The Circles of Life

St. Michael and All Angels Columbarium Garden

Lately, I have been thinking about the events of 2018, the year my precious son Elliot died on August 5th. Though I had faced many mighty challenges in my half-century on the earth, this series of 365 days was like no other. It was a messy mélange of life, death, disruption, and grief—but looking back on it now, I’m increasingly befuddled by some of the other events that occurred in that most devastating year. I have mentioned a couple in prior posts that pondered probable connections to the cosmic unconsciousness, like “Quantum Ghosts”.

Could it be true that everything really is happening at the same time—like some quantum ball of tangled twine in another dimension of the time and space continuum? Is the concept of time (past, present, and future) really just a convenient construct? It’s overwhelming to think about too much but still intrigues me in a “Twilight Zone”/”Black Mirror” sort of way. As a side note, Elliot loved both those shows and even introduced me to “Black Mirror.” So why rule it out?

I wrote the post below on May 28, 2018—just two months before Elliot’s sudden, horrific, and unbearable motorcycle death. Like so much in my life now, rereading this essay was both profoundly disturbing and oddly comforting. There is so much we simply don’t understand—and likely never will in this tangible realm.  

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“And Know the Place for the First Time” l May 28, 2018

Memories of those we have lost are often complicated—a morphing mosaic of longing, loneliness, anger, pain, guilt, sadness, gratitude, forgiveness, love and eventually, peace.

This Memorial Day I have come full circle in many ways. When my oldest son, Elliot, watched the “The Lion King” as a toddler, he called it “the circle guh-life.” Turns out that “guh” is profound because the circle is rarely a smooth curve. There are bumps and turns—which reminds me of the words of another Elliot – T.S., with one L:

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”

I arrived there this week.

I began a new assignment writing copy but in a new context. I hope to shift out of the chaotic freelance writing world to work with an integrated marcom agency in Dallas for a while. Every change is an adjustment, every new adventure a realignment. Every experience, your teacher. I missed the energy of a creative cadre—a tribe of brilliant minds collaborating and concepting in real time. A place to belong. I guess I enjoy the process as much as the product.

The Universe works in mysterious ways—most of them unconscious. Life coach Mary Morrissey teaches, “First, notice what you are noticing. It’s the first step to self-awareness.” So, here’s what I have noticed – though I am starting over once again, I find myself in stunningly familiar territory. I am working in Preston Center, a shopping center just a few miles from where I grew up. It is like returning to the place “where I started”—probably holding more hidden nostalgia than any other place of my childhood.

And I’m seeing it for the first time.

I have been flooded with memories of shopping at Sanger Harris and the Woolworths dime store with my mom and sister when I was just 10 or 11. This was our primary recreational activity—a pocket of together time. An artist, reluctant teacher, and sometime socialite, my mother’s presence filled every room she entered in the outside world. On Saturdays, she adored shopping and visiting her flamboyant fashionista friend Mercedes, who ran the Elizabeth Arden counter at Sanger’s with great panache. They would chat and banter as Melissa and I “played” in the makeup, but her mission was to purchase her signature lipstick shade, Fuchsia Shock. It suited my mom’s mega-watt style, and it was the same shade she sported on her thick, one-inch nails.

Over the past few days, I have wandered the sidewalks of Sherry Lane and Westchester during my lunch breaks. A hip, trendy free-range hamburger boutique has replaced the greasy soda fountain at the Woolworth’s. And Wyatt’s cafeteria, with its wickedly sumptuous chocolate-icebox pie, is long gone—as it the dusty, cramped little store where I purchased my very first record. It was the debut album by The Partridge Family. Though I have lived in Dallas for most of my life, I have never experienced the emotional impact of this place before—not like this. Until now, these glimpses of my past have felt like they belonged to someone—and disconnected.

Perhaps, this is the beginning of my exploring.

On Wednesday, I left my 18th-floor office at noon, pausing for a startlingly raw moment. I noticed the high-rise across the street and recalled that faithful day more than three decades ago when I hopped into the back of shiny, white limo after my wedding reception on the top floor. I struggled to step into the skin of that ostensibly happy married girl. She felt like a character in a movie—unrelated and detached. I saw her in a crisp, purple size-10 linen suit she could wear only after losing 30 pounds on Weight Watchers. She was waving to the smiling people on sidewalk who were tossing fuchsia tissue-paper petals into the air.

I chose not to linger there.

