Thursday, January 21, 2016

How to be the best AirBnB guest in tight quarters.

I would like to let you in on a secret. Most people on the sharing side of the sharing economy are offering up their car or their house or whatever because they need the cash. People might be funding a renovation, or a travel addiction, or a kid going through college.  In my case I rent out a room to fund the foreign visa process for my fiance, and the education of his family in West-Africa.  Trust me, I need the money.

I’m not saying that I don’t enjoy the camaraderie and community. I do. It’s just that I probably wouldn’t open up my house to complete strangers if I didn’t need the cash.  

This is why I would like to make a special request: Be nice to your AirBnB host.  Next time you stay in my AirBnB (I run $30-$50 a night), think of me as more of a stranger doing you a favor.  If you want a hotel experience, there is a Hotel 8 up the street that can give you that with all the ketchup-smeared homeliness you ever wanted. . .

Don’t be presumptuous. Once I came home to a guest who had slopped his stuff all over my dining room and was already doing laundry (not part of the deal) before we had even met.  Look really carefully at my listing. It’s ok to ask for something extra - an iron or laundry. 9 times out of 10, I’ll say yes. It drives me crazy, though, when you presume. If you treat me with respect, and ask - you will get so much more out of me.

Ask about me. Show an interest in my story. When I’m not exhausted, I try to show an interest in you. I'm curious to know what you’re doing, why you’re traveling, and what you think of my city.  I have no desire to spend every waking hour with you, but it does mean a lot to me when a guest seems to think outside of her or himself.

Do something nice.  Try to return the aforementioned favor of sharing by doing something nice for your host. One guy recently asked to do his laundry. I said yes. I left a load of laundry in the dryer, and he neatly folded each thing and put them in my bin. I don’t even fold my laundry! Sometimes people leave a little note, thanking me for their stay. Others strip the bed for me.  Some let my dog, Eli, out. Sometimes it’s a little treat from another city (Voodoo Donuts get top prize).   These things seem little, but ultimately they show me that you recognize that I am a hard working human and not a house elf.

Why bother? First, you can get so much out of me, if you treat me with respect. Last week, I picked up two guests who were biking in freezing weather so they wouldn’t have to bike home (I also picked up face masks for them at REI). I’ve offered food, wine, and lots of connections to people who see for more than my bedroom. Secondly, It's the karma, stupid As the sharing economy develops. Let's all be human and try to care about each other.

Everyone loves my dog. These are the people who brought donuts too, though. 

Friday, January 15, 2016

Four things you need to hear before you start a non-profit.

People will challenge your idea.
Investigate, move on, and work harder. 
I originally wanted to write a post saying “Start a non profit. It’s not that hard.” That would have had a lot of shock value.  It's true, too. If you have a good idea, three people who are on your side, and $1000, you can file all the paperwork and get your non-profit started. No joke. If your non-profit fails, as long as you don’t have any liabilities, you can close it down without too much trouble. 

The real hard work is gaining momentum and strength to pursue your mission. You might have a vision, but people will get in your way. Your work will never be enough. I'd like to offer four things to consider, or at least to prepare yourself for, if you're starting a 501c3:

  1. If you think it’s too much work, it probably is. In my first job in the sphere, I was starting a center for art in music West-Africa. My boss-funder, who was a millionaire, never wanted to start a non-profit. “They’re too much work,” she would say, “taxes and all that.” So instead, she funneled our money through another non-profit. I did all the work and they took 7% just for the privilege of passing us the money.  The fiscal sponsor had a lock on how we were able to fundraise. The organization, though stable, wasn't set to grow. Ultimately, though, she got what she wanted - a small center doing the same things every year. That was great for her. I moved on.
  2. People will challenge you.  “Have you talked to xxxx?” “Are you sure xxxx isn’t already doing that?” “No one will pay for that.”  Some of the brightest and best in the community will make you feel useless and incapable. They’ll have horror stories about non-profits gone wrong and discourage you from pursuing your dreams. Wade through the crap. About 50% of the time their questions are valid and their points are smart. The other 50%, they'll send you in the wrong direction.  Don’t dwell too much on the challenge and don't be too discouraged by the questions. Investigate, move on and work harder.
  3. The time is now.  People want to fund living, breathing projects.  If you want to start a youth program, do a once-a-week workshop.  Show that there is a need through your work, and prove that you can’t meet that need without community support.  Don’t wait for money, and definitely don’t wait for your 501c3 status. Don't have 20 meetings. Spend your time doing the work you want your non-profit to do as best you can. Have something to show for yourself when you go begging.
  4. Shut up about yourself.  I’ll never forget when I sat in a community meeting, and someone stood up and said, “I left a job working with Michael Jackson and Prince because God called me to come home and serve my community, and now, here I am. I’m not getting any respect or support from anyone in my project.” No one left that day wanting to help him out.  No kidding.  Self-inflation happens a lot in the nonprofit world.  "I sacrifice a great deal for my organization." "I deserve more." Even personally, I have to silence myself. It’s not about me. It’s not about me. It’s not about me. Get off your high horse and get over your sacrifice. Be excited and motivated about what you want to do. Be classy. Don't beg for attention. Create something that demands it.

