What we’ve been up to…
January marked the official start of the beach season here on the coast. This means lazy days of hanging out on the beach for kids who are now on vacation from school. We have come to appreciate how tranquilo the beach is normally since we have now witnessed how crowded it can get on holidays and sometimes on weekends. The start of the season also means the inauguration of the town’s annual beach soccer tournament. The youth foundation fielded a team but unfortunately, they did not make it to the play-offs.
“Demuestra Tu Cultura” Project
Thanks to a grant from Disney, we created a campaign called, “Demuestra Tu Cultura y No Botar Basura” (Show your culture and don’t litter). After a lot of hard work that included holding an educational outreach event, gathering hundreds of signatures from community members promising not to litter, designing and painting new trash cans for the beach, and making art from recycled materials, we finally placed the trash cans on the beach in time for the big crowds. It’s hard to believe that Palmar had no trash cans on the beach before this but now these re-purposed, re-painted oil tanks are being put to good use!
Mujeres Cambia Milestone
Mujeres Cambia celebrated a big milestone in February – surpassing $10,000 in sales! A new website with full shopping cart functionality is in the works so look out for that soon. In addition, we’re in talks with the guys over at DesignedGood.com to feature our products on their site. We will also be offering some excellent deals on gifts in time for Mother’s Day so stay tuned (and “like” us on Facebook!).
Another year, another cake in the face. Or so it goes in Ecuador. The tradition is to ask the birthday boy or girl (even adults) to take a little bite of the cake (as in blow out the candles and then lean down and put your mouth on the cake). Reminiscent of the wedding tradition to turn that bite into an opportunity for a face full of icing, when the birthday boy or girl leans down a friend comes up behind them and smashes their face into the cake. I don’t know how well this would go over in a germaphobe culture but it’s a fun tradition and we do as the Ecuadorians do! Paul had the chance to do this twice this year – once with the gang from Neo Juventud and the other with Mujeres Cambia.
We’ve been hosting a lot of visitors lately. After returning from the Galápagos in January, a trip we took with **Frankie** and **Jess**, we have had fellow PCVs **Nikki**, **Cherith**, **Rich**, and **Evergreen** stop by as well as a group of medical student volunteers (see above) from Penn State College of Medicine. Next up are new friends we made at the Recycled Art Workshop we attended this month (see below).
The Brigadistas are what we call the group of around 30 elementary-aged kids who attend a class Paul and I co-teach on Saturdays at the Center for Art & Design. Often, our lessons incorporate arts & crafts and focus on the environment. The kids are super enthusiastic and are often waiting for us outside of the youth foundation before class even starts. That’s saying something when Hora Ecuatoriana usually means folks arrive at least 1/2 hour late to events.
Recycled Art Workshop
Paul and I had the good fortune of attending a workshop on recycled art techniques at the Peace Corps Training Center in Quito. In addition to learning tons of exciting recycled art projects and making new friends, it was an opportunity for 4 members of Mujeres Cambia to travel and present at the workshop. **Gina**, **Noralma**, **Angélica**, and **Sara** did an incredible job presenting to the dozens of PC Volunteers and their counterparts in attendance. The women discussed the business behind Mujeres Cambia and also gave a lesson on how to make jewelry and origami boxes from magazine paper. We’re already teaching some new projects we learned at the workshop to the Brigadistas class and we may even roll out some new Mujeres Cambia products, as a result as well. Photos from the workshop coming soon!
On our recent trip to the big city we had the chance to see the movie, Oz the Great and Powerful in 3D. If you have the opportunity to see this film – the beautiful 3D effects make it all worth the while! I enjoyed the rest of the film, as well, although I don’t know if would be a different experience in English (we saw it dubbed in Spanish) or if I was pleasantly surprised because I had no expectations going into the film.
I was especially impressed with the opening title sequence (see above), which was created by Yu + Co in the style of sequences from the 30s and paying homage to Theatre of Perspective, which they explain on their website were miniature paper theaters that created 3D perspective back in the days before fancy digital effects.
I’m a huge fan of title sequences and, as I written before, of the site: Art of the Title, which explores this artform. A recent post on Art of the Title showcases the opening title sequences of the SXSW film awards finalists. It’s definitely worth checking out.
