Tag Archives: learning from your past

one world; many stories


During this past week, I have been carving out time each evening to sort through folders of digital images from a variety of long-lost external hard drives as well as trying to scan images that were literally lost due to technical traumatic casualties. Although it’s been a long process and has taken many late evenings, I am really glad I’ve been asked to do this. Not only am I archiving this buried data in a visible and accessible way but I am also enjoying bringing back to life the people places and stories that have emerged in my life this past ten years. After writing and reflecting on each of these projects/jobs, I realize that there is not one but a few similar threads that have run through both my life and work choices.

As the Wild Card Anita requested, I examined and sought out the patterns that appeared in my decision-making. Many people find that patterns or cycles of behavior tend to hold them back from progression or keep them stuck in a rut. This may be true, but In my case, I have found that my patterns have mostly propelled me forward. I can happily say that I would not have ever wanted to make any other choices than the ones I have thus far.

I am sure these specific patterns I have formed have prevented me from reaching particular desired outcomes that others seek in life (like owning a home, starting a family or bringing in a six figure income) but, looking over the images from my past decade has only reminded me of all the great fortune I have gained and built.

My flexibility and goal of following a path of personal freedom has given me the privilege and ability to explore new environments, create unique individualized job experiences and build new relationships. The one thing that stands out from all of those experiences is the interaction with people and the witnessing of their stories.

In each and every job that I have held in my life the core of the work always had to deal with interacting and engaging with individuals. Whether it has been listening to someone share their life story, assisting them express ideas through art making or helping someone find what they want or need through customer service; I thrive off of the interaction and communication with people.

I look forward to the opportunity of forming a new connection or relationship and the chance to learn something new through that person. This process has been consistent most everything that I have done. What has kept it fresh for me, is the cycle of engaging with new people, new cultures and places. Working with people is a great reminder that I will never stop learning, if I  stay open to collecting and accepting new perspectives.

Everywhere I go, (whether it be Baltimore City, Cambodia, or rural Japan) I encounter a new amazing person and new incredible story.

BTDHS 055Cambodia Vietnam 1 594IMG_2122

Anita also asked me to pin point one of my past experiences that would be the hardest for me to let go of. As I said before, I have been happy with most of my choices and would not want to give any of them up. There are many experiences that have been good for me in many ways, but there is one project in particular which I feel was invaluable to me and accomplished much more than benefiting only my personal learning.  I also did not have to travel further than my front porch to experience this adventure.

Porch Art


— In the fall of 2006, I moved to Huntingdon Ave in the Remington neighborhood of Baltimore MD. The following summer, I started spending every Tuesday evening on my porch engaging a small group of 5 – 8 neighborhood kids with the art supplies I had stored in my basement. For me, this was a great way to get to know the kids in my neighborhood, do something that I loved, and provide a space for youth to socialize and engage in something positive. We started calling Tuesday nights “Porch Art” night.
In Porch Art’s second summer, the attendance doubled, I recruited neighborhood helpers and had a few parents attending and donating supplies. By my final and fourth year doing Porch Art, we had groups of up to 30 people of all ages attending. Guest artist instructors led activities, local musicians entertained and I organized a rotating roster of community volunteers to help set up, run and clean up each Tuesday. – (end of official online portfolio description)

Creating Porch Art made me realize that there is a simple logic in combining the desire to do something I love with the simple desire of doing something positive for the immediate environment around me.  This, I found, is the key to doing what I strive to do and call  “good work”. By using a small amount of my personal time and the materials I had at my fingertips, I was able to create a life-changing, invaluable experience for myself while also setting a structure and example for positive change in my community.   I didn’t need to travel to do it.  I didn’t spend money to do this.  I didn’t need to advertise for people to come or promote the project.  It filled a need for both myself and the neighborhood and taught me how important working with my present situation, the materials I had and the people around me, could be. If I can keep following that model for developing work in my future endeavors and become creative enough to make a living off of it, I am sure I will be successful and happy doing it.


