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“You, like every human being, are a storyteller by birthright. You are born with an endless supply of personal and universal themes. It is important to open yourself to receive the vast wealth of imagery that lives within you. Build a hearth within you and let it become a circle of protection. In it your heart’s wisdom may ignite and burn. Ask that all who gather at your fire from your own inner skies, lands, and waters come with goodwill to share their truths in its warmth.” – Nancy Mellon, “Storytelling & the Art of Imagination”

Storytelling is one of my dedicated passions–at least for the next three weeks, and then we’ll see. Let me clarify: my job is all about supporting my boss’ incredible ability to tell a story, yes, but my personal life is being governed by an event I’m planning for November 6th, and that’s the stressful side of things.

Last summer, I spent a week in Hiroshima, visiting one of my role models and third-grade teacher, JoAnn. She and her husband were serving the end of their two-year term as the head of the World Friendship Center, a small but impressive organization that championed the rights and cause of the “hibakusha” – survivors of the atomic bomb. I can (and will) write much more about the history of the hibakusha and my experience with them during my visit, but for now suffice to say that all of this culminated in agreeing to help plan a keynote address on the Willamette campus come September. That planning process turned out to be a very enlightening journey in itself, one that was plagued by my absolute inexperience with event planning on this scale and in the Willamette community, but which benefited greatly from the sheer level of interest that people had in the stories of the hibakusha. The World Friendship Center organized a trip like this every three years, but to different locations around the world, so we were incredibly lucky to have this opportunity.

Building on that success, we’re putting together another speaking event at the start of next month that focuses on the stories of those who were involved with the Minidoka Relocation Center, of the Japanese-American internment camps during World War II. We have an interned speaking, as well as the son of Reverend Emery Andrews (the name should be familiar to anyone who took a WA state history class), and the current head of interpretation and education at the Minidoka Historical Site. It’s going to be fantastic, and it’s going to be timely: there have been an increasing number of performances of topical plays such as Gordon Hirabayashi’s “Hold These Truths” in the Pacific Northwest; there is the upcoming release of the movie adaptation of Laura Hillebrand’s riveting biopic “Unbroken”; and just in Salem the Halle Ford Museum is bringing in an exhibit about the artist’s life in interment camps and how it affects his identity even today. Willamette University’s Office of Multicultural Affairs is focusing on the internment as part of their theme for the entire year. George Takei, who was in two separate internment camps as a young child, is speaking on campus on November 11th. There is widespread interest amongst people in the area.

My challenge is to put those “people in the area” in a specific area at a specific time – Willamette’s Hudson Hall at 7pm on Thursday the 6th. Unlike last year’s event, which was generously funded in advance of my involvement, I’m tasked with raising a certain amount of funds and selling tickets is one of my limited number of options for the timeline and organizational structure with which we’re working; the other is getting sponsorship. I have experience with neither, and this is a great example of why I termed my blog “We’ll See Where This Takes Me” – the answer is always some sort of an adventure.

What’s the next step after the Minidoka event? That’s where I see the most relevance in the above quote. I have been thinking on and off about taking these two successful events – this one will be successful, I have no doubt – and starting an event-planning nonprofit. Everyone is a storyteller by birthright, and I think that there will never be a shortage of experiences to share – especially those which can educate our communities and their leaders. In fact, I’ve almost finished the first draft of the business plan for such an organization, but I’m going to have to bench it until the right opportunity arises. I know it will, but I need to get my own life in order first.

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[I actually had an introduction to this post, but it didn’t fit well with the rest of the text, so here it is (anachronistically) for your viewing pleasure:]

I just chugged a hefty cup of coffee, so now is as good a time as any to start writing.

 

As one of the many facets of my job, I’ve been laying the foundation of the next book my boss is set on writing. This mostly consists of researching a specific type of quote–no, I won’t divulge any more details about products currently in development–and during my slog through the sound bites I started picking out quotes that don’t necessarily qualify in his framework but seem to inspire mine. Being a philosophy major (and you’re welcome to roll your eyes in exasperation every time I say that) and specifically interested in language and the mind, many quotes, declarations, one-liners, and especially manifestos tend to strike me as either energetic fluff or distillation of once-important concepts that have been reduced past the point of coherence. At least, they did, until I started working for a motivational speaker – his job is to infuse meaning into words and experience, so I imagine that him hiring me is akin to a structural engineer hiring a demolitions crew to help run things.

