Let Me Tell You My Story

“An extraordinary collection of extraordinary lives lived out in extraordinary circumstances, “Let Me Tell You My Story” is a compelling read and one that will linger in the mind and memory long after the book itself is finished and set back upon the shelf. A unique and outstanding contribution to our contemporary national discussion over refugees and immigration, “Let Me Tell You My Story” should be a part of every community and academic library collection in the country.” 

Mary Cowper
Reviewer, Midwest Book Review50080180_10155670937981090_829490057533456384_o

That review explains, in part, why my blog has been silent for a while. If I haven’t said it before, I’ll repeat that it’s never for lack of things to share that I slip off the blog map. It’s for lack of bandwidth. Otherwise, I have no excuses.

Instead of shuttering closed my blog completely (which I’ve been tempted to do because  … bandwidth and I love remaining connecting with my readers), I’m back here updating. Who could use a dose of meaningful, inspiring news?

stacks of book

Their Story is Our Story,  (TSOS), the refugee nonprofit I’ve been involved in from its inception in the winter of 2016, has published a handsome and life-changing volume. I’m convinced every person on earth should read it.

You, in fact, should read it. And then you should review it. To expedite that, here’s a link to a free e-review copy:

https://www.edelweiss.plus/?sku=1641700491

tsos poster

It is a huge honor for me to now serve as the Executive Director of TSOS’ quickly growing community of visionaries and grit & grip doers. And I am, of course, in awe of our many refugee friends, some of whom you will meet in this book, who continue to share their stories and show us the way to the best in humanity. This volume is a tribute to them.

And I take no personal credit for its existence. Special thanks go to our Editor in Chief,  the unstoppable Twila Bird, who worked superhuman hours to oversee the creation and publication of this gorgeous collection in record time; to Kate Farrell of Familius Publishing, who has been a joy and strength to work with; to Christopher Robbins, Familius CEO, who’s publicly stated that this is the most “important book” he has ever published in his 25+ year publishing career; Trisha Leimer, TSOS Chair and Founder who has driven our team with wisdom and through challenging personal transition (last spring, she and her husband Axel accepted a request to oversee for three years and without pay 120+ volunteers for their faith in the Berlin, Germany region); and the entire TSOS family, made up of art, photography, video, tech, writing, travel, social media, refugee liaison, fundraising, networking, translation, research, PR, live events and documenting teams.

Their efforts have, among other significant service, produced Let Me Tell You My Story, a heavy, visually stunning, and substantial work. It is in no way a comprehensive collection of the interviewing and compiling work our growing TSOS team has done over these last two years. Rather, it is a cross section of both our refugee and volunteer stories, pointing subtly to the way host culture natives learn from newcomers like refugees, and how the intersection of these seemingly dissimilar lives blesses and benefits everyone.

Let Me Tell You My Story ranks now among the Top 25 Amazon titles for Humanitarian Law right  next to  the likes of Malala and Nicolas Kristof. We’ve learned it is already being used as a textbook in a university seminar on global migration, fulfilling our vision (and the suggestion of the above Midwest Book Review) that Let Me Tell You My Story should have a place in every academic, political, local library’s and family’s book shelves.

A final plus: a full 40% of Let Me Tell You My Story’s proceeds (after covering printing, shipping and distribution costs)  return to TSOS to help our 100% volunteer organization collect and tell the stories of refugees, of their friends made along the route, and of the hosts who welcome them into their new places of safety.

But our storytelling is not an end in itself. It serves the specific end goal of partnering alongside organizations — local to international — to facilitate the integration of newcomers in host communities.

No refugee is really safe until she or he is integrated in a new home. And integration takes every last one of us. Whether you interact with or even know your newcomer neighbors or not, their story is weaving into your story. Our stories are connected. The deeper you follow those stories, the more unified you realize we all actually are.

Their Story is Our Story.

And Our Story is Theirs.

We are all writers of and characters in one great, evolving story.

 

 

The Dangers of Water Skiing, Or, What Social Media is Doing to Our Reading, Writing, Thinking

Years ago, a girlfriend, nearly breathless with zeal, sent me a copy of what she said was the “hottest new publication,” a magazine called “Fast Company.” One of the article titles on the cover was something like, “Power Lunch, Elevator Style.” I thanked my friend for thinking of me, but disliked and discarded the copy before  ever opening it.

