Experiments

How a Year of Prototyping Became a Year of Conversation Part 2

Credit: Self on iphone. Jerusalem. October 2017

Credit: Self on iphone. Jerusalem. October 2017

An extraordinary thing happened Saturday. In the dwindling light of evening in my living room — 10 of us gathered, as women, as girls, as sisters, as humans. We were of many ages, we came from different shores, we might have studied different things and worked at many places — we were from different mothers but we were not the Other to each other…….

Episode 1 of the Traveling Pants Exchange kicked off. I had organized TPE to kick-off Reinvesting the Past into your Future. To say good-bye, I had wanted to bring back the women of my past, from financial services, to meet the women of the present, from the creative and healing arts. I had wanted to see if we could gather and ignite a future of co-created culture. A culture of inter-disciplinary exchange and cross-pollination, a culture where we could boldly “step out of our paradigm” and question beliefs, assumptions, biases in the spirit of radical openness and connectivity. A culture of safe space where we only had to be ourselves, as Experts of our Own Story. (As articulated by various design thinking schools, and as heard on an IDEO webinar, David Kelley on Design Thinking)

Photo Credit: Asha Ganpat. June 2018. Poetry & Spoken Word Salon. Jersey City

Photo Credit: Asha Ganpat. June 2018. Poetry & Spoken Word Salon. Jersey City

I asked us to tell our story in three words- how we be, what we do and what we are becoming.

How we be- started with our names, our “line of business” and why we were there. How we be, quickly became, how many we were within, in our multiple personas with the many roles and responsibilities. We were women, who wore many hats and many voices.

The topic of the evening was being yourself in your body through the ritual of embodiment. My friend Kat Szekely, actor and yoga instructor, started with an exercise in embodiment, of feeling yourself by standing on your own feet. She then led the group into a drill on neutral mask from physical theater, put forth by Jacques Lecoq. We were asked to retrieve an object that we “would not leave home without”. We reached in our handbags, looked on our person and embodied it, and allowed ourselves to be endowed such.

“There are three masks: the one we think we are, the one we really are, and the one we have in common” — Jacques Lecoq

“The neutral mask is a learning tool for actors — to help them develop emotional honesty and economy of movement , and to give them an inner core that is balanced, centered and focused while they express powerful, authentic emotions on stage.” (http://www.foolmoon.org/neutral-mask/)

Each woman participated and shared her experience of what just happened. In wearing the neutral mask, we were able to drop the mask of who we thought we should be, and get in touch with who we already were. We talked about our mothers, of a filigreed necklace where the heart meets voice, of “depth, curl and dimension”, the symbolism of a ring. We talked about standing on our feet, solidly planted where we were, not where we should be.

Some of us talked about transformation- moving lives, moving careers, moving from one box to the other; all the while trying to honor the inner-moving-self. Some of us talked about flowing between boxes and making new boxes when the old ones did not fit. We talked about boxes that were imminently flexible, boxes that allowed creativity and autonomy, essential for the moving self. Some of us talked about how it was not change that we were afraid of, but what we have been told, change can be like.

In our reflections, we were verbs, we were nouns, we were pronouns. And present participles. We acknowledged Becoming as a process, which is constant and “in-motion”.

Mixing and matching many personas takes work. It requires finding a new center. It takes practice to be easeful with “the incredible center of being off-center”, “the middle way that is not down the middle”, “allowing for the pendulum to swing both ways”, “the equilibrium in the disequilibrium”- “the non-work-life balance.” But that evening Kat taught us one way to come come back to “neutral”. The neutral of the safe and the strong space, a held space within.

“Neutral is holding the centre” — moving with grace, dignity, power, and direction in times of rapid change and crisis.” Jacques Lecoq

We are women in process. We are women in becoming. We are women who support each other. We bring our openness, our desire to connect and share a page from the experiential playbook. We are eager and hungry to step out of our paradigm and learn how we be. And this is how we are becoming, creators and custodians of a new, co-created culture.

We come bearing a singular intent — of dreaming and wanting to mix and match all of the above; and to do justice to this one awesome, extraordinary life. Our tapestry is one of richness and multiplicity. We are the face of diversity. And in that shared intent and purpose, we are the face of inclusion. We are the face of unity in diversity.

This article appeared as part of Series on the New Culture of Work on LinkedIn. For more of my writing on behavior change and life as a series of experiments, please follow me on www.radicaleverything.com/blog

May the dancing spirit thrive within!

 

How a Year of Prototyping Became a Year of Conversation. Part 1

Photo Credit: Self on iPhone. Taken at the Cochin Biennale 2016.  Installation by Raul Zarita: “The Sea of Pain”

Photo Credit: Self on iPhone. Taken at the Cochin Biennale 2016.
Installation by Raul Zarita: “The Sea of Pain”

So what do you do exactly?