This article is from The Atlantic. I read it a while ago and it’s stuck with me…Read on to see why.
There’s More to Life Than Being Happy
It is the very pursuit of happiness that thwarts happiness.
In September 1942, Viktor Frankl, a prominent Jewish psychiatrist and neurologist in Vienna, was arrested and transported to a Nazi concentration camp with his wife and parents. Three years later, when his camp was liberated, most of his family, including his pregnant wife, had perished — but he, prisoner number 119104, had lived. In his bestselling 1946 book, Man’s Search for Meaning, which he wrote in nine days about his experiences in the camps, Frankl concluded that the difference between those who had lived and those who had died came down to one thing: Meaning, an insight he came to early in life. When he was a high school student, one of his science teachers declared to the class, “Life is nothing more than a combustion process, a process of oxidation.” Frankl jumped out of his chair and responded, “Sir, if this is so, then what can be the meaning of life?”
As he saw in the camps, those who found meaning even in the most horrendous circumstances were far more resilient to suffering than those who did not. “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing,” Frankl wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning, “the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Frankl worked as a therapist in the camps, and in his book, he gives the example of two suicidal inmates he encountered there. Like many others in the camps, these two men were hopeless and thought that there was nothing more to expect from life, nothing to live for. “In both cases,” Frankl writes, “it was a question of getting them to realize that life was still expecting something from them; something in the future was expected of them.” For one man, it was his young child, who was then living in a foreign country. For the other, a scientist, it was a series of books that he needed to finish. Frankl writes:
This uniqueness and singleness which distinguishes each individual and gives a meaning to his existence has a bearing on creative work as much as it does on human love. When the impossibility of replacing a person is realized, it allows the responsibility which a man has for his existence and its continuance to appear in all its magnitude. A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the “why” for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any “how.”
In 1991, the Library of Congress and Book-of-the-Month Club listed Man’s Search for Meaning as one of the 10 most influential books in the United States. It has sold millions of copies worldwide. Now, over twenty years later, the book’s ethos — its emphasis on meaning, the value of suffering, and responsibility to something greater than the self — seems to be at odds with our culture, which is more interested in the pursuit of individual happiness than in the search for meaning. “To the European,” Frankl wrote, “it is a characteristic of the American culture that, again and again, one is commanded and ordered to ‘be happy.’ But happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue. One must have a reason to ‘be happy.'”
According to Gallup , the happiness levels of Americans are at a four-year high — as is, it seems, the number of best-selling books with the word “happiness” in their titles. At this writing, Gallup also reports that nearly 60 percent all Americans today feel happy, without a lot of stress or worry. On the other hand, according to the Center for Disease Control, about 4 out of 10 Americans have not discovered a satisfying life purpose. Forty percent either do not think their lives have a clear sense of purpose or are neutral about whether their lives have purpose. Nearly a quarter of Americans feel neutral or do not have a strong sense of what makes their lives meaningful. Research has shown that having purpose and meaning in life increases overall well-being and life satisfaction, improves mental and physical health, enhances resiliency, enhances self-esteem, and decreases the chances of depression. On top of that, the single-minded pursuit of happiness is ironically leaving people less happy, according to recent research. “It is the very pursuit of happiness,” Frankl knew, “that thwarts happiness.”
*** Read More…
46 Things I Learned Making Mister Rogers & Me
I only knew three things about Mister Rogers before meeting him: He was the host of one of my favorite childhood shows, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, he was from Pittsburgh, and he seemed like a really nice guy.
Mister Rogers summered in a modest, gray, shake-shingled house on the edge of Nantucket. My mother rented a tiny cottage next door. So Mister Rogers really was my neighbor.
I was a young MTV News producer and sometime singer/songwriter. We met on the weekend of my 30th birthday in September 2001. He gingerly asked about my parents’ divorce (taking a cue, apparently, from a song I’d just played him on my acoustic guitar about my childhood fear of flying), then my job at MTV. He mentioned his friend, mystic, author and poet Bo Lozoff, and his book, Deep & Simple.
“I feel so strongly,” he said,
that deep and simple is far more essential than shallow and complex.
