This refers to stories in which art plays a role within the narrative of the story.

Danielle Feinberg: The magic ingredient that brings Pixar movies to life @ TED Talks Live

TED Talks Live were held at The Town Hall Theater in NYC, in November of 2015. I had the pleasure of attending all six nights to hear speakers present impactful Ideas Worth Spreading. This post is an analysis of a talk by Danielle Feinberg on the magic ability of Pixar movies to capture our imagination.

Watch Danielle’s TED Talk. She not only speaks to her personal passion, but how her experiences at Pixar create films that touch the lives of millions. By tying the innocence of animation to the physics of lighting she provides a unique behind-the-scenes view of how art is blended with science, and how the dream that we imagine can become our reality.


(my notes in red)

When I was seven years old, some well-meaning adult asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. Proudly, I said: “An artist.” “No, you don’t,” he said, “You can’t make a living being an artist!”

For some people the life they lead as an adult began with a dream in childhood. I’ve found this to be true for a lot of artists, writers, musicians, even teachers and attorneys. It’s an opening that connects to an audience (we’ve all had dreams as children) and sets the stage for the narrative that follows.

My little seven-year-old Picasso dreams were crushed. But I gathered myself, went off in search of a new dream, eventually settling on being a scientist, perhaps something like the next Albert Einstein.

I have always loved math and science, later, coding. And so I decided to study computer programming in college. In my junior year, my computer graphics professor showed us these wonderful short films. It was the first computer animation any of us had ever seen. I watched these films in wonder, transfixed, fireworks going off in my head, thinking, “That is what I want to do with my life.” The idea that all the math, science and code I had been learning could come together to create these worlds and characters and stories I connected with, was pure magic for me.

Detours are another factor in many lives. What seems to be a change in direction ends up circling back, though often in a modified way. Danielle comes back to art, but from the perspective of computer graphics. Think about the detours in your personal story that an audience would appreciate hearing about.

Just two years later, I started working at the place that made those films, Pixar Animation Studios. It was here I learned how we actually execute those films. To create our movies, we create a three-dimensional world inside the computer. We start with a point that makes a line that makes a face that creates characters, or trees and rocks that eventually become a forest. And because it’s a three-dimensional world, we can move a camera around inside that world. I was fascinated by all of it. But then I got my first taste of lighting.

While Danielle’s personal experiences continue to be foundational to this story, there’s a shift at this point away from her and toward to topic of her talk – what brings Pixar movies to light. Using the visual on the screen behind her, the audience is pulled into the world of animation. The combination of image and words can transport people into your experience…

Lighting in practice is placing lights inside this three-dimensional world. I actually have icons of lights I move around in there. Here you can see I’ve added a light, I’m turning on the rough version of lighting in our software, turn on shadows and placing the light. As I place a light, I think about what it might look like in real life, but balance that out with what we need artistically and for the story. So it might look like this at first, but as we adjust this and move that in weeks of work, in rough form it might look like this, and in final form, like this.

…and in this story, there’s no substitute for the visual imagery. It is possible to describe how lighting works in the animation process without the accompanying visuals – and I always invite storytellers to think about how they would tell their story using only words – but in Danielle’s story the impact would only be a fraction of what she is able to achieve.

There’s this moment in lighting that made me fall utterly in love with it. It’s where we go from this to this. It’s the moment where all the pieces come together, and suddenly the world comes to life as if it’s an actual place that exists. This moment never gets old, especially for that little seven-year-old girl that wanted to be an artist.

As I learned to light, I learned about using light to help tell story, to set the time of day, to create the mood, to guide the audience’s eye, how to make a character look appealing or stand out in a busy set.

While the specific topic is lighting in animation, the revelation described applies across the creative spectrum. The ability of elements such as sound, color, texture, and perspective can tell a story of it’s own. Storytelling in general can tap into this attribute through description. Can you describe a scene in such a way as to enhance your story?

Did you see WALL-E? There he is. As you can see, we can create any world that we want inside the computer. We can make a world with monsters, with robots that fall in love, we can even make pigs fly.