Voice of America covered Porch Art – This piece aired in a few foreign countries in a few different languages.

See more images from Porch Art here.


Just finding this blog today? Read the prologue for more details on what Living Chapters is all about.


July: Wild Card


This month’s topic seems a little different to me than the others. Probably by definition, order and logic are the opposite of dynamism and fun, often thought of as the antitheses of creativity, innovation, and artistic expression. Wait, Beth, why did you pick Gabe and me for this month again? Never mind, I have heard you say that you could use more order and logic in your life, but I’ve been wondering what you really want them to do for you.

For the record, what I said about order and logic being the opposite of innovation and creativity is not true. Creativity usually happens when someone has deep knowledge of her subject and combines ideas (particularly from different disciplines) in novel ways. If you didn’t have your background in community organizing, art programs, multimedia, and storytelling, it is hard to imagine you could have dreamt up this project. So it makes sense to include logic and order as a chapter in a project that is at least in part about creative purpose, your purpose. Using the tool of reflection, logic and order can play a role in helping you get at that purpose. Whereas Gabe has instructed you to bring some logic and order to your vita of experiences by organizing, evaluating, and communicating about your past, I will ask you to do some orderly reflection to create a logical framework that can inform your future.

Before I give you the wild card, though, let me just say that I know you are struggling on some level with the very heart of this project, which is complete transparency with whoever happens upon the pages you post. I think any sane person would. This project is a tremendous commitment in time, energy, and exposure. You are being more vulnerable than most of us would dare to be. But this is, I hope, part of the essence of why you are doing the project. It is only in honest, deep reflection that we are able to connect with ourselves and perhaps even with others. It is also my sense that reflection is where you are able to give back to the community that is supporting you in this process. To witness how you are growing, changing, and struggling makes this a human project worth sharing.

If you find yourself in need of inspiration regarding the power of vulnerability, watch this talk by storyteller-researcher Brené Brown. For even more inspiration, watch how conductor Benjamin Zander advises throwing up our hands when we stumble and shouting, “How fascinating!”

And so your wild card:

  1. First, reflect on your life experiences by answering the following questions (I credit my friend Vanessa Harris with devising these questions):
    1. Notice the patterns, what stands out loud and clear from all of your experiences? Not only what you did, but why you did it; what value(s) come through all of your choices/experiences?
    2. If you had to give up one of your past experiences, which would be the hardest to let go of and why?
    3. Who have been your mentors? What have they taught you?
    4. Knowing what you know now, what advice would you have given yourself five years ago? Can you imagine what type of advice you will wish that your future self would give you today?
    5. If you could try any other type of work for a month (assuming training and opportunity were present), what would it be?
    6. Then, take the following actions:
      1. Based on this reflection, choose a few symbols that could represent you and your portfolio.
      2. Create a poll using the free version of the software Poll Everywhere to allow the community to vote on the symbols you have chosen.
      3. After receiving this input, choose the symbol that you will add to your portfolio. Explain why you selected or rejected the symbol the community recommended for you.

Your culminating reflection on Living Chapters should include a beginning sketch of your vision for what you want to commit your energies to next. I ask that you pick something meaningful and concrete, even if it is a stretch. Following Ben Zander’s logic, if the big thing you are going for is your vision, then you can always move the goal posts closer together or further apart as needed.

This vision can relate to home or housing, relationships (person, plant, or animal), learning, projects, work, travel, health, or whatever. In other words, what can your past tell you (and us) about your future?  You’ve asked us to write twelve months for you, but that means you will be writing the thirteenth, right?


Just finding this blog today? Read the prologue for more details on what Living Chapters is all about.

Check out the Living Chapters facebook page to follow the growing pains and progress of the evolving online portfolio.

Visit the June Gallery for images and videos from the Body and Kinesthetic chapter.