Changing your zip code can introduce you to new people. But many of the same challenges exist, no matter where you live.
Creative Exchange Podcast Episode 3:
THE PROCESS OF DEVELOPING A GOOD STORY. Join us for an entertaining and informative discussion with local tomato farmer, story teller, social entrepreneur James Barnes, Director of Social Enterprise at Cape Abilities.
With dozens of story slams under his belt, including several appearances in The Moth Boston Storyslams, James shares his take on the art of storytelling and what makes a good story.
The nasturtiums at my place didn’t start to really look beautiful until September (I planted them in May). I almost yanked them out in mid-August. Now they make me late because I stop and take pictures of them all the time. Sometimes you can’t rush things — especially the really beautiful things.
This story isn't about her. It's about making a very difficult choice.
Apologies for the cussing. That's what happens when I go late in the show.
Tansy is said to be an insect repellent. Used as a companion plant, Tansy can help keep insects away from your garden. You rarely find one of these plants munched on by an insect. As I was traipsing around behind the farm, I noticed the Tansy were covered in insects -- from what I could tell, beneficial insects like bees and very small wasps. Imagine if we were like Tansy. What would life be like if we were able to only let the genuinely good people in, and all of the destructive people bounced off of us to go down the road and eat someone else’s life? It probably took Tansy hundreds of years to evolve into such a smart plant. People don’t have to wait hundreds of years. We get to choose.
I like humans, most of the time. When found in our habitat of choice, you rarely hear arguing, stressful outbursts, or complaining. Sunsets are a habitat of choice for humans. Why do you think Instagram is so saturated with sunset pictures? Sure, there is a healthy dose of coastal-narcissism populating your feed. But most of us, just want to be watching the ocean swallow the sun. It feels like the right place to be, every time.
My dad, Wally, was a very wise man. He had a nontraditional way of teaching me the important stuff. Here are a few of the most memorable lessons:
Don't wear sandals to the bar. Wally thought that the quickest way to get your ass kicked at a bar, was to show up wearing sandals. It wasn’t only that he thought sandals on a man displayed weakness; there was a real bar-brawl technique to worry about. “They’ll smash your feet first”, he assured me.
Always give a firm handshake. "What is that, a dead fish?” goes through my head almost every time I give a handshake. Wally never let you get away with a weak one. Dads have been preaching this forever, but my dad was neurotic about it.
"You don't wear pants to the oochie-coochie dance". Thanks for the "birds and the bees" talk, Dad.
Give flowers, randomly. I don’t know if there were problems in my parents’ marriage; there might of been. Maybe Wally misread "the oochie-coochie dance" scenario, and the flowers were penance. We went so many times to get my mom flowers; there is no way he screwed up that often. The takeaway for me: giving flowers to people in your life says, “Today is the best day, and I’m the luckiest person because you’re in my life.”
Don't ever get out of the car. No matter how much road-rage you feel, never get out of the car to confront someone. The other person getting out their car, is probably crazier than you. Unless you want to be on the evening news, stay in the car. Wally also thought the easiest way to get murdered was to flip someone the bird while driving.
"Keep your legs together when the grass is tall". Wally said this to me almost every time I was leaving home for an extended period of time. It was his colorful way of reminding me to always be careful while navigating uncertain terrain -- and to pack lots of underwear.
You only have one family. One summer day when I was 14 or 15, two friends of mine ratted out my little brother for (allegedly) taking a dollar out of a tip jar, at the tourist-trap ice cream joint next door. The story got back to Wally, and he went ballistic. I can still see him in a primal rage chasing my friends -- who were on a moped -- into the street. It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever witnessed. As he was walking back (out of breath) he yelled at me, “Don’t ever choose those f---ing little sh--s over your brother!” I guess he thought I should’ve been the one chasing them into the street. He was probably right.
There are more indians than chiefs. According to Wally, that is why governments and societies eventually do the right thing. As back-woodsy as my father could seem to people, he was really a progressive -- except for that brief period of time when he thought Ross Perot was a good idea.
People deserve second chances. I’ve broken bread with drug addicts, ex-cons, alcoholics, flea-market merchants from all over the world, and countless other folks who were down on their luck -- because Wally invited them home for dinner. It didn’t stop there. He gave people jobs, cars, and even places to live. Wally wholeheartedly believed, that sometimes people just needed a little help to get going in the right direction. It must’ve been so exhausting for my mom to be married to the used-car salesman version of Mother Theresa.
Get (or give) a dog. Two times in my life, when I was really struggling with depression, my father got me a dog. The dog acquisition was his go-to, fix everything move. Wally believed in companionship; it was his church. He believed you should always have someone by your side, who will love you unconditionally and not judge you during your lowest moments. Sorry cat people, dogs own this. The last time Wally tried to fix everything with a dog came in the final weeks of his life, before ALS took him away. He masterminded the purchase of a golden retriever puppy -- to be my mom’s companion, after he was gone.
Well played, Dad.
You are what you drive. The theme of this night at The Moth Storyslam was “The Dark Side”. I’m not sure you can classify the vehicle in this story as a “dark” anything.
In my neighborhood, Spring 2016 starts at 12:30 AM on Sunday, March 20th. My first day of spring was today, Friday, March 11th. Today was the first day that I stopped, and took a moment to notice the arrival of crocus -- the unofficial start of spring. Spring is a rebirth, no matter what happened the year before. For perennials, it all starts again in the spring. If you’re a crocus, maybe a rabbit ate you last year. That’s OK. You’re back this spring -- reborn. Humans are perennials, like crocus. It all starts again.
For many freshman college students, Thanksgiving can be a time to reflect on, "What the hell just happened to me?" This story is about my first semester, and someone I'm forever thankful for.