Yet I could not avoid more of the strangely familiar. Not sure why, but I turned right at the corner—away from the shopping center and toward St. Michael’s and All Angels Church. This destination held its own mixed, messy bag of memories, but it lured me with a gravitas I could not explain. The last time I was there was 2014 for my father’s funeral and before that, 2012, for my mother’s memorial following her protracted illness. I also was married there in the sanctuary and attended elementary school at St. Michael’s School, where I always dreaded that excruciating President’s Physical Fitness Test. Though my parents did not attend services there or address spiritual matters much at all, it was our “church of record.”

How I remembered trying to find a way to belong there. I offered to help Mrs. Dienes, our perfectly pressed neighbor, teach kindergarten Sunday School when I was about 16. I borrowed my parents’ powder-blue Mercury Monarch with the white interior to get there by 9:00 a.m. I sang in the choir for Paul Thomas, who always scared me a little, and I attended the youth group led by Kyle Rote, Jr., the super-cute soccer star on the Dallas Tornado. Alas, despite all my valiant attempts, I never felt like I really fit in—as if I were missing that essential component that made me worthy of the Episcopal whole.

Still, this is where my parents’ ashes are residing for eternity. My stomach tumbled as I realized I was about to see them again. Serendipity—but no coincidence. I had not been back since my father’s interment. At once, I felt the weight of generations of secrets and shame enveloped in a warm wave of comfort. I stepped closer to the austere, yet elegant, monument. There they were, together for always and forever. So present and peaceful behind the pristine limestone plaque. I stared at the inscriptions and was suddenly overwhelmed. I grieved not for what we lost but what we never had. And in that moment, I made peace somehow. Then, I paused in pure awe as I considered the convoluted series of events that had brought me to this place at this moment. There I was—steeped in memories and standing with my parents once again as I prepared for a new future. Almost too much to process.

I closed my eyes and thanked the Universe for this miraculous journey and others to come. These are the moments that amplify our being beyond all comprehension.

Then, I thought of sipping a cool, creamy root beer float at Woolworth’s . . . and I smiled.

Stream of Consciousness

teardropI am a seeker ― with far more questions than answers, and in recent days, my queries have been dramatically outnumbering my explanations.  Fortunately, in the past decade, my lifelong spiritual quest has led me to the sagacious sphere of one Dr. Joe Clifford.  And that’s why I pen this post today.  Alas, I am struggling with his recent announcement that he and his family will be leaving our frazzled city in less than a month. Intellectually, I know this sadness will pass, and Dallas/#DallasStrong will persevere somehow, but I still feel an overwhelming sense of  loss.

References to Joe’s canny wisdom and his super-human pastoral care shimmer across the pages of my blog like freshly cut gems.  Since 2009, the content I have crafted here has included both professional and personal musings ― more like a meandering stream of consciousness than a stake in the ground, but these ideas started spilling forth way before Twitter was cool and Snap even considered Chatting.  And, this stream has definitely ebbed and flowed . . .

Now, thinking about the soul-rattling events of recent weeks and days, my own profound healing journey over the past seven years, and Joe’s impending departure, I can’t help but recall one of the first posts I was ever inspired to write. It was about a “Joe sermon.”  And several years later, I actually had the good fortune to do some “official” blog writing for First Presbyterian Church ― helping amplify the impact of Joe’s insights and the Word of God.  A career highlight and honor. 

An excerpt from that April 2009 post:

Joe has an extraordinary capacity to inform and enrich my path in ways that are difficult to articulate. Today was an excellent example. He talked about the celebration of Easter wearing off as we entered a week punctuated by the bleakness of tax day, difficult professional challenges ― real life, etc. Then, he said a friend forwarded him the Susan Boyle link on Wed ― the astonishing performance of the unassuming 47-year-old on Britain’s Got Talent, who has captured the world’s imagination. He says he does not have time for all the forwarded email he receives, but he opened this one for some reason.

He said he wept ― and he asked the congregation how many of us had seen it and wept. Most of those present raised their hands. He went on to describe theologian Frederick Buechner‘s take on the origin of these tears. I now cannot get enough Buechner. He ponders:

How do you listen to your life? How do you get into the habit of doing it? How do you keep ears cocked and your eye peeled for the presence of God or the presence of anything else? One thing I have said, which I think is true, is to pay attention to any of those moments in your life when unexpected tears come in your eyes. You never know when that may happen, what may trigger them. Very often I think if you pay attention to those moments, you realize that something deep beneath the surface of who you are, something deep beneath the surface of the world, is trying to speak to you about who you are . . .

They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are. More often than not, God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and summoning you to where you should go to next.