If you can get through these hurdles, it’s worth getting the wheels turning. If you can't deal with challenging questions, getting stuff done, and dousing your ego, you should bail Or better yet, find a partner in crime that can take some of the guff that you don’t want to deal with.  
When I first went to work on this project in West-Africa, they were just painting the building.
There was no staff, no programs. We even had to order furniture.  It was a lot of work. 

Sunday, January 10, 2016

I love my staff meetings. Here's why.

Small Staff: We decided that everyone should be employee of the month every month.  I "bring in the most $$" and our newest staff member "asks the best questions."
As of late, there is a weird phenomenon at my workplace. We really enjoy our weekly staff meeting (I took a poll just to make sure it’s not in my head). There is a lot of advice out there about meetings.  We generally presume that meetings, by default, suck.  
Why do I enjoy this weekly meeting so much? I find them motivating, fun, and sometimes ridiculous. Some might find it to be the worst possible time: Friday afternoon. It’s the last thing our team does every week. We’re exhausted. Each week’s meeting is like a eulogy for the past week and an initiation for the next. 
After giving it some thought. I think this is why I like them so much: 
  1. We start high. In our workshops with our kids, we start with “highs and lows,” we take that to our staff meeting, and we all share our “highs” for the week.  In non-profit work, we live and breathe our mission. Our successes  give us a high. We take the first ten minutes and celebrate what is going well. Meetings are about solving problems, but if we focus our meetings entirely on problems, they can be a downer. A positive start helps us to get through the weeds. 
  2. We don’t meet in the middle (of the day). We avoid staff meetings where someone is going to have to run before it’s over. We don’t schedule them for the middle of the day. Every Friday I race against the clock to finish up by our meeting time. But once we get to the meeting, I know my week is almost over.  This seems counterintuitive, but if you really enjoy your meeting there’s a sense of gratification ending your day this way.
  3. We save it for the meeting.   Everybody comes to the meeting with an agenda, and each person has the opportunity to add something that they want to talk about. We have the regular stuff to do, but every week presents new opportunities for group decision making. We are in each other's faces all week, but we save important topics for the opportunity to talk them out as a group. 
  4. We change the environment. Depending on our own agendas and the seriousness of our work, we might meet in a coffee shop, or even better, a bar (don’t go crazy).  I find that shields go down when you change your environs. People brighten up, especially after a day of the office blahs.
  5. We like each other.  The real bummer in life is that you can’t always work with people you enjoy, but when you do, it’s electric. One staff member once told me, “I just tell myself, why hate people you have to spend a ⅓ of your day around?” It’s a really good point.

Monday, June 22, 2015

The time I put Instagram in its place.

Two friends captured previously at one of the public pianos.

I decided I wanted to take a walk today. I work in a basement. Sometimes we all just need to get out. I wanted some fresh air, to recall the season, and to escape the shackles of my computer.  

I walked to do some business at the bank, which is about a half mile from my workplace.  Along the way I encountered one of the City Sounds Public Pianos. Part of a local organization's efforts to put pianos in random spots in the city for anyone to play. I figured I would try it out.  I don’t know much about the project, but I assume the purpose is to bring people together. An artist paints and prepares the piano, musicians passing by sit and play and sing, interacting with passersby with no agenda. It’s a way for people to be present to each other.