The phrase stuck with me. And when I told him so the following summer, he replied, “Spread the message, Benjamin.”
Ten years later, my brother and I premiered our documentary, Mister Rogers & Me, at the Nantucket Film Festival. The film explores Mister Rogers’ luminous legacy through remembrances from Tim Russert, Susan Stamberg, Linda Ellerbee, Marc Brown, and many more. On March 20, 2012, PBS released it on DVD.
In celebration of Mister Rogers’ 85th birthday today, I can confirm and expand on those three things (he was an inordinately nice guy in person, too), plus these 46 things I learned about this great man and his essential pioneering work.
1. He was named after his grandfather, Fred McFeely, who often said, “You’ve made this a special day by just being yourself. There’s no one else in the world quite like you.”
2. Little Freddy Rogers was a lonely, chubby, and shy child who was sometimes homebound because of childhood asthma common to industrialized towns like Latrobe.
3. According to The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers author Amy Hollingsworth, little Freddy Rogers was bullied walking home from school. “We’re going to get you Fat Freddy,” the other boys taunted.
“I used to cry to myself when I was alone,” he said. “And I would cry through my fingers and make up songs on the piano.” As he grew up, he decided to always look past the surface of people to the “essential invisible” within them.
4. A framed quotation from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Le Petit Prince hung in Mister Rogers WQED office his entire career. It read, “L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.” (“What is essential is invisible to the eye.”)
5. He was an only child until he was 11, when his parents adopted his sister, Elaine.
6. He was a vegetarian who told people, “I don’t want to eat anything that has a mother.”
7. He weighed 143 pounds most his adult life, and relished the weight for its numerical equivalent I (1) Love (4) You (3).
8. Mister Rogers attended Dartmouth for one year, then transferred to Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, where he met his future wife Sarah Joanne Bird, and graduated Magna Cum Laude with a BA in Music Composition.
9. He landed his first television job on NBC’s Kate Smith Hour in 1951. He worked on numerous shows there, including NBC Opera Hour and Your Lucky Strike Hit Parade.
10. The Rogers’ famed Crooked House on Nantucket (which is, indeed, akimbo, and requires ducking and leaning to traverse) was a wedding gift from his parents.
11. The Rogers have two sons, James (born 1959) and John (born 1961). They can be seen romping in the dunes just beyond The Crooked House in the black & white outtakes of the PBS documentary, America’s Favorite Neighbor.
12. Mister Rogers swam every day (including in Madaket Bay, where he met my mother in the months prior to our meeting).
13. In 1954, he and cohost Josie Carey premiered The Children’s Corner on the Eastern Education Network, introducing Daniel Striped Tiger and King Friday.
14. The hour-long program that would become Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood began as a 15-minute Canadian Broadcast series called, simply, Misterogers.
15. “I got into television because I saw people throwing pies in each other’s faces,” he said. “And that’s such demeaning behavior. And if there’s anything that bothers me, it’s one person demeaning another.”
16. His trademark sneakers were born when he found them to be quieter than his dress shoes as he moved about the set.
17. He worked towards his theology degree while working at WQED, graduated from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, and was ordained a minister in the Presbyterian Church in 1963.
18. Mr. McFeely, who joined the Neighborhood via Pittsburgh Playhouse, also acts as Fred Rogers Company Director of Publicity.
19. Jazz pianist Johnny Costa, who was the Neighborhood’s Musical Director from 1968 til his death in 1996, performed every song live in the studio during tapings.
20. Actor Michael Keaton’s first job was as a stagehand on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, manning Picture, Picture, and appearing as Purple Panda.
21. In a now-famous clip from 1969, Rogers appeared before United States Senate Subcommittee on Communications chair John Pastore to advocate for increased support of public broadcasting in the face of then-President Nixon’s 50 percent reduction. After six minutes of thoughtful testimony advocating for the value of commercial-free television for children, the typically gruff senator replied, “I think it’s wonderful. Looks like you earned the $20 million.”