Joe said we have a profound, spiritual reaction to joy ― to God. And it’s not enough to experience the moment ― we must use it as a way to discover our own life’s calling, what God has called us to do and be.

The world is hurting ― facing daunting challenges. I believe we are called to pay attention, be vigilant in our consciousness, and bare our hearts. Thank you for helping us do all of those things along the way, Joe.  Godspeed to you and your family . . .  with a smile and a tear.

This may not be Susan Boyle, but it’s a moment ― for now.

Buzz Pill?

Is there a magic social media pill? We all seem to be looking for it.

As a professional riding the social media tidal wave, I’m engaged—in witty Facebook banter, of course, but I’m also digging deeper—doing some serious soul-searching about the role of social media in marketing, how best to execute it, how to manage it, and how to leverage its power to make clients and associates successful and happy. I guess taking a hard look at my path is sort of a mirror to my life—as some of my most enlightened friends would say.

Yet, it’s surprisingly tough—on all levels. With the ubiquity of mobile phones, iPads, Nooks, etc., social media is embedded in every fiber of our awareness. Personally, I feel unhinged without my Apple. (Remember Eden?) With something so pervasive, so woven into the fabric of our daily behavior, one would think clarity and monetization would be a cinch. But not so fast. It can be difficult to put the buzz back in the bottle! It is not enough to simply offer up content and post updates.

Brand advocates and marketers who want to take advantage of social media are encountering a tangled web. They are finding they need to design a fully integrated program of active and ongoing engagement, connecting customers with the actual human beings in their organizations who can meet their needs. It’s part Marketing 101 and part online alchemy, I suspect. Gosh, maybe it’s really not about the technology at all. It’s the humanity. Could it be that the stuff that happens offline is what really makes social media sing?

For instance, Dell currently engages with customers through what they call the “four pillars” of the company’s social media ecosystem:

  • 100,000 employees
  • Dell.com–ratings, reviews and customer feedback relating to Dell products and services
  • Dell communities, such as IdeaStorm, a platform launched in 2007 that is designed to give voice to customers and enable the sharing of ideas
  • External platform communities, including Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter

That first pillar represents one of the biggest changes in Dell’s use of social networking, lately—and possibly the most powerful. Although social media initiatives began with public relations teams at Dell, employees now play the role of brand ambassador across the company, notes Buck. This requires a purposeful, dedicated engagement plan, as well as policy development and training to ensure that the employees who will be representing Dell clearly understand company guidelines regarding the appropriate use of social media.“Our employees play a vital role in our social media outreach, and, to date, we have trained more than 8,000 Dell employees to engage with customers through social media,” says Michael Buck, executive director of global online marketing. “Dell’s Social Media and Communities University is a key enabler for the company to leverage the power of 100,000-plus employees as brand ambassadors, confident that they have been empowered to use it the right way.”

Perhaps the most effective social media strategy is to train your company’s employees to use social media—whether 3 or 300,000, fully integrating the support process and empowering interaction with customers/prospects on behalf of the company. This has not only spread the marketing buzz, so to speak, it has also building the brand across the farthest reaches of the vast social media psycho-sphere. To infinity and beyond!

Where are you going?

What’s to Like About Facebook Business Pages?

Elaine Gantz Wright is a social media coach — providing the practical tools you need to survive and thrive in the brave new media world — listener, writer, blogger, speaker and mom. Contact her ellagantz@sbcglobal.net

What have you always wanted to know about social media but were afraid to ask? Register for Breakfast and Blogs, a very social session with Elaine to find out. Start off your New Year with real social media sizzle. Email or comment to reserve your place. First 10 are FREE and $10 after that – Thurs., Jan 13 or Fri. Jan. 14 — 9:30 a.m.– 12:00 p.m. Location details in Dallas to come. Join me at the B &B.

I never thought I would be part of the blogging brigade— leading the social media charge. “How did I get here?” as David Byrne one asked. For heaven’s sake, I ran computer programs on punch cards in a box. I trie dto make some semblance of sense of those bleeding lines of purple Fortran code on the never-ending accordion-folded pale green and white-striped paper—in the bowels of the Vogelback computer cave at Northwestern. I remember thinking, “Geez, I’m a theater major. How will this stuff ever have a practical application in my life? I guess my life has been more Lennon-esque – what has happened while I have been busy “making other plans.”

But it’s still a hard place to be–as so many are still generally nonplussed about the power and process of integrating this brave new media communication phenomenon into their customer/donor-development strategies. “The moment we are living right now, this generation, represents the largest increase in expressive capability in human history, ” proclaimed NYU media guru, Clay Shirky, also a former theater major.

