate, conversational, and pleasing to read.

You’ve got a program coming up about online sales, can you tell us a bit about it and why you structured it the way you have?

My Irresistible Online Sales System enrollments are open for a few weeks this month (August 2013) – and I LOVE offering this program because it’s my most popular, most effective training to help entrepreneurs discover their irresistible marketing messages, create programs and sell them online. I specialize in working with entrepreneurs who want their marketing voice to be authentic, feel natural, and at the same time, be irresistible so clients respond and take action.

I’ve been evolving this program for the past 6 years and over 1,000 entrepreneurs have graduated from it. I feel it’s the strongest it has ever been in terms of teaching effectively and breaking down the proven step-by-step system to sell online. 

The program is taught with 7 virtual training modules, focused on the 7 key stages to enroll paying client online:

  • Market research to create the right offer for the right people 
  • Package your program for wildly successful sales
  • Craft your Irresistible Sales Page to Inspire a YES
  • Create your Compelling Offer Video that enrolls paying clients on the spot
  • Build Trust and Desire with Your Educational Videos
  • Get the proven launch plan to attract a rush of online sales
  • Get the team and technology to support you

The program also includes several forms of implementation support, coaching and Q&A opportunities that give my clients accountability, clarity and inspiration to fully implement the system.

I find that people need both a clear system to follow and the guidance to get it done right – that includes getting professional feedback on your marketing messages to make them compelling to your ideal clients. We also devote a significant portion of the training to helping people clarify who their ideal clients are and what program or product to offer – this is the most important foundation of any online sales system and that’s where we start with the program.

The Irresistible Online Sales System is right for any entrepreneur who wants to create leveraged income by selling an information product or group program online. If you don’t know what to offer yet but you know you want to grow in this direction, that’s great – I can help you with this program. It’s valuable for entrepreneurs with new or established businesses – both can create leveraged income online with success.

To learn more about how The Irresistible Online Sales System can benefit you, come to my complimentary webinar on “How to Enroll Paying Clients Online 24-7.”

It’s happening very soon! Save your spot now by clicking here