Engaging Awareness

March 14, 2014

The 1,000 Day Gap or Why Is This Blog So Damn Old? ( … and why we laugh anyway!)

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Engaging Awareness @ 12:01 am

Things can happen fast in the youth media-verse. But in our case it ground to a halt.

Most of you know that our team of youth journalists covered Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s event in Hartford a few years back. (Did you miss that post?) Some of you may have seen the video  from the press conference as Caelyn and the Archbishop smiled and and chatted and laughed. Me? As Desmond Tutu himself reached out to hold and stroke my little girl’s hand, I stood by breathless and overcome with emotion and thinking dumbfounded to myself:

Who is this child and how does her life keep taking her on these journeys?

Things did happen fast after that, way too fast to blog about. YouView was asked to cover the World Youth Peace Conference and within a few months we had assembled and trained a team of kids and proceeded to log brutal hours dragging around heavy equipment while interviewing, shooting, and editing during the multiple-day event.

We were invited to video a private meeting with General Colin Powell. I mean they used professional lighting, designed two back up audio systems, managed the room setup, and crammed behind their tripods crunched into the tiny available space in the room while remaining unobtrusive and getting great footage. Did I mention these are kids?

They interviewed sector leaders, change-makers, and rock stars. Filmed crowds and speakers and on-the-spot interviews of students attending the event. And when it was all over they were universally complimented as one of the most professional, polite, and hard working groups of kids anyone had ever seen. They were proud.

So what happened?

It was the editing that did it. Video editing takes a lot of time and is visually demanding. Caelyn has a visual condition that worsens with strain and she wasn’t up to the task. We took a little time off for her to recover from the rigors of the event, but things did not improve. They got worse, much worse.

Despite struggling with health and sensory challenges her whole life, Caelyn does not let stuff keep her down. But this spiraled out of control quickly. Within the year she was debilitated, in constant pain, and too sick to go to school. And she still is.

About a year ago, before we had a diagnosis and we were struggling to make sense of it all and just help her make it through her days, another media opportunity crossed my desk. The Dalai Lama was coming to Connecticut and we were offered press credentials.

Whoa! For the past year, whenever Caelyn attempted to do anything, she would be rewarded with a massive migraine and several completely bedridden days to follow. I couldn’t imagine her being in a large public gathering and working a video camera. The noise alone would be unmanageable for her. And it would certainly mean several days of painful recovery. But she informed me that when life puts an opportunity like that in your hands, you have a responsibility to act on it even if it’s hard to do. (Actually she said something far more eloquent than that, but you’ve got the gist.)

Where does she get this stuff?

And by “stuff” I mean courage, wisdom, determination, grace, and wit in the face of daily struggle. She never lets on. Most people don’t even know what her life is like now. Let’s just say you don’t want to play poker with this kid.

So off we went, and to a casual observer it would look like I was the one doing all the heavy lifting.

The press were permitted thirty seconds at the foot of the stage to photograph His Holiness up close while he blessed the white silk khatas. It was calm chaos, a sense of decorum but with cameras snapping like crazy. Everyone wanted to get their shot to capture something of the man that could be held onto forever. Caelyn wanted that too. But before we arrived I had told her that this was her chance to be standing in front of the Dalai Lama, a man who has inspired healing and promise and joy all over the world, and that in addition to taking her shot, she should also take her moment with him.

So out we scrambled clicking madly for about twenty seconds, Then we both lowered our cameras and just soaked The Dalai Lama in. I’ve wondered what that must have looked like to him: an obvious mother and daughter pair, embedded in the frantic press line, quietly smiling and waving. Naturally, he waved back.

I did not have an epiphany or profoundly spiritual moment when I met his eyes. I almost felt a little disappointed by that until I turned to witness Caelyn beaming radiantly. And as The Dalai Lama himself smiled upon my little girl, I stood by breathless and overcome with emotion and thinking dumbfounded to myself:

Who is this child and how does her life keep taking her on these journeys?