The concept of “fast” – fast company, quick lunch, slick and obsequious elevator rides, speed reading – touched a nerve in me. Why? Because unless it has to do with saving someone’s life or making dinner in less than 20 minutes, I dislike “fast.”  Or at least I’m sharply suspicious of it.

waterskiing

This wariness, I think, was heightened because when I got that copy of “Fast Company,” I was living in Paris, a place where lunches (and their conversations) last at least a full hour, and where dinners (and their conversations) last sometimes three. Where no respectable anyone eats while riding from floor three to fourteen, and where, in a way I can hardly describe without growing drooly, the slow lane overtakes the fast one.

It’s where taxi drivers have chunky, worn volumes of Hugo, Proust and French Symbolist poetry on their dashboards. And they read them.  (Going from the airport to downtown? Be ready for The Conversation.)

I believe in slow.  I trust gradual. I’m wired for plumbing downward or probing upward, not for skimming horizontally.  When it comes to reading, writing, and the way I keep my company, I’m a scuba diver.

scuba

Years since Paris, since my days of vetoing “Fast,” since that time when I disciplined myself to check email only once a week, (Wednesday afternoons for two hours – I know, I can hardly believe it, either), and rarely texted except to keep track of my teenagers out in a big city, I never would have dreamed of doing much of what I do today: writing this public blog, having not only a private but a professional Facebook page, T-t-t-t-weeting. Somewhere along the way, I began mastering the lite-write.

This world, in case you hadn’t noticed, is all new. It’s one made by and for water skiers! It might even breed them. In any case, I’m convinced it’s breeding water skier brains.

(This is another tangent , but don’t you wonder if this hyper-connected world also breeds extroverts? If you do, and this concerns you, read Susan Cain’s Quiet.)

The vast waters of connectivity call out for us to grab a rope, slap on some skis, and knot a cable around our waists.  This boat’s taking off like a bullet, folks, and because it’s moving at Mach speed, it demands that you skim, scroll, and ski across a spray of surfacey sound bytes.  And they have to be no more than sound bytes, of course, because we’re passing them like billboards lining the Indy 500.

E-mail is too wordy, time consuming.  So we shave it down to a phrase or two on Facebook.

FB takes too long. So we distill it to Twitter’s 140 characters.

Yet with all the social platforms we’re managing, who has time for 140 anything?

So we Instagram. Because who needs words when a snap shot paints a thousand of them?

(Or so we think.)

Others are concerned as I am.  In his utterly fascinating, The Shallows: What The Internet is Doing To Our Brains, Nicholas Carr argues that our brains are devolving to adapt to being dragged across the thin surface of visual image, bullet points, and maybe the occasionally well-wrought jingle.  Jaron Lanier, in You Are Not A Gadget, considers what this high pitch surface velocity does to our sense of self, our place in humanity. And here, Edan Lepucki shares the experience of disconnecting (for a spell) from social media altogether.

What can we conclude? What can I learn from the personal proof that my own brain is jumpier, more staccato, and that my spirit is more jittery, more pinball-ish since “connecting” in several directions? What’s happening if I haven’t sunk into a dense work of true literary value in months? That, over the same time, I haven’t been able to conjure a single line of poetry?

skiing water

For people who dive, water skiing can be frightening, alienating, not to mention exhausting. What if you’re the type that shrinks from gum-flapping velocity, hang-on-for-dear-life tautness, from hopping wakes at break neck speed, or zhwooping from point A to point Z?  What if you want to write a poem about – and not just whizz past – the blurred landscape?

What if you feel most alive hunkering over the majesty and potency of words, tonguing them during long stretches of stone-like silence? What if you aren’t interested only in linear efficiency (getting from point A to Z), but are more invested in making (and expanding and elaborating on) a point? What if you long to dive into the deep end and discover the magic of those compressed realms?

If we are, as some argue, evolving into beings that write and think in txt msg abbrvs, will we lose our ability to read and write and live in ever-descending spirals, probing and penetrating the Otherworld? Will we in turn lose dimensions of our humanness? If the brusque slash-and-pin-prick of an exclamation point – the punctuation mark du jour – overrules the curved concentration of a question mark, what are we heading for?

What, in your opinion, are our options, besides letting go of the social media rope altogether? But wait! What would happen if we did? Would we sink, helpless and limpid, into the water?  Into irrelevancy? Into oblivion?

scuba diving