While this is an incredible thing, this untethered artistic freedom, it can create chaos. It can create unbelievable worlds, unbelievable movement, things that are jarring to the audience.

So to combat this, we tether ourselves with science. We use science and the world we know as a backbone, to ground ourselves in something relatable and recognizable. “Finding Nemo” is an excellent example of this. A major portion of the movie takes place underwater. But how do you make it look underwater?

In early research and development, we took a clip of underwater footage and recreated it in the computer. Then we broke it back down to see which elements make up that underwater look. One of the most critical elements was how the light travels through the water. So we coded up a light that mimics this physics — first, the visibility of the water, and then what happens with the color. Objects close to the eye have their full, rich colors. As light travels deeper into the water, we lose the red wavelengths, then the green wavelengths, leaving us with blue at the far depths.

Danielle uses a science story block to explain how the folks at Pixar tapped into how light works to create realistic images that our eye accepts as real. Similarly, science can be used to expand up a number of other topics, from human emotions to the effects of climate change. Many times the science alone can come off as too technical, and thus, too boring, but when tied to a real life application / situation, the science comes to life.

In this clip you can see two other important elements. The first is the surge and swell, or the invisible underwater current that pushes the bits of particulate around in the water. The second is the caustics. These are the ribbons of light, like you might see on the bottom of a pool, that are created when the sun bends through the crests of the ripples and waves on the ocean’s surface. Here we have the fog beams. These give us color depth cues, but also tells which direction is up in shots where we don’t see the water surface. The other really cool thing you can see here is that we lit that particulate only with the caustics, so that as it goes in and out of those ribbons of light, it appears and disappears, lending a subtle, magical sparkle to the underwater.

You can see how we’re using the science — the physics of water, light and movement — to tether that artistic freedom. But we are not beholden to it. We considered each of these elements and which ones had to be scientifically accurate and which ones we could push and pull to suit the story and the mood.

We realized early on that color was one we had some leeway with. So here’s a traditionally colored underwater scene. But here, we can take Sydney Harbor and push it fairly green to suit the sad mood of what’s happening. In this scene, it’s really important we see deep into the underwater, so we understand what the East Australian Current is, that the turtles are diving into and going on this roller coaster ride. So we pushed the visibility of the water well past anything you would ever see in real life. Because in the end, we are not trying to recreate the scientifically correct real world, we’re trying to create a believable world, one the audience can immerse themselves in to experience the story.

It’s important to draw a distinction between the creation of a fictional story (one told in an animated movie) and the telling of a true story. While Danielle and the folks at Pixar have the ability to violate the laws of physics for artistic impact, storytelling with impact requires that only the truth be told. It will be your version of the truth, and other people may see things differently, but your story is authentic to the real world.

We use science to create something wonderful. We use story and artistic touch to get us to a place of wonder. This guy, WALL-E, is a great example of that. He finds beauty in the simplest things. But when he came in to lighting, we knew we had a big problem. We got so geeked-out on making WALL-E this convincing robot, that we made his binoculars practically optically perfect.

His binoculars are one of the most critical acting devices he has. He doesn’t have a face or even traditional dialogue, for that matter. So the animators were heavily dependent on the binoculars to sell his acting and emotions. We started lighting and we realized the triple lenses inside his binoculars were a mess of reflections. He was starting to look glassy-eyed.

Now, glassy-eyed is a fundamentally awful thing when you are trying to convince an audience that a robot has a personality and he’s capable of falling in love. So we went to work on these optically perfect binoculars, trying to find a solution that would maintain his true robot materials but solve this reflection problem.

So we started with the lenses. Here’s the flat-front lens, we have a concave lens and a convex lens. And here you see all three together, showing us all these reflections. We tried turning them down, we tried blocking them, nothing was working. You can see here, sometimes we needed something specific reflected in his eyes — usually Eve. So we couldn’t just use some faked abstract image on the lenses. So here we have Eve on the first lens, we put Eve on the second lens, it’s not working. We turn it down, it’s still not working.