All the videos are still “in the can.” Which is too bad, but I’m not sure right now whether we’ll ever be able to re-launch YouView Media. I don’t think much about the future. I’m focusing on what’s in front of us right now. Life has become about Caelyn getting well and making it through our days with as much laughter as we can manage. Most days that’s enough. As Desmond Tutu says, You and I are created for transcendence, laughter, caring. I figure once we get those three down, the rest of the journey will probably take care of itself.

Besides, she totally got the shot.


“Why I Laugh” by the Dalai Lama


May 17, 2011

Desmond Tutu is keeping me up at night

Archbishop Desmond TutuLast night I got out of bed at 2:30 am to try to wrestle a Twitter widget into submission. It insisted on delivering two tweets, when I clearly indicated that I wanted only one. Stupid widget.

I want one tweet, in the far right column, just below the two thumbnail links to the video introductions we are posting on the website: the website which was seventy five percent done, yet is in no way ready for the likes of Archbishop Tutu.

This week, right here in Connecticut, Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu will give his final press conference and his last public speech in the United States. I had no idea about all this until I saw a banner hanging over West Hartford Center last week announcing a Youth Peace March, and decided to rush right home and Google it. We have been working on a youth video project, so I thought maybe we could cover this event for our local community television station. It would be nice practice.

Once I got to the World Youth Peace Summit website, I began to realize that this was not just a local event destined for a minute or two of coverage in some open slot on the local community news program. The sponsoring organization had some major and impressive global youth initiatives linked to this event with some uber famous folks on the bill.  It clearly had the markings of something momentous. And that’s when a small link about requesting press credentials caught my eye.

Un huh. You bet I did.

A scant ten days before the first of the three scheduled events, and with nothing at all really ready for us to take the leap, I sent an email explaining that we were a fledgling youth media organization and would like to apply for press credentials. The next day I received a reply with the official Media Credential Application Form, along with some very specific coverage guidelines, and a request for a coverage plan. Yikes! What’s a coverage plan? I had no clue, so I made one up.

That was five days ago. The next day we got the official go-ahead.

I know that the administrators at CNN don’t dance around like fools when they get press credentials. It’s just part of the job. But for YouView Media, it was totally woot worthy.

So here we are launching our project in just one week, with hardly any resources, under plenty of pressure, and with a lot of attention on us. Caelyn will be there on Thursday afternoon, videotaping Archbishop Tutu’s press conference and maybe even asking a question. And her friend and YouView Media co-host, James, will be helping us cover the rest of the events.

We’ll be tweeting live, interviewing youth on the street and at events, editing tape till the wee hours, and in all ways stretching beyond the familiar to turn our vision into video. Well, just as soon as I get that stupid widget working.

Stay close. I’ll be posting more details soon.

And, yes, there will be T-shirts.

September 29, 2010

What pace success?

Filed under: Better Learning, blogging, Change is Possible, Valerie's Posts — Tags: , , — Engaging Awareness @ 11:43 am

I’ve never been a patient person. I simply don’t understand how people can pace themselves, chipping away methodically at a task or a dream until one day, eventually, they get there. I’m way too intense and driven for that.

I see a mountain top calling to me and I climb it. I’m determined, irrepressible, and sometimes relentless when it comes to making things happen. Don’t ever tell me something I want to accomplish is impossible,  unless you are prepared to meet my inner pit bull.

Until recently, that is. Lately, circumstances have begun enforcing upon me a more reserved pace.

Take this project, for example. The idea struck us while sitting in the hot tub one night in April. By May we had a website, some funding, and a place to stay. By June we were on a plane and off to my usual rollicking start.

Then the slow downs began to occur. I won’t go through it all here ‘cause you can scroll down and read my earlier posts to get the details. Suffice it to say that technological challenges, curious events, and the kind of phenomena that insurance companies term “acts of God”, all conspired to alter my usual alpha role in determining my fate. I simply had to slow down and acknowledge that the sheer force of my determination and personality weren’t going to make it happen this time.

So. Un. Familiar.

Which has left me with a little extra time to ponder. In the past, I was never particularly interested in maintaining things. I liked the burst of adrenaline that came with launching something new. I was totally inspired by the creative impulse, the joy of initiation. Once something was established, though, it became a bit boring to me.