It’s hard to completely comprehend the full impact somewhere in time (more great music, sigh), but I predict this period in communication media innovation will assume milestone prominence in retrospect-–similar to the era of the printing press, the telephone, photography and motions pictures. Shirky continues, “A revolution does not happen when a society adopts new tools. It happens when a society adopts new behaviors.” Can you imagine life without the mobile phone?

So, as we begin to navigate and maneuver the tools that are quite literally redefining our relationships and behaviors, here are a few solid ideas for making the most of on of your core social media tools–your Facebook Business Page. Like it or not, Facebook is the new black. Remember, to maximize effectiveness and results you should carefully customize this list for you and your distinctive business objectives:

1. Create a personal service “direct line” to the brand and paint a personality that differentiates your business.
2. Respond to your customers quickly and personally to create authenticity and loyalty.
3. Provide notice of special events – with the ability to catch RSVPs—photos, videos and after-party conversation.
4. Post quizzes: In addition to providing fantastic engagement opportunity, your page is also a rich research resource. What’s your personal style? Why do you support programs to help the homeless? What three things mean most to you in the world?
5. Present special offers – one-day-only deals, Facebook-only bonuses, “Like” incentives.
6. Register for preferred customer email and coupons.
7. Create participation and passion around your preferred cause – feature the link on your page.
8. Post how-to videos, which might be a little wacky or unconventional – to ignite viral sharing.
9. Photos,photos, photos. Tag, tag, tag.
10. Subscribe to the tip or quote of the day – stat on homelessness, inspirational quote, green tip, how to tie a scarf, etc.
11. Feature links to blogs related to your business/organization – enhancing authoritative rank in organic search.
12. Sell gift cards – online with PayPal transaction.
13. Secret sales – “Skip lunch” or “Mimosa Mondays.”
14. Enter a contest to go to Vegas with our BFFs.
15. Highlight your customer of the day – tell the stories.

The list goes on – and the very best possibilities relate to your particular mission or customer, depending on your individual objectives.

Start writing down ideas, and watch how they be gin to flow . . . and join me at the B&B on Jan. 13 or 14, 2011!

Making social media sing with REO

Elaine Gantz Wright writes about optimizing social media, life, and spirit. Reach her at elgantz()yahoo.com

I have been on a unique journey that has definitely been broadening my horizons— drilling deeply into a real-estate-publishing niche focused on REOs—that’s “real estate owned” properties (not the eighties pop band) that have run the foreclosure gauntlet and are back in the hands of the financial institutions. This is a growing byproduct and reality of our struggling economy, which was so crippled by the once reckless heyday of sub-prime mortgage lending.

Yes, I guess one might say there in a murky dark side to this world—all the financial loss, property vandalism and deterioration, hassle, anger, anguish, shame, and lives in upheaval. But as there is a yin to every yang, REO sales actually provide a glimmer of hope for devastated neighborhoods and broken dreams—the promise of asset managers and investors who are committed to win-win-win propositions which involve neighborhood transformation, green renovation, and helping people live without the oppressive burdens of back-breaking mortgage obligations.

That’s where the REO Expo, June 6 – 9, and the Open Door Institute, a vibrant community for REO professionals, come into play.

I joined the mother ship, The LTV Group, about a month and half ago to develop a social media marketing strategy for the REO Expo and other corporate entities down the road. Other core businesses under the umbrella are REO Insider magazine and HousingWire magazines and LTV Creative. It’s been quite a ride—working with a talented and energetic bunch of folks, as well as a target market with a fiercely persistent, can-do work ethic. We are less than two weeks away, and the registration momentum continues to build. Here are the basics of the case study—with updates to follow.

REO Expo 2010: Social Media Strategy

Objective:
Maximize registrations for REO Expo and simultaneously—expand membership in the Open Door Institute, a new community for REO professionals, requiring dues ranging from $595 to $2995.

Key tactics:
• Driving consistent conversation and engagement activity on Facebook, Twitter, REO Pro Ning community, Linked In, and blog response. Monitor, engage, converse, and respond. In a little over a month, the Facebook fan (or like) page is more than 425-strong.

• Building a complete social media “ecosystem” across all marketing communications channels—with social media group icons inviting engagement on all outgoing emails, materials, and the REO Expo website.