And then we have our eureka moment. We add a light to WALL-E that accidentally leaks into his eyes. You can see it light up these gray aperture blades. Suddenly, those aperture blades are poking through that reflection the way nothing else has. Now we recognize WALL-E as having an eye. As humans we have the white of our eye, the colored iris and the black pupil. Now WALL-E has the black of an eye, the gray aperture blades and the black pupil. Suddenly, WALL-E feels like he has a soul, like there’s a character with emotion inside.

Later in the movie towards the end, WALL-E loses his personality, essentially going dead. This is the perfect time to bring back that glassy-eyed look. In the next scene, WALL-E comes back to life. We bring that light back to bring the aperture blades back, and he returns to that sweet, soulful robot we’ve come to love.

(Video) WALL-E: Eva?

There’s a beauty in these unexpected moments — when you find the key to unlocking a robot’s soul, the moment when you discover what you want to do with your life. The jellyfish in “Finding Nemo” was one of those moments for me.

There are scenes in every movie that struggle to come together. This was one of those scenes. The director had a vision for this scene based on some wonderful footage of jellyfish in the South Pacific. As we went along, we were floundering. The reviews with the director turned from the normal look-and-feel conversation into more and more questions about numbers and percentages. Maybe because unlike normal, we were basing it on something in real life, or maybe just because we had lost our way. But it had become about using our brain without our eyes, the science without the art. That scientific tether was strangling the scene.

But even through all the frustrations, I still believed it could be beautiful. So when it came in to lighting, I dug in. As I worked to balance the blues and the pinks, the caustics dancing on the jellyfish bells, the undulating fog beams, something promising began to appear. I came in one morning and checked the previous night’s work. And I got excited. And then I showed it to the lighting director and she got excited. Soon, I was showing to the director in a dark room full of 50 people.

In director review, you hope you might get some nice words, then you get some notes and fixes, generally. And then, hopefully, you get a final, signaling to move on to the next stage. I gave my intro, and I played the jellyfish scene. And the director was silent for an uncomfortably long amount of time. Just long enough for me to think, “Oh no, this is doomed.” And then he started clapping. And then the production designer started clapping. And then the whole room was clapping.

This is the moment that I live for in lighting. The moment where it all comes together and we get a world that we can believe in.

As consumers we only get to see the finished product, which in the case of Pixar feels flawless, but Danielle has taken us on a journey of challenges. The problems that had to be addressed in order to achieve that flawless feel. That expression, ‘This is the moment that I live for…’ is one that is contained in so many impactful personal stories, regardless of topic. You had a dream, but along the way got lost, or things didn’t work as planned, but with perseverance those issues were overcome.

We use math, science and code to create these amazing worlds. We use storytelling and art to bring them to life. It’s this interweaving of art and science that elevates the world to a place of wonder, a place with soul, a place we can believe in, a place where the things you imagine can become real — and a world where a girl suddenly realizes not only is she a scientist, but also an artist.

We come back to the beginning of Danielle’s story with a beautiful feeling of magic, of imagination, that all things are possible. In many cases the message within the story is revealed along the way, often at the midway point or just beyond, but that message can also appear in the final words of a story, as we see here.

Thank you.

[Note: all comments inserted into this transcript are my opinions, not those of the speaker, the TED organization, nor anyone else on the planet. In my view, each story is unique, as is every interpretation of that story. The sole purpose of these analytical posts is to inspire a storyteller to become a storylistener, and in doing so, make their stories more impactful.]

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Zaria Forman: Drawings that show the beauty and fragility of Earth @ TED Talks Live

TED Talks Live were held at The Town Hall Theater in NYC, in November of 2015. I had the pleasure of attending all six nights to hear speakers present impactful Ideas Worth Spreading. This post is an analysis of a talk by Zaria Forman, about the effects of climate change on the planet.

She does this, not by way of scientific research, but by way of her art. Art that is drawn from personal experiences around the world. Art that documents what’s happening to our planet. Art that can inspire others to act.

Watch Zaria’s TED Talk. I found it to be surprising short, considering the amount of information it contains. But a great deal of that information comes from the images and video that Zaria includes. It’s as though those images are speaking alongside her.