We have a lot of different job titles for staff at the non-profit that I work for; all meant to symbolize the different ways in which we support adults with disabilities. My department is a farm, launched eight years ago to create employment for people that need a little help to find meaningful work.
This video tells the story of what being a job creator means to me, and to the amazing individuals that are supported by our programs. I'm running the Falmouth Road Race this summer to raise money for programs that create meaningful opportunities for people with disabilities. Please help me reach my fundraising goal by donating here.
I have a job that’s perfect for me now. Actually, I feel like it was designed for me. But there was a point in my life not too long ago, where my career was skidding out of control. It was then, that I turned to selling Volkswagens to get myself back on track. My friend Nate was in the biz, and had been encouraging me to do it for years. I drove a Volkswagen and was quite fond of them; so why the hell not?
The dealership I worked at was one of the good ones. For the most part, salespeople and management tried to do the right thing by customers. About halfway through my tenure there, the owner hired a consulting firm that wanted to change us from a good intentioned store into one of those bad ones. It was awful. There was almost a mutiny. Even the guys I thought were questionable were saying things like, “I don’t know if I want to work for a place that does these things.”
One new tactic, was to always park in a bogus “sold section” when you returned from a test-drive. Once parked, you would rip a sold tag out of this stupid little Columbo-style notebook and put it on the dashboard in front of the customer. There was no forgetting the face you see on the customer after pulling this move. If you've ever gone in to plant a kiss on someone, when you’ve completely misread the signs -- that's the face I'm talking about. These tactics were short lived, thankfully.
Most people view buying a car as a huge pain in the ass. But really, selling a car is a much bigger pain in the ass. There were some days where I just couldn’t take one more lecture from someone on what Edmonds or Trucar told them they should pay for a particular car. On the really bad days I would plop my head down on the desk in front of the customer in total defeat, after they revealed the classified intel from the interweb. I knew they weren’t going to believe anything I had to say, like “It actually costs $800 for us to get the car from the factory. Truecar doesn’t tell you that. If you could buy the car directly from the factory -- which you can’t -- then you wouldn't have to pay the $800.” I knew I’d already lost. They were going to be on their way to Toyota, to get started on their boring, emotionless relationship with a Camry.
As winter turned to spring on the car lot, I started to get ancy. My career -- before selling cars -- was all about growing stuff. I worked on farms, and in the landscape and nursery industry. People like me have an internal clock. When the growing season nears, we’re drawn to the garden, which was always part of my job before -- but not now. Automobile-covered blacktop was my world now. I was so disgusted with the lack of plant life around me that I went to the owner and asked if I could plant flowers in an empty raised bed in the front of the store. He gave me the money to go buy the plants, and I came in on my day off and got to work. I think everyone that worked there thought I was losing my mind. One after another, my coworkers would walk by and ask me why I was doing this. Some would accuse me of sucking up to the owner. My response over and over: “I have to do this.” I probably was losing my mind.
One of the advantages of being “the guy that planted the flowers”, was getting customers dropped in my lap that management perceived as being more appropriate for a guy like me. One of those customers was a yoga teacher from Boston named Sarah. Sarah had finally decided it was time to own her own car. I wasn’t surprised to learn that whenever she needed a car in the past, one of her students would lend her their Audi. She just seemed so damn happy with her life. People like being part of something like that -- and there just was not any defense for her eyes. We spent almost the whole afternoon driving around in different cars, and talking. People usually tell you things about their life while trapped on a test drive, but I don’t think I’ve ever experienced the level of vulnerability with a customer like I did with Sarah. She told me about this much younger guy from her yoga class that she was getting involved with, and wanted to know if I thought it could work. I was thinking “No way! It can’t work! You’ll get hurt! Cut him loose!” But all I remember saying was, “that can be tricky.” Before our long test drives were over, I made sure that Sarah knew my career plans were much different than selling cars. “I just want to grow tomatoes” I told her. I guess my test-drive pitch (about myself) needed a little work.
Doing the evening shift at the car lot was the worst torture. As Gary, one of the most sedentary salesman at the dealership put it, “It’s like doin’ time.” During those shifts, when I wasn’t burning through the Song of Ice and Fire novels on my phone, I was thinking about how I ended up there. I thought a lot about my girlfriend, of several years, and how she must have felt telling her friends and family what I was doing with my life when they asked. There is nothing wrong with selling cars for a living. It’s just that I had talked a really good game about what my business plan was when I quit my last job, and how certain I was that the idea was going to be huge. The truth was that I hated that job and that’s why I quit. It was a situation where I took a job I didn’t want, so I could move back to Cape Cod for a life I didn’t want. Then I decided I’d make it all better by starting my own business -- a business that never even got off the ground; now I was a car salesman. I was left on those evenings pondering every impulsive decision I had made to get me to that showroom.
I wanted to love my life the way people like, Sarah the yoga-goddess, loved theirs. That wasn’t going to happen for me selling cars. About a year after I became a car salesman, I walked out the showroom door for the last time, to start a new job running a local farm. John, the youngest salesman on the floor, came running out after me. “Can I call you about the flowers if I have questions?” he asked. I gave him a hug and said, “Yeah man, call me about the flowers”.
This blog is about who I am, or more accurately, why I am. The first post needed to be about the rawest ingredients. I know so many people have different versions of this story; it's just "part of growing up" people say. The ending to the story depends a lot on the people you have in your life. What gets us through, and sometimes propels us out of the most difficult times we face, can be as simple as a second chance -- in my case, dozens of chances. If you see someone struggling to find their way, just remember that you have the choice -- to pile on, or help them get through that difficult time. I was fortunate enough to have more people that wanted to help me get through.