But now I find myself thinking about organizational sustainability and how to build an enduring endeavor. My level of engagement is totally different. It feels like I’m making a shift in my leadership style from determination to cultivation.

Is it possible I am, um, maturing?

I recently began collaborating with a progressive educator developing programs to encourage youth engagement. Collaboration demands a less driven, more relaxed form of leadership. I’m enjoying the interplay of ideas and the burst of excitement we share when our passions intersect, but the thoughtful planning and the pace of working together over a Vente Latte is also a pleasure.

I confess that the plodding pace of “all this” still drives me a bit batty. I have noticed, though, that the slower this project goes, the more support it seems to gather along the way. And guess what? Turns out that support, collaboration, and sustainability are not at all boring. They are exciting, uplifting, encouraging – and fun!

With all the methodical hiking of mountains we did on the trip, you’d think I would have caught on to the metaphor a bit, well, quicker.

Steady on then  . . .

September 5, 2010

What’s next?

Filed under: blogging, Change is Possible, travel and culture, Valerie's Posts — Tags: , , , , — Engaging Awareness @ 6:19 pm

Several nights ago, Caelyn and I spent a wonderful evening with a friend and her family. After dinner, the kids came downstairs dressed in crazy outfits, cranked up some “I love the 80’s”, and danced in the living room. Several hours and a cappuccino later, we were hugging in the driveway wishing there was more time, less distance, a way to keep the familiarity despite the thousands of miles soon to be between us. Three months earlier, we didn’t even know one another.

Some people enter your life like they were always meant to be there.

It was like that when I first met Runa nearly twenty years ago. Now, after three months in her home, we say goodbye not knowing when our paths will cross again. It feels strange to be so close — to have the easy intimacy of sharing a home, ready companionship, afternoon coffee and conversation — and then to just move on to what’s next. But we never really know what’s next, do we?

Thursday Lufthansa brings us home.* I’m anticipating familiar pleasures, small things that help define my life, the laughter of friends, turning autumn leaves, snuggling into my own bed with a good book. The familiar feels predictable and safe. It will feel natural to ease back into the routines of life as we knew it.

I hope that doesn’t happen.

I like the open-eyed alertness that comes with travel and being in unfamiliar places. I like how readily I will turn a conversation into a friendship, when I’m on the road. I like the slightly unbalanced sensation of not knowing where I‘m headed, like I’m always leaning slightly forward in my seat looking toward the next curve in the road.

It’s easier to embrace an unexpected turn while traveling.

Caelyn and I recently went for a walk in the forest. The last time we went wandering in the forest we got very lost, so we decided this time we would stick to the paths. We walked far, really far. We were following a small trail through a somewhat muddy meadow, when it began to drizzle. It was a lovely light, warm rain. No worries at all, except that clouds were moving swiftly and the sun was gone. Despite sticking to the paths, I didn’t know the way home.

We walked on as the rain got steadier. The meadow gave way to deep, mossy forests with a thankfully clear paved path. We had no water with us, so we stuck out our tongues to catch the rain. Before long we were drenched and giggling at our own predicament, and how silly we looked with our tongues out in the rain.

We had no idea where we were, how long it would take to get home, or how wet we were bound to get on the journey — but we were having a blast! Eventually we reached a pasture with some familiar sheep, and made a right turn towards home. We reached the front door cold, exhausted, and soaked through, but happy.

How easy it is to savor the excitement of a misadventure when on vacation. Would it have been this much fun if I got lost without a cell phone, in the rain, in the woods near my home in Connecticut? Probably not.

Wouldn’t it be nice to bring that sense of adventure, the ease of allowing the day to unfold in its own way, into everyday life? Yes, I do want to snuggle back into my own bed, but I’d like to wake up with fewer notions about what the next day will bring.

I realize that you can’t go out for a walk during your lunch break and return three hours later dripping wet to a desk full of uncompleted tasks. There are plenty of moments, though, when we’re enticed by what’s familiar, rather than exploring what’s around the next corner.

When I return, I’d like to keep my mind and my life open to the unexpected. Slow down enough to have a conversation at the market. Take a wrong turn and keep going to see what’s down a road I haven‘t been on before. Make friends capriciously.