(my notes in red)

I consider it my life’s mission to convey the urgency of climate change through my work. I’ve traveled north to the Arctic to the capture the unfolding story of polar melt, and south to the Equator to document the subsequent rising seas. Most recently, I visited the icy coast of Greenland and the low-lying islands of the Maldives, connecting two seemingly disparate but equally endangered parts of our planet.

Consider how engaging Zaria’s opening sentence is, with ‘life’s mission’, ‘urgency’, ‘climate change’, and ‘my work’. She says it in a matter-of-fact way, yet her passion is obvious, and the topic is one that concerns everyone in the audience. She could have followed this opening with a direct statement about her work, such as, “I’m an artist…”, but the image behind her tells that story. Images often reinforce what you’re saying, but they can also be a substitute for words. Think about how images can add to the story you’re telling.

Zaria uses a contrast between Greenland and the Maldives, along with the phrase ‘equally endangered’ to illustrate the global nature of climate change. She also says ‘icy coast’ and ‘low-lying islands’ to amplify the contrast beyond location, allowing the audience to better visualize those places. Are there such contrasts within your story that can help explain differences or diversity in regards to the topic that you’re exploring?

My drawings explore moments of transition, turbulence and tranquility in the landscape, allowing viewers to emotionally connect with a place you might never have the chance to visit. I choose to convey the beauty as opposed to the devastation. If you can experience the sublimity of these landscapes, perhaps you’ll be inspired to protect and preserve them.

The expression ‘out of sight, out of mind’ applies to many important subjects. If we don’t see it, or experience it, these subjects can fade from our memory. Great stories take people into places or experiences, and art can do the same, which Zaria brings to our attention. The point is to have the audience feel, think and experience as though they were there with you.

Behavioral psychology tells us that we take action and make decisions based on our emotions above all else. And studies have shown that art impacts our emotions more effectively than a scary news report. Experts predict ice-free Arctic summers as early as 2020. And sea levels are likely to rise between two and ten feet by century’s end. I have dedicated my career to illuminating these projections with an accessible medium, one that moves us in a way that statistics may not.

Using a statistic story block can be a powerful way to highlight an aspect of your story, but visuals are an alternative. With climate change, a picture taken after a hurricane, flood or drought can convey more emotion than the numbers behind the cause of climate change. While Zaria’s medium is visual, in this case she has chosen to focus on beauty rather than destruction. Either approach is an option. In some situations, you can use two images that tell very different stories. One positive, one negative. Or a before and after comparison.

As to the science Zaria references – ‘behavioral psychology’, ‘studies have shown’, ‘experts predict’ – there is always the question of whether sources should be sighted. Zaria has not done any of this research herself so we’re supposed to accept it as common knowledge. I usually lean toward sighting the source of scientific information, but you will find plenty of talks that don’t. It’s another judgement call for every storyteller.

My process begins with traveling to the places at the forefront of climate change. On-site, I take thousands of photographs. Back in the studio, I work from both my memory of the experience and the photographs to create very large-scale compositions, sometimes over 10 feet wide. I draw with soft pastel, which is dry like charcoal, but colors. I consider my work drawings but others call them painting. I cringe, though, when I’m referred to as a “finger painter.” But I don’t use any tools and I have always used my fingers and palms to manipulate the pigment on the paper.

Drawing is a form of meditation for me. It quiets my mind. I don’t perceive what I’m drawing as ice or water. Instead, the image is stripped down to its most basic form of color and shape. Once the piece is complete, I can finally experience the composition as a whole, as an iceberg floating through glassy water, or a wave cresting with foam. On average, a piece this size takes me about, as you can see, 10 seconds. Really, more like 200 hours, 250 hours for something that size.

The use of video and time lapse photography dramatically increases the impact of Zaria’s narrative. There’s simply no way that words alone could explain her process to the audience. We see the scope of her work, as well as the attention to detail and the use of her fingers.

She also takes the opportunity to turn the time lapse sequence into a moment of humor. Some speakers are reluctant to insert humor into a serious subject, but it can provide a break in the narrative that engages the audience in a positive way. Zaria resets the tone with a real number before shifting from her work to her backstory. Humor will often happen abruptly, which adds to the fun as the audience is not expecting it, but you also need to consider how you will exit from a humorous moment.