 

In all of this, though, I’ve decided that these quotes I’ve been pulling out will serve as intermittent inspiration for my writing. Let’s give it a try…

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Set the stage: It’s Monday morning and I’m sitting in an uncomfortable twist at the back of a commuter train that is just one of the five legs of my commute to downtown Portland. The commute is for my job, and the uncomfortable twist is so I can try to type these observations on a stable surface as I am having them. As the Goeyverts String Trio‘s “Simeron” crescendos loudly in my ear, everything changes – in anticipation for the next two minutes of the ride, I straighten up and face forward, temporarily forgetting about my writing attempt. In response, the warehouses and asphalt of northern Salem melt away from the sides of the tracks and are replaced with the dappled greenery of the marsh. My ears can only hear the violins dancing with the singers, and all I can see is grass, trees, and lilypods crushed under the gentle weight of perpetually localized fog. This is my world, transported, for a glorious two minutes.

And then I’m back, as the train resigns itself to delivering it’s groggy cargo to the Tigard Transit Center and not kidnapping us for some grand tour of the Pacific Northwest.

This is only one section of my commute, but it makes the entire thing worth it. Two weeks ago, in order to add another day to my office time, I found a way to hop cities without having to rely so much on Amtrak; I have nothing against them, only against spending that much money on a regular trip. For those of you that might be interested in this, it’s simple: take the 1X bus from the Salem transit center to the Wilsonville TC, get on the WES train (where I am at the moment) to the Beaverton TC, and MAX your way downtown. Reverse the process for a return trip; I’ll put together a joint timetable [here tonight].

Greetings from the MAX Red Line, to the tune of “Stabat Mater” – the only other song on this album. Each song is around 24 minutes, and I have designated them as the best thing to listen to when I want to wake up peacefully, which is most days. Once I get to the office I’ll play something energizing, and on the 1X I usually listen to the sound of my head smacking against the window as I drift in and out of consciousness; but for now, I’m at peace.

This is ultimately why I chose to start writing again. I have been given what I consider to be an opportunity in all this: two hours to just sit, every Wednesday morning and Thursday evening, and twice on Mondays. I enjoy reading, but I need to make space first; I enjoy technology, too much, but the reception on the ride is spotty. There is a blog of mine that has been effectively defunct, and I feel a twinge of guilt whenever I visit another author’s site. Am I cheating on my partner? Reading around behind their back, neglecting them for years, because I assume they’re not going anywhere? I want to make amends.

Similarly, I’m trying to get more in the habit of correspondence – as in actual letters. I have an entire separate ranted about modern communication that feeds into that, but all I’ll say at the moment is that snail mail is the perfect pace for me to keep in touch with my friends who are all around the world. Who doesn’t love receiving letters? Yes, this is a shameless plug to be pen pals, message me if you’re interested.

We’ll conclude with one more greeting, this time at base camp – the office where I work. 50 Cent and Yo Gotti are telling me to not worry ’bout it, so I’m not going to. The highlight here is always my favorite coffee shop – Lotus & Bean, in the same block as my office and between the MAX and the front door.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m picky with my cafés, teahouses, and bistros – but since I invest significant time and money in them, I reserve that right. Lotus & Bean has everything I look for in a coffee shop (technically, espresso bar) – good house drip; nonfat milk options; an impressively diverse assortment of couches, tables, counters and outdoor seating; delicious pastries as well as substantial food; good music; great location – but most importantly, character. With a good initial investment and some research, you can make a functional and even fashionable caffeine depot, and I think most of us have been to what feels like a pre-fab reservoir; but no amount of money can create a sincerely welcoming atmosphere. I’ve tried a few other places in Portland, being a fan of shopping around, but I’ve found that the majority of those places are characterized by an elitist vibe – yes, thank you for making my coffee, but I’m not going to kiss your ring. Lotus & Bean is really more of a community space that just happens to sell coffee and brighten my day.

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