I’d like to savor a return to the familiar pleasures of life, without surrendering a sense of adventure. Maybe it’s just as simple as waking up each morning and wondering,

“What‘s next?”

*Yup, we’re home.

August 10, 2010

The Simplon Pass

Filed under: Caelyn's Posts, travel and culture, Uncategorized — Engaging Awareness @ 10:23 am

View from the Simplon Pass

When we drove to Italy, we decided to take the Simplon Pass – a road that takes you over the Swiss Alps – because a friend of ours showed us the poem that William Wordsworth wrote when he journeyed the pass in August, 1790.

When you read it you have to remember that back then there was no road that took you over, just a mule path that had been used since the Middle Ages. Here’s the poem:

Simplon Pass
by William Wordsworth
—Brook and road
Were fellow-travellers in this gloomy Pass,
And with them did we journey several hours
At a slow step. The immeasurable height
Of woods decaying, never to be decayed,
The stationary blasts of waterfalls,
And in the narrow rent, at every turn,
Winds thw
arting winds bewildered and forlorn,
The torrents shooting from the clear blue sky,
The rocks that muttered close upon our ears,
Black drizzling crags that spake by the wayside
As if a voice were in them, the sick sight
And giddy prospect of the raving stream,
The unfettered clouds and region of the heavens,
Tumult and peace, the darkness and the light—
Were all like workings of one mind, the features
Of the same face, blossoms upon one tree,
Characters of the great Apocalypse,
The types and symbols of Eternity,
Of first and last, and midst, and without end.

Of course, it’s not like that any more. There are tunnels through the mountain and at one point you drive your car onto a train that’s open on the sides with metal shafts from the bottom holding the roof up. So you drive your car onto this thing and it starts going really fast through this pitch-black tunnel! Car train through tunnel on Simplon Pass

It was really cool!


August 9, 2010

Totally Adrift

Filed under: blogging, Change is Possible, travel and culture, Uncategorized, Valerie's Posts — Engaging Awareness @ 2:17 pm

On Sunday we’re headed to Sicily for the Greek ruins. I hear the food is amazing. Caelyn is pretty psyched about the massive, active volcano. Lolling about at beaches and pools inspired by the azure skies and sea may also be involved.

You know what won’t be involved? Downloads, uploads, video files, thumb drives, wifi, external hard drives, or any expectations, whatsoever, that the “digital sharing” part of this project is about to happen.

I am “crying uncle”.

I’ll spare you the details, but a week of mammoth technological struggles reached its zenith yesterday when Caelyn accidentally poured lobster juice on her Mac laptop. You know, the one we bought for this trip. The one that has all the video on it.

Now people eating lobster generally have no business complaining, but …

The laptop simply would not open its eyes. I am familiar with that post-lobster dreamy, satiated feeling, but I figured it might sleep it off and dry out a bit by morning. Nope. It’s ready for a one-way ticket home to my jack-of-all-hard-drives computer guy.

I was surprisingly nonplussed. Frankly, it seemed like the last straw in some grand plan that everyone but me is in on to keep us from launching our project. Hmmmmmm. Does that sound paranoid to you?

Sometimes we actually don’t know what’s best for us.

This is not the first time in my life when things have mysteriously started drifting in new directions. When I’ve managed to have the grace to stop fighting the tide and allowed myself to float along on particularly perplexing currents, without fail, great things soon appeared on my horizon.

That’s why Caelyn and I are officially climbing aboard our raft without a paddle and moving our project launch to mid-September. Um, probably. We won’t  go completely off-line till then.  Our appearances will continue to depend on the wind, and whims of fortune, though.

What can you expect from us in September when we return?

Well, Caelyn has done some great interviews including a youth coach, the founder of an autism organization, two pilgrims on the road to Compostela, a classical cellist, a mountain climber, a fire breather, and a motorcycle dude.

She also has great footage, photos, and stories of many amazing places including a glacial ice cave in the Alps, a healing spring and caves with some of the oldest art on the planet in Burgundy, and many ancient cities in Tuscany including Volterra, which was featured in one of the Twilight Series movies. (Insert squeals from female teenage fans here.) And lots, lots more.