I sat down to play.

“But wait. This is something I should document.”  I began questioning myself, “How can I get a video of this so I can post it to Instagram? I wish there were someone to hold the phone for me while I sing. Shoot.”  All of the sudden, this perfectly public art exhibit that I was participating in became a chance to gain attention elsewhere, just so that I could get a few hearts from people I hardly know.

I put aside my phone and kept playing. Forget about social media, I told myself.

A woman came up to me, “I heard you playing down the street! I love the piano, I can’t play anymore.”   

She was in a wheelchair, “Do you have any use of your hands?”  I asked her.   

“No, not since the accident.  Thank you for playing, I love hearing it,” she said, rolling away and leaving me alone to play for my fellow humans.  

Instagram was there, a phantom vibrating in my pocket, telling me I was disconnected - that mankind needed to know what I was doing. I said no. I played for the world in front of me, in all of their glory with skin and eyes and vital organs. I talked to another human being and felt the awkward emotions I was supposed to feel. That was the time I put Instagram in its place.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Coup d'├ętat

Coup d’├ętat
“Les morts ne sont pas morts.”
The heated trinity, tertiary structure,
distorted by tyrannic tritones,
would have never remembered,
nor would have they encouraged,
the wild slice of slutty youth,
sneaking into your fragile sack-
blood and bones disguised as humanity.
“Your first day was your last,”
is how it passed through the ears
of doyennes fearing their fortunes.
They used words like catatonic and
ephemeral.  They wept, wanting to
be grown up, big bones and thick cheeks,
dark red blood and witty remarks,
a foretaste of their last day before
becoming an afterthought of humanity.
You can’t put blush on a ghost
or get her a boob job,
or a booster bra.
But on sacks of blood and bones
despots can do all that.
They can make minions of men.
Millions of them. Drones buzz above,
they relax on  
cow stretched couches and other such
glamourous comforts.

They start wars from their phones,
and take breakfast in bed at midnight.
Inferno at their fingertips, forbids
them to see the fight of slaves
at the light of day.  
“Here lies a great saint,” the slaves will say,
each one walking away with a few cents in pay,
knowing that lies are free like truth
and that sacks of blood and bones decay.  

All those wronged rise from pity and life’s
unfortunate past to triumph in torture
of blood-bone sacks.
Rip them open and let them bleed,
and feed what's left of their bed-breakfast
to people in need.
To people who see the reality,
the slaves of humanity
who seek to lead.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Monuments of the World

I just can't stop. When my best friends moved into a new home, I knew I had to make something special for them.  I was trying to think of something that would reflect our homeland. Cities usually have something that represents them - Des Moines has arching bridges over the river and the capitol, New York has skyscrapers, Paris has the Eiffel tower. What does Guthrie Center have? BAM!
Guthrie  Center has a water tower. It's nothing spectacular, not huge, but it is the first think you see coming into our little city.  So I wanted to create something ironic using stencils, spray paint, and canvas. I called it "Monuments of the World." 

I made two copies, one for both of my friends, and they are now both featured prominently on their fireplace mantel. 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Art Student: Stenciling

One of my favorite parts about my job is that I can sneak into visual arts workshop and actually make art myself.  I often think I might have been more successful if I had stuck with visual art then with performing arts, but alas, I've found myself in a life where I can immerse myself in both!

The art workshop's current project is stenciling and spray paint. I'm in love with stenciling!  I started out with inspiration from Des Moines Juice's recent cover.  It Involved this picture: 
(c) DSM Juice

Anyway, I walking home at night, I go through an intersection where there are about 8 different sets of stoplights. I don't know why, but I find that beautiful in the dark. The changing colors, it's like Christmas time.  So I decided to make these stenciled feet march down a street with stop lights.  This is what happened: 

But I wasn't pleased so I started in with some different stencil ideas. The first episode of Portlandia inspired me. Put a bird on it! 

And it ended up on my board! Enhancing the birds eye perspective.

I tried another idea too, though I didn't use it on my board. This is a sharp-edged Keith Hahring inspired stencil: 

And here is my work with the other kids. Sometimes I get kind of competitive with them.