This week I thought I’d share some articles I’ve read recently and enjoyed. The first is an opinion piece from The New York Times by TreeHugger.com and LifeEdited.com‘s Graham Hill, a person I have admired ever since I watched this TED Talk:
I have been interested in the Tiny Home Movement for some time now. Paul and I still talk about the exhibition “Home Delivery” at MoMA we attended years ago that featured several pre-fab and tiny homes (see this video for more on the show). After living in Charlie the Camper Van for several months before moving to Ecuador for the Peace Corps, some tiny homes actually look like palaces to me!
Here’s some more food for thought about doing more with less.
The New York Times
Living With Less. A Lot Less.
By GRAHAM HILL
Published: March 9, 2013
I LIVE in a 420-square-foot studio. I sleep in a bed that folds down from the wall. I have six dress shirts. I have 10 shallow bowls that I use for salads and main dishes. When people come over for dinner, I pull out my extendable dining room table. I don’t have a single CD or DVD and I have 10 percent of the books I once did.
I have come a long way from the life I had in the late ’90s, when, flush with cash from an Internet start-up sale, I had a giant house crammed with stuff — electronics and cars and appliances and gadgets.
Somehow this stuff ended up running my life, or a lot of it; the things I consumed ended up consuming me. My circumstances are unusual (not everyone gets an Internet windfall before turning 30), but my relationship with material things isn’t.
We live in a world of surfeit stuff, of big-box stores and 24-hour online shopping opportunities. Members of every socioeconomic bracket can and do deluge themselves with products.
There isn’t any indication that any of these things makes anyone any happier; in fact it seems the reverse may be true.
For me, it took 15 years, a great love and a lot of travel to get rid of all the inessential things I had collected and live a bigger, better, richer life with less.
It started in 1998 in Seattle, when my partner and I sold our Internet consultancy company, Sitewerks, for more money than I thought I’d earn in a lifetime.
To celebrate, I bought a four-story, 3,600-square-foot, turn-of-the-century house in Seattle’s happening Capitol Hill neighborhood and, in a frenzy of consumption, bought a brand-new sectional couch (my first ever), a pair of $300 sunglasses, a ton of gadgets, like an Audible.com MobilePlayer (one of the first portable digital music players) and an audiophile-worthy five-disc CD player. And, of course, a black turbocharged Volvo. With a remote starter!
I was working hard for Sitewerks’ new parent company, Bowne, and didn’t have the time to finish getting everything I needed for my house. So I hired a guy named Seven, who said he had been Courtney Love’s assistant, to be my personal shopper. He went to furniture, appliance and electronics stores and took Polaroids of things he thought I might like to fill the house; I’d shuffle through the pictures and proceed on a virtual shopping spree.
My success and the things it bought quickly changed from novel to normal. Soon I was numb to it all. The new Nokia phone didn’t excite me or satisfy me. It didn’t take long before I started to wonder why my theoretically upgraded life didn’t feel any better and why I felt more anxious than before.
My life was unnecessarily complicated. There were lawns to mow, gutters to clear, floors to vacuum, roommates to manage (it seemed nuts to have such a big, empty house), a car to insure, wash, refuel, repair and register and tech to set up and keep working. To top it all off, I had to keep Seven busy. And really, a personal shopper? Who had I become? My house and my things were my new employers for a job I had never applied for.
It got worse. Soon after we sold our company, I moved east to work in Bowne’s office in New York, where I rented a 1,900-square-foot SoHo loft that befit my station as a tech entrepreneur. The new pad needed furniture, housewares, electronics, etc. — which took more time and energy to manage.
AND because the place was so big, I felt obliged to get roommates — who required more time, more energy, to manage. I still had the Seattle house, so I found myself worrying about two homes. When I decided to stay in New York, it cost a fortune and took months of cross-country trips — and big headaches — to close on the Seattle house and get rid of the all of the things inside.
I’m lucky, obviously; not everyone gets a windfall from a tech start-up sale. But I’m not the only one whose life is cluttered with excess belongings.
In a study published last year titled “Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century,” researchers at U.C.L.A. observed 32 middle-class Los Angeles families and found that all of the mothers’ stress hormones spiked during the time they spent dealing with their belongings. Seventy-five percent of the families involved in the study couldn’t park their cars in their garages because they were too jammed with things.