• Launching a “Share Your Story” contest. The winner received free REO Expo registration, a 3-night hotel stay at the conference, and an invitation to the private reception with Emmitt Smith. The two runners up won free registration. We had some very disturbing REO tales, indeed, and interestingly, the site that provided the most involvement was Linked In—through postings on the various subject-matter interest groups.

There were many stories of persistence, accomplishment, and cast-iron stomachs, but our winner, Nelya Calev of Seattle, wove a particularly disconcerting yarn. You can read the whole story on REO Insider blog. Here’s an excerpt:

“Our guys re-keyed the house, and I went to take pictures for BPO. And as I was walking down the hallway when I saw F*&K . . . (name of the bank) written in large letter on the wall and punched holes next to it. Not a big deal, so I take pictures. There was spilled paint on the tile floor, fire place, and carpet. No biggy, right? I walked in to the master bedroom and he had little girls underwear framed on the wall . . . What kind of sick person does that? It scared the crap out of me . . . I went downstairs and he had a picture of . . . “

OK . . . I think you get the picture. Not for the faint of heart, right? She goes on to say she had to deal with crazy neighbors approaching every buyer and scaring them off. He had to babysit buyers and the buyers’ agents to get it sold.


And I thought I have had a colorful career!

The Campaign Results so far:
1. Registrations have increased almost twelve-fold since launching an integrated social media, e-marketing, and traditional materials/word-or-mouth marketing campaign a little over a month a ago—meeting and even surpassing expectations.
2. Open Door Institute Membership has almost doubled in the same time period.

Registration is online at www.REOExpo2010.com. Be sure to sign up sooner than later, because attendance is capped and the free classes that we’re being offered through the Open Door Institute and Default School are filling fast.

There’s more to come, and we will keep you updated. Or, why don’t you join us? For now, it’s time for me to fly . . .

Chris Brogan Coaches Dallas’ Social Media Farm Team

ElaineGantzWright’s blog is for people interested in using the Web and online marketing to drive social action. Elaine covers social media for education, nonprofits, philanthropy trends, online giving, cause marketing, random life musings, and more. Hire her — elgantz@ yahoo.com

Chris Brogan

I saw Chris Brogan (@ChrisBrogan) speak last Thursday night at the Angelika—a real coup for the Dallas Social Media Club (#smcdallas). Chris Brogan is an eleven-year veteran of using social media, web technologies, and mobile applications to build digital relationships for businesses, organizations, and individuals. He consistently ranks near the top of official blogger lists. Very impressive. I have been a fan of his no-nonsense blog and prodigious tweet stream for a while.

He was certainly convivial—quite clever and coy; however, I gotta admit it. I did not really receive much meat for the price of admission (and I’m not talking about the decimated appetizer bar). I’m talking figurative meat—those insider ah-ha moments and golden nuggets, those epiphanies that come from being submerged and steeped in the social media soup 24/7 and still thirsting for more.

He confessed that he wrote the talk on the plane, and I do think I saw him referring to a cocktail napkin a time or two. I will say that I loved his rapier wit, teddy-bear approachability, and keen sense of comic timing—kind of the Robin Williams of social media. Yet, there were many non sequiturs and streams of consciousness which seemed to flow off course at times. To be fair, I suspect he is used to speaking to the social-media uninitiated, so he focuses on the brass tacks (as opposed to the trackbacks). He seemed constantly surprised that we actually got his jokes. But then again, maybe social media is really just that simple:

• Be nice to people.
• Every person is in the company is in sales and customer service.
• Social media is about authentic relationship building.
• Be there before the sale – social media is about listening, helping, responding, and interacting.
• Reciprocity is what makes social media work.
• Highlight customers.
• Ask questions.
• Understand how to network effectively, and don’t stick to “just your vertical.”

I really liked this concept: “What if marketing were 2 parts helpline, 2 parts connection, and only 1 part selling?” And I liked his concept of farming and tending the garden (Hmmm . . . glad to know my blog of Aug. 23, 2009, was on the right track.) Just don’t want to confuse farming with Farmville. He encouraged us to think about planting seeds, tending, watering, and nurturing growth.

Still, I can’t help asking: Is this a ‘medium is the message’ lesson? (Chris did reference McLuhan several times . . . and Ogilvy) I’m just wondering if the 140-character, truncated messaging of tweets, texts, and pithy comments is defining the way we send and receive content—even in person? Is it impacting spoken language — reformatting and reframing our fundamental speech patterns and synapses? Maybe that’s it. Maybe we are all learning to expect and talk “tweet.”

Guess that means I’d better start brushing up on my Gowalla . . .

What would you like to ask Chris?