And let’s not forget that volcano coming up next week.

Did I mention that later this month we’re going to a Swedish forest famous for its trolls. Now THAT could be an interesting interview!

We’ll let you know.


July 30, 2010

When is a pasture a parking lot?

Filed under: Change is Possible, travel and culture, Uncategorized, Valerie's Posts — Engaging Awareness @ 5:16 am

Three weeks ago Caelyn and I flew from Gothenburg, Sweden, to Frankfurt, Germany, and embarked on sixteen days of largely unscripted travel. We had a rental car (free upgrade to a fun-to-drive mini cooper!*) and a general direction in mind – something along the lines of over the Alps to Italy and then back through France.

Oh, yes, we will be posting notes, photos, and Caelyn’s videos of our many experiences along the way.

One of the interesting moments, for me, happened just as we were taking off the ground in Gothenburg. To get to the airport, we had to drive through the city. Now Gothenburg certainly isn’t New York, but it is a city, nonetheless, a center of population with buildings and traffic. I had the impression that it was about the same size as a typical small U.S. city like Wilmington, Delaware, or Hartford, Connecticut.

As our flight lifted us up, I looked down and had a startling moment. There were no suburbs, no sprawling development creeping along at the outer edges of the city, no concentrically diminishing bands of population. The city was a clearly defined spot in the landscape. At its perimeter, Gothenburg simply stopped and the green fields, pastures, and countryside began.

My brain was momentarily addled.

While driving through the city, my brain had searched its files for information about cities of a comparable size and nature and applied additional non-existent details to what I was seeing. My brain “told me” that there would be urban sprawl. I could see it quite clearly in my mind’s eye because my past experience was creating a template.

Only problem, that picture had nothing to do with the actual city of Gothenburg. That picture told a story of my past experiences and my expectations, not the reality of a small city in Southern Sweden over which I was currently flying.  My very-real-feeling-illusion was having an intimate encounter with a snapshot of the physical reality below me.

It felt like my brain was on GPS after taking an unplanned turn. “Recalculating.”

The human brain likes to know what’s going to happen next, likes to have a plan, a pattern, a program in place so that we can feel safe. Scratch the surface and it’s all just an illusion, a delusion. Don’t get me wrong, I love having a plan. I just don’t want my plans to pre-design my experiences and potentials – or convince me that a pasture is a parking lot!

When we started this project, we had a plan. We still do, but it seems that our route is meandering. Our footsteps are intentional, but we have little idea about where we will be placing them next.

For example, I had no idea that our journey would deliver us to the Via Francigena, an ancient pilgrimage route stretching from Canterbury, England, to Rome, Italy, the route that led millions of travelers during the Middle Ages on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain and is still in use today. I had no idea that we would meet and interview two modern day pilgrims , that we would visit an almost forgotten ancient healing spring near that route, or that I would find myself deeply and surprisingly immersed in the Magdalene energies woven into the abbeys and woods and waters along “The Way.” It all simply unfolded by placing one foot after another. 

Sometimes it is quite frightening not to know what is going to happen next, even with simple, common things like taking a trip or starting a project.  I fall prey to those feelings, at times, just as we all do. We humans want to avoid fear, but it’s also a bit seductive. It’s quite easy to fall into worry and enter a consuming spiral of ideas about what could be or what might not happen.

 When I follow where my spirit calls me, though, I can feel the extraordinary aliveness, power, and magic that comes from standing on the edge of consciousness and engaging life. It’s way more powerful than the fear drug. In those moments, mind patterns fall away and I am able to rise above the designs of my daily life to observe what’s really around me.

In those moments, much like gazing out the plane window over miles of lakes and pastures and the endless rolling green of the Swedish countryside, the view is outstanding.


*No disclosure necessary.

July 26, 2010

Germany Smells Good

Filed under: Caelyn's Posts, travel and culture, Uncategorized — Engaging Awareness @ 11:40 am

Caelyn videoing out the car window(Sorry it’s been so long since I’ve posted. There was no internet service where we were traveling. Now that I’m back, you can see what I wrote at the different places we visited.)