But I’ve been drawing ever since I could hold a crayon, really. My mom was an artist, and growing up, we always had art supplies all over the house. My mother’s love of photography propelled her to the most remote regions of the earth, and my family and I were fortunate enough to join and support her on these adventures. We rode camels in Northern Africa and mushed on dog sleds near the North Pole.

Hearing about the roots of a speaker’s passion for their subject is a powerful connection tool that humanizes the narrative. We get a glimpse into Zaria’s childhood, from the ‘art supplies all over the house’ to her ‘mother’s love of photography’ and the references to riding camels and having mushed on dog sleds. We come away with a better sense of who she is and why she’s so passionate about addressing climate change. Does your narrative help explain you?

In August of 2012, I led my first expedition, taking a group of artists and scholars up the northwest coast of Greenland. My mother was originally supposed to lead this trip. She and I were in the early stages of planning, as we had intended to go together, when she fell victim to a brain tumor. The cancer quickly took over her body and mind, and she passed away six months later. During the months of her illness, though, her dedication to the expedition never wavered, and I made a promise to carry out her final journey.

My mother’s passion for the Arctic echoed through my experience in Greenland, and I felt the power and the fragility of the landscape. The sheer size of the icebergs is humbling. The ice fields are alive with movement and sound in a way that I never expected. I expanded the scale of my compositions to give you that same sense of awe that I experienced. Yet, while the grandeur of the ice is evident, so, too, is its vulnerability. From our boat, I could see the ice sweating under the unseasonably warm sun.

This section could have been told without referencing her mother’s illness, instead focusing on just the expedition, but it would have lost a vital element of both drive and appreciation for what Zaria experienced. Sometimes storytellers leave out such personal components in their story, which is fine for a first draft, but when you go back through the narrative, always ask yourself what you were thinking, or what was important, what was motivating you. Often times you will uncover a thread that adds richness to your story.

We had a chance to visit many of the Inuit communities in Greenland that now face huge challenges. The locals spoke to me of vast areas of sea ice that are no longer freezing over as they once did. And without ice, their hunting and harvesting grounds are severely diminished, threatening their way of life and survival.

This short story block tells the story of someone else, in this case the Inuit communities of Greenland. It helps answer the question, “Why does this matter”, which is something you need to ask yourself throughout the Ideation and Narration phases of writing your story.

The melting glaciers in Greenland are one of the largest contributing factors to rising sea levels, which have already begun to drown some of our world’s lowest-lying islands. One year after my trip to Greenland, I visited the Maldives, the lowest and flattest country in the entire world. While I was there, I collected images and inspiration for a new body of work: drawings of waves lapping on the coast of a nation that could be entirely underwater within this century.

Devastating events happen every day on scales both global and personal. When I was in Greenland, I scattered my mother’s ashes amidst the melting ice. Now she remains a part of the landscape she loved so much, even as it, too, passes and takes on new form.

Among the many gifts my mother gave me was the ability to focus on the positive, rather than the negative. My drawings celebrate the beauty of what we all stand to lose. I hope they can serve as records of sublime landscapes in flux, documenting the transition and inspiring our global community to take action for the future.

Thank you.

Zaria continues the thread of her mother’s influence on her work; to remain positive and celebrate nature’s beauty. Her call-to-action is wrapped within her final message of hoping her work can inspire others to take action. Part of the ‘why does it matter question’ is to ask ‘what do we have to lose’, which is a common element in a topic with implications for society.

Compare Zaria’s talk to one that I recently reviewed by Juan Enriquez about reprogramming life. His talk was focused on the topic, from both a historical, present day, and futuristic standpoint, and lacked the personal history and resulting passion that Zaria included. I will usually suggest that storytellers include some backstory as it helps the audience to connect with them, but not everyone is comfortable with that, or feels that it’s necessary.

One way to become a better storyteller is by hearing / watching / reading a variety of stories and thinking about which narrative styles / formats impacted you the most. Your stories will benefit from the process. 