Our fondness for stuff affects almost every aspect of our lives. Housing size, for example, has ballooned in the last 60 years. The average size of a new American home in 1950 was 983 square feet; by 2011, the average new home was 2,480 square feet. And those figures don’t provide a full picture. In 1950, an average of 3.37 people lived in each American home; in 2011, that number had shrunk to 2.6 people. This means that we take up more than three times the amount of space per capita than we did 60 years ago.
Apparently our supersize homes don’t provide space enough for all our possessions, as is evidenced by our country’s $22 billion personal storage industry.
What exactly are we storing away in the boxes we cart from place to place? Much of what Americans consume doesn’t even find its way into boxes or storage spaces, but winds up in the garbage.
The Natural Resources Defense Council reports, for example, that 40 percent of the food Americans buy finds its way into the trash.
Enormous consumption has global, environmental and social consequences. For at least 335 consecutive months, the average temperature of the globe has exceeded the average for the 20th century. As a recent report for Congress explained, this temperature increase, as well as acidifying oceans, melting glaciers and Arctic Sea ice are “primarily driven by human activity.” Many experts believe consumerism and all that it entails — from the extraction of resources to manufacturing to waste disposal — plays a big part in pushing our planet to the brink. And as we saw with Foxconn and the recent Beijing smog scare, many of the affordable products we buy depend on cheap, often exploitive overseas labor and lax environmental regulations.
Does all this endless consumption result in measurably increased happiness?
In a recent study, the Northwestern University psychologist Galen V. Bodenhausen linked consumption with aberrant, antisocial behavior. Professor Bodenhausen found that “Irrespective of personality, in situations that activate a consumer mind-set, people show the same sorts of problematic patterns in well-being, including negative affect and social disengagement.” Though American consumer activity has increased substantially since the 1950s, happiness levels have flat-lined.
I DON’T know that the gadgets I was collecting in my loft were part of an aberrant or antisocial behavior plan during the first months I lived in SoHo. But I was just going along, starting some start-ups that never quite started up when I met Olga, an Andorran beauty, and fell hard. My relationship with stuff quickly came apart.
I followed her to Barcelona when her visa expired and we lived in a tiny flat, totally content and in love before we realized that nothing was holding us in Spain. We packed a few clothes, some toiletries and a couple of laptops and hit the road. We lived in Bangkok, Buenos Aires and Toronto with many stops in between.
A compulsive entrepreneur, I worked all the time and started new companies from an office that fit in my solar backpack. I created some do-gooder companies like We Are Happy to Serve You, which makes a reusable, ceramic version of the iconic New York City Anthora coffee cup and TreeHugger.com, an environmental design blog that I later sold to Discovery Communications. My life was full of love and adventure and work I cared about. I felt free and I didn’t miss the car and gadgets and house; instead I felt as if I had quit a dead-end job.
The relationship with Olga eventually ended, but my life never looked the same. I live smaller and travel lighter. I have more time and money. Aside from my travel habit — which I try to keep in check by minimizing trips, combining trips and purchasing carbon offsets — I feel better that my carbon footprint is significantly smaller than in my previous supersized life.
Intuitively, we know that the best stuff in life isn’t stuff at all, and that relationships, experiences and meaningful work are the staples of a happy life.
I like material things as much as anyone. I studied product design in school. I’m into gadgets, clothing and all kinds of things. But my experiences show that after a certain point, material objects have a tendency to crowd out the emotional needs they are meant to support.
I wouldn’t trade a second spent wandering the streets of Bangkok with Olga for anything I’ve owned. Often, material objects take up mental as well as physical space.
I’m still a serial entrepreneur, and my latest venture is to design thoughtfully constructed small homes that support our lives, not the other way around. Like the 420-square-foot space I live in, the houses I design contain less stuff and make it easier for owners to live within their means and to limit their environmental footprint. My apartment sleeps four people comfortably; I frequently have dinner parties for 12. My space is well-built, affordable and as functional as living spaces twice the size. As the guy who started TreeHugger.com, I sleep better knowing I’m not using more resources than I need. I have less — and enjoy more.
My space is small. My life is big.
Graham Hill is the founder of LifeEdited.com and TreeHugger.com.