In Germany there are so many different smells.

We’re driving through Germany and I have my head stuck out the window smelling every thing! I know that sounds crazy, but there’s just soooooo much to smell!

We were driving through a town in Alsace Lorraine, a part of France near Germany, that smelled really strongly of vanilla! On another road it smelled like a mixture of lime skins, new grass and vinegar!

A town we drove through with a movie theater smelled like lilacs! A small town that we passed on our way out of Germany and towards Switzerland smelled like oranges and old wood!

I love it here!!!


July 21, 2010

Where’s the “wee-fee”

Filed under: blogging, travel and culture, Valerie's Posts — Engaging Awareness @ 3:49 am

Wondering where we’ve been?

Germany, Italy and France. Paris right now. One thing we’ve learned in our travels is that consistent, affordable access to the internet is just not happening!

At our current hotel, wifi costs more than $20 per day. And that’s per device. Whoa! I’m told there’s free wifi in all the public parks. We’ll see if my iPhone can make contact.

We’ve been meeting many amazing people and have learned lots of other things, too.  You can look forward to several of Caelyn’s interviews finally making it online when we return to Sweden next week. She’s also got a few posts on visiting Tuscany, crossing the Alps, being inside a glacier, and her time here in Paris.

As usual, I’ll have something to say, too!


July 3, 2010

Wired Less

Filed under: Change is Possible, Valerie's Posts — Engaging Awareness @ 8:45 am

Lightening struck and we missed it. Caelyn and I were on a midnight trek to the premiere of the movie “Eclipse” in the nearest almost-major city.

Runa missed it too. She was sleeping and didn’t hear a thing when an arc of electricity flashed across the sky, turned left at the pasture, found our tiny little hamlet, and crashed several of the phones and modems up and down the lane.

We hadn’t a clue when we returned wide awake at three AM and and headed, facebook-ready, to our spots in the kitchen. No wireless connection. We tried all our usual technological tweaks – sitting under the table, cursing at our laptops, eating chocolate. Nothing. Finally we surrendered and went to bed.

The next morning Runa met me with the news that we would not have a functioning modem for at least five days. She was upset that she hadn’t run around and pulled all the plugs out of the walls. I had a flashback to the 1980’s.

“Don’t you have surge protectors?”

It seems that the Swedish surge protectors don’t work so well, or maybe the rural power system is very vulnerable. I haven’t gotten a really satisfying answer to all this yet. We soon discovered, though, that Runa’s friend up the lane had indeed pulled all her plugs in time. She graciously offered that we could come borrow her wireless several times a day.

We headed out with our laptops and set up in a little cottage she has very close to her house. Almost close enough. The signal kept dropping, and we were just barely able to get a few emails in and out. Frustrating.

There were a couple of options. We could make appointments to use the computers at the library in a nearby town, but that was a bit of a pain. We could install ourselves in Runa’s friend’s living room, but that seemed rude and intrusive. Or we could simply accept a one-week diet of two dribbles of wireless daily. We chose the latter, but I was cranky about the situation.

There was a lot of whining and fretting about all the emails needing responses. I was worried about being in the midst of making arrangements with organizations and then just dropping off the radar. But my biggest stress was about booking our July travel plans before fares went up and seats were taken. Five days began to seem like an eternity.

On the third day something changed.

Suddenly it didn’t seem to matter whether I got an email in the morning or the afternoon, so I skipped my morning trek to my wifi enabled location. “Relax,” the voice in my head encouraged, and I began to reconsider my notions of perfect timing.

For those of us who can get ourselves a little too wrapped up in the pace of life, sometimes a good smack in the modem is all we need. And once initial resistance yields, trusting the timing that life delivers to your doorstep, isn’t as hard as it seems.

Now, instead of stress and frustration, I’m harboring a presumption that forces beyond my control are conspiring to put me in the right place at the right time – and also in the right mood! I feel pretty certain that the precise moment when we are back on line, is going to be the perfect moment to snag a great last-minute deal on two seats to somewhere.

And that’s exactly where we’ll go.


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