[Note: all comments inserted into this transcript are my opinions, not those of the speaker, the TED organization, nor anyone else on the planet. In my view, each story is unique, as is every interpretation of that story. The sole purpose of these analytical posts is to inspire a storyteller to become a storylistener, and in doing so, make their stories more impactful.]

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Behind the Scenes of The Memory Palace

I’ve been a podcast listener for many years, and at the beginning of my daily walk I’ll open the PocketCasts app on my phone to find an episode that will indulge my storytelling addiction. There are podcasts which live there temporarily – I’ll add and delete as my desires change – but several of them have a permanent slot in my listening rotation.

The Moth, This American Life, 99% Invisible, Radio Diaries, Ear Hustle, The Kitchen Sisters, Longform Podcast and Unfictional are on a brief list of shows that have become long-time audio companions, friends I can trust to expand and challenge my perceptions. Another member of that illustrious list is The Memory Palace, a podcast I fell in love with day one.

Created by storytelling genius Nate DiMeo in 2008, you could say it’s been around the digital block a few times. Nate’s no stranger to audio, having spent a decade plus in public radio and heard on landmark shows such as All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Marketplace.

The Memory Palace is not unusual in one sense, as it simply presents historical vignettes about people, places and past events. Its uniqueness comes from DiMeo’s ability to pull a single thread from a complex tapestry of facts and feelings, then offer it to us as a bespoke narrative. Like a wandering medieval minstrel, he takes his audience on a magical exposition of the past, somehow condensing hours of exposition into mere minutes.

As much as I love the well-polished episodes that he produces, it was a special treat to hear this behind-the-scenes conversation with Radiolab’s Robert Krulwich on storytelling and life. It’s a conversation that revealed pivotal moments early in his career, alongside his passion for, and approach to, crafting stories that can touch people.

Whether you’re a professional storyteller or just aspire to gain a greater mastery of the art, DiMeo’s journey from nearly clueless to consummate creator will change your perspective on telling stories in the digital age.

A Conversation About the Memory Palace with Robert Krulwich

“…the lesson that it showed me, was that audio storytelling on the radio had the power to reach into your life and could change your day…”


“…the most profound thing of journalism is finding the real person in there, and being able to draw them out, and to find a type of truth that goes beyond mere facts…”

Learn more about Nate DiMeo in this beautiful article by Sarah Larson in The New Yorker, and this insightful piece by Joshua Barone in the New York Times.

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Us CAN Do This by Gill Sotu

I’ve always believed that there’s an opportunity to reach inside and search for the beauty and joy which exists within the pain and sorrow of any tragic experience. It’s not always easy, and the gifts can be elusive to say the least, but they are there nonetheless.

Spoken word artist Gill Sotu is one of those rare individuals who can help us discover and celebrate that beauty and joy. In this talk at TEDxSanDiego Gill weaves a tapestry of profound human connections that form the essence of our humanity. That speaks to the power of us. To the salvation and redemption of us. Watch and Share.