“Hmm… I do Salons.”

Interesting.”

Silence. Of the gulping kind. The kind that you want to slice with a knife.

So do you have any experience with hair products?”

“Not particularly, but why do you ask….”

Elevator was not traveling to the top-floor on this non-caffeinated morning.

I mean……. it is kinda bold that you would venture into the hair business.”

At this point, my quizzer took a long breath-filled pause, gave me a once-over, with pointed observations circling around my unkempt head.

I could see inside, politeness was laying siege to judginess.

“AHHHHHHHHHH.”

Einstein- moment. Thank you E to the power of (M)any C Squared.

“No. No!” I rushed to disclaim…. “Not THAT kind of Salon… (as I was digesting the basis of misunderstanding).

I made pointed eye contact to assure my listener, turned interrogator.

“Yes, yes, I am with you. I have no experience cutting hair- although I have tried a few experiments on myself..”

“I do Salons for the Arts and in the Arts.”

Light dawned, fractionally. Puzzlement, now turned curiosity.

“So what does this Salon exactly entail?”

“Well, we gather people, 20–25 large groups. We get together around an artist or artists, we watch performance. We tell stories. We commune and engage in finding ourselves. And then we leave, promising to meet again for more.”

“Sounds like therapy.”

“Well-said actually. Yes, a number of these events have become safe spaces. They can almost feel therapeutic.”

“How have you gotten your audience to get comfortable, to thaw, to ice-break, I mean?”

I was beginning to love this line of questioning. It was feeling like an interview. I have an uncanny fondness for such. Past life externalities.

“Well, it has largely been trial and error. AND- no experience is the same. But we have stumbled upon a very happy, collective coincidence… which is — the arts igniting emotional resonance, curiosity and utter engrossment, to the point, you sometimes forget yourself… the boundaries between you and your neighbor blur, when you are in the presence of solid story.”

“So what got you into this?”

“Prototyping”

“As in — like building a product?”

“No. As in, the spirit of experimentation.”

“Please explain. Sounds nerdy.”

“Yes. Gladly. I took a sabbatical last year. It was much needed after 14 dog-eared chapters in finance.”

Pause. License for continuation.

“During my sabbatical, thanks to a well-timed recommendation from a well-meaninged friend, I read a well-designed book, called, “Designing your Life- How to Live a Well-Lived, Joyful Life” (Burnett & Evans). I discovered prototyping.”

Silence. The absurdity, was that what my listener was thinking….but I persisted.

“I made my life last year, a series of rapid prototypes. I iterated on ideas, I traveled for 170 days, I discovered new things, I met new people — to see what I could gather, by way of insights… data points.. real life data points.The world was the lab, I was the lab-rat.”

“What does this have to do with Salons?”

“Good question….. ”

“I came back after visiting with people from different cultures, places and spaces, and concluded that, we all thrive on story. We all desire to be seen and heard. We all desire to be part of community. We all crave for space where we can be ourselves. So I began collecting stories. And gathering community, who also like stories.”

Pause… digestion in slo-mo.

“What does this have to do with the arts?”

“Good question…. gosh, you will make a ninja interviewer or interrogator, you know.”

No acknowledgement of the compliment. My interviewer was serious as heart-attack.

“Well, arts because, they are uniquely embedded in the universality of human experience. And the universality of human storytelling. Arts are a gateway. The arts help creates space where we can all be just ourselves.”

“Were you not working in finance before. What makes you qualified again? Are you an artist?”

“Technically, I am not qualified.. I am at the baby’s beginning of my journey into a creative life. I am an -in-training everything. Entrepreneurially, artistically….”

Pause.

“Last year was the life of zero. This year is the life of 0.25, a fractional increment from zero. I am slow-playing change.”

“And no, I am not an artist. I am not anything that is defined by what I do anymore… My new life is without designation. My job has no title. This is the no-business card lifestyle.”

You with me, listener?

“I don’t work out of a physical office space. The world is my office playground. In some circles, we are called digital nomads.”

Silence. The symphony of unwanted comprehension?

“My team are a group of collaborators — we call each other the creative cloud. And they are awesome. In some circles, we might be called the wandering feet of the gig-economy. We come together because we share similar values. We come together because we share a similar mission. We come together because we dream and then we do. We co-create culture.”

My hyper-attentive listener better not be turning hyper-allergic. Before any further onslaught of questions…. I added with some terminality.

“AND, every day we come to work, so we can just be ourselves. We are one more face of the radical, rag-tag, remote, diverse and inclusive work-force.”

This post is part of a series on making your life a series of experiments and the unbearable levity of a creative life. Post first appeared on LinkedIn, under same title.