Threads ~ We are all connected, We all have a story

Have you ever noticed how your mood is lifted when you spontaneously catch the eye of a stranger and share a smile in passing? So often, we stay in our own private worlds, our defined spaces of friends and family, of familiar routines. But once in a while– sometimes on purpose, sometimes by serendipity– we connect to someone we don’t know and it lifts us up. To me, those moments are the small reminders of a big idea– that we are all connected and that behind the face of every smiling stranger, there’s a story.

A couple of years ago, in a Tai Chi class I was taking, my curiosity was piqued by a woman I hardly knew who had a hobby I never imagined I would find fascinating. She was a quiet presence in the far corner of the room, taking the same spot each week, as we all seemed to do. Tall and slim, with her long gray hair pulled back in a pony-tail, she moved gracefully, purposefully, silently.

One day, I happened to overhear her describing her needlepoint projects and was captivated. I edged to the outskirts of the group that had gathered around her as she showed her work and described it. Listening to her speak, it was almost as though her philosophy of life unfolded in every stitch of her work.

A few weeks later I gathered the courage to approach her and ask a favor. I wanted to tell her story, to record her voice, to photograph her work, to let her wisdom unfold through her description of her hobby. At that point, I was only just beginning to explore the realm of mixed media storytelling. I had barely any samples of my work to show her to give myself some credibility in asking. I asked anyway. And she said yes. I was stunned that she would trust me with something so personal as her own story when I could only give her a vague notion of what I wanted to create.

I had envisioned a story based on audio and images featuring her face, her gentle countenance, her words, and the colors and textures of her needlepoint projects. In my original plan, her voice and face would be at the forefront and I would be invisible– an unseen editor creating a vehicle for her story to tell itself. Yet the day I interviewed her, I learned that she did not like being in the spotlight and would prefer that her face and name not be featured in the story I would create.

So I did the only thing I could think to do– I became her narrator. While those who know me best will tell you that I am not shy about hamming it up and being the center of attention in small gatherings of close friends, when it came to this realm of sharing stories of heart and substance, I felt shy and was more comfortable being an invisible hand behind the story. But the thought of letting a good story go untold was too much for me and nudged me forward.

I first mixed this story in 2009 and shared it with family and friends. The anonymous subject of my story became known as “The Threads Woman” amongst my friends. Several said they wished they could meet her, have coffee with her, learn more about her, be her friend. They, too, had been captivated by what I saw and heard.

Remixing the original materials with the newer software and techniques I now use, I was pleased that the heart of this story is as compelling to me now as it was when I first heard it.  And just as “The Threads Woman” said yes to the story idea originally, she has graciously allowed me to share her story more widely, reminding us that we are all connected and that we all have a story to share.

The Power of Yes (and an Invisible Canoe)

In this day and age, with all the demands on our time, resources and energy, many of us learn to stay afloat and keep our sanity by drawing our boundaries– by “just saying no.”  While boundaries are important and knowing when to say no is an invaluable skill, I would like to extoll the virtues of “yes.”

A recent project took me to Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis to film my friend Barbara McAfee singing her song “Yes.”  I heard her introduce this song in concert once, saying that when she began writing music as a twenty-something, one of her first compositions was entitled, “No!” She said it took her 25 years to write “Yes!” I laughed and thought of the classic behavior of two-year-olds, when they discover the power of the word “no” and can hardly be convinced to answer a question with anything else.

But what about “yes?” In the fast-paced daily grind, do we lose sight of the many things– big and small– that make us make us leap for joy, that comfort us when we need it, that sustain us?  Barbara’s song is a jubilant expression of just these kinds of moments and a beautiful reminder to pause and “just say yes.”

For the video, Barbara’s friend Tom Peter, The Tree Guy, known in the Twin Cities for his artistry with wood, loaned us his Crystal Canoe and joined us to help with filming.  I had no idea what a stir a seemingly invisible canoe could cause.  Everyone who saw us was mesmerized, from toddlers to hipster teens to leather clad motorcycle dudes to gray-haired grandparents.  Each and every passer-by broke into a huge smile and stopped to talk, both to us and to one another.  Many even sang along as we filmed around the lake.

As I witnessed the laughter, the conversation, and the joyful commotion– not to mention the sunlight on the water, the heron taking flight and the lily pads in bloom– I knew I was in the midst of a golden “yes” afternoon.

May we all dwell in the spirit of yes!

Barbara McAfee’s music is available at iTunes.  Her website is at www.barbaramcafee.com.  The Tree Guy can be found at www.respectfultransitions.com.