Us CAN Do This by Gill Sotu

a part of me was scared to write this
a part of me was ready to analyze
each and every phrase that i uttered
so that the perfect word concoction connected us
covering every bit of our anxieties like a weighted blanket
what we are all under right now is heavy
we are isolated in ways that we never wanted
the interest of this virus is compounding in every country
they say to stay six feet apart
but this disease has no respect
for borders, boundaries, bodies, or economic wellbeing
if bread, a safe bed, being confined to a prison
or the lack of basic necessities
isn’t your primary concern right now
consider yourself really, really blessed
tonight, hold on to your loved ones
like they were your last bit of oxygen
and give thanks to whatever form of spirit
you do or do not believe in
realizing that happiness does not make us grateful
it is gratefulness that makes us happy
for instance
i am truly grateful for those on the front line
working beyond overtime
pulling themselves out of a half sleep
to selflessly shepherd us through this terror
who knew that you are so good at hiding your wings
i want to contribute all of my gifts
and a part of me is still scared to write this
but right now is not the time to be perfect
no one cares if you help them awkwardly
just don’t touch them
your job may have stopped momentarily
but the demand to add value to this world has not
we all have work to do
they say if you ask yourself the right question
you will be rewarded with the right answer
right now we all have the same concern
how are we going to get through this
and since words are my stock and trade
i’m going to ask you to change your approach slightly
instead ask what can i do to get us through this?
understanding that in the beginning
us is going to share your same walls
and be merely an elbow cough away
but once that is settled
the definition of us must spread faster than this virus
must be able to leap social, political, religious
or cultural differences in a single bound
carry more aid and support than a locomotive
in this immensely scary time in our world
our definition of us
cannot afford to believe in the word them anymore
what can i do to get us through this?
they say the mind cannot hear an inquiry
without at least attempting an answer
so i’m going to say this one more time
so that my people in london, in atlanta
mozambique and memphis
and any living in between can hear me
and repeat to themselves
what can i do to get us through this?
we are six feet apart
but this crisis is brought us even closer together
what can i do to get us through this
tree’s gift breath, the sun and the wind gift energy
nature does not give life without also giving gifts
it is what makes you so valuable to humankind
even if right now all you can give is kindness
with some, for some their greatest burden
is the constant pressure upon their spirit
you may be one phone call, one grocery run
one corny dad joke away
from relieving some of it
i know us can do this
i know us can not be the same us
once we overcome this
it is up to each and every one of us
to help where we can
while we’re still all socially cocooned
and when we are finally free from this
us can’t wait to hug you and marvel
at the butterfly you’ve become

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Stories Told and Stories Untold in Porto

The most appealing benefit of travel, in my opinion, is how each place visited has a story to tell, or in some cases, keeps a story untold. I’ve spent the past week in Portugal and have experienced a continuous stream of told and untold stories. A stroll down any street will reveal bits of a city’s history, art, and architecture, but never the full story. Such was the case with this azulejos tile mural on the exterior wall of the Carmo Church in Porto, Portugal.
Azulejos Tile Mural on The Carmo Church PortoThe Igreja do Carmo was built between 1756 and 1768 in the rococo or late Baroque, style by a disciple of Nicolau Nasoni, Jose de Figueiredo Seixas. The Igreja do Carmo has an outstanding azulejo-covered exterior with the azulejos added in 1912. The tiles were made locally in Vila Nova de Gaia and designed by the artist Silvestro Silvestri. They depict scenes of the founding of the Carmelite Order and Mount Carmel. by Portugal Visitor

The architect, the artist, the city where the tiles were fabricated – stories that intersected once upon a time to achieve permanence and grace as more than two centuries have passed, yet the conversations, the human details, have been lost and can only be surmised.

Hazul Street Art PortoIt wasn’t long after visiting the Carmo Church that I came across an example of Porto’s cool street art, and with a bit of research on the artist came to realize this was no random work of art. Hazul is somewhat famous in the city and beyond. Reading about Hazul reveled more of his work on Instagram. In the end I was able to discover more of the artist’s story, but still don’t know the story behind this mini-mural – what he was thinking – that remains a mystery.

Port Wine Shipping Boat in Porto, Portugal 2019Established as a protected wine region in 1756, the Douro Valley produces the renowned Port wines that are shipped down the river to be stored in Vila Nova de Gaia, across the river from Porto. While these shipments are now made by truck, in years past they were transported in rabelo boats.

In a strange twist of fate, the conflict between France and England, which deprived the Brits of their much loved French wine, led to their discovering Port wines, for which they developed an enduring passion.

From the vineyard workers, to the winemakers and those who navigated the river in boats stacked with barrels, they shared a common story based on their love of Port wine.

I’m blessed to hear stories from the clients that I coach and help them to uncover the hidden gems that they can share with the world. And when I’m traveling, there’s this feeling of appreciation for those who created the world I’m discovering, but at the same time, there’s a feeling of frustration due to the fact that I can’t speak to them directly and dig deeper into their story.

It’s a paradox, that no matter how much we know, there’s a measure of untold story that remains, so it’s up to all of us to be storytellers, to let the rest of the world share pieces of our magical life.

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