Life News: I’m Joining Forest Park Forever

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This is an exciting week for me: I’m joining the staff of Forest Park Forever as the organization’s Strategic Communications Director. 

For those unfamiliar with St. Louis, Forest Park is my hometown’s larger-than-Central-Park gem that’s home to the Saint Louis Art Museum, the Saint Louis Zoo, the Missouri History Museum, and several other terrific organizations; there’s also tennis, golf, running paths, paddle boats, fishing, you name it. FPF is the private nonprofit, created in 1986, whose mission is to “restore, maintain and sustain Forest Park as one of America’s great urban public parks, for the enjoyment of all now and forever.” (If you’d like a glimpse at the remarkable work FPF has done over the past few decades, here are some before-and-after photos published in the RFT last month.)

The Park’s a special place for me — it’s where, as a kid, I played in junior tennis tournaments and sledded down Art Hill. And it’s where, as an adult, I met my wife … and even where I married her.

It’s been such a pleasure to work at TOKY these past few years — the firm is packed with kind, talented people creating smart, beautiful work. I’ll miss the team and the clients, and wish them all well.

Looking ahead, I’m incredibly excited about this new opportunity at Forest Park Forever. Everyone I’ve met so far has been impressive, upbeat, and passionate about doing great work for the good of this incomparable place. Can’t wait to get started on Tuesday. 

Photograph by Bob Bawell (shared via Creative Commons permission)

Seamus Heaney: 1939 – 2013

Sad news: The great Irish poet Seamus Heaney has died at age 74. 

When I was a freshman in college in the early 1990s, I was fortunate enough to take an upper-level English class with Dr. Ed Duffy, who dedicated a few months of the semester just to Heaney’s work. It was a remarkable immersion, and I felt incredibly engaged and grown-up. 

We serially read Heaney’s Station Island, a quest for both the book’s narrator and the course’s students. And at some point we landed on perhaps Heaney’s most well-known poem, “Digging,” which ends this way:

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.

That occupational charge — This is my purpose — was powerful for this future English major, as I suspect it’s been for many others. 

Since then I’ve kept up with Heaney, reading profiles of him, lectures from him, and adding a few of his books to my shelves. Unfortunately, it seems the slim Station Island paperback is no longer with me, though a few fatter collections are.

As I paged back through these this morning, more than a few striking lines still earn the squiggles and exclamation marks with which I marked them the first time through: “the black glacier / of each funeral / pushed away” (“Funeral Rites”); “Love, I shall perfect for you the child / Who diligently potters in my brain” (“Poem”); “The future was a verb in hibernation” (“Villanelle for an Anniversary”); “the whispering grass / Ran its fingers through our guessing silence” (“A Dream of Jealousy”).

To close, I’ll quote from a few longer passages I’d marked, still so vividly earthy and right. From “Death of a Naturalist”:

Then one hot day when fields were rank
With cowdung in the grass the angry frogs
Invaded the flax-dam; I ducked through hedges
To a coarse croaking that I had not heard
Before. The air was thick with a bass chorus.
Right down the dam gross-bellied frogs were cocked
On sods; their loose necks pulsed like sails. Some hopped:
The slap and plop were obscene threats. Some sat
Poised like mud grenades, their blunt heads farting.
I sickened, turned, and ran. 

And the last lines from “Personal Helicon”:

Now, to pry into roots, to finger slime, 
To stare, big-eyed Narcissus, into some spring 
Is beneath all adult dignity. I rhyme
To see myself, to set the darkness echoing. 

From the lengthy Q&A:

Coming back to the first topic of our conversation, how can we convince people that Internet is not enough to be informed?

I don’t agree with you. I think the Internet is just a tool, a means of distribution. And it’s a radically more efficient means of distribution than print.

But some people may have the impression they can know everything what is happening only with a click.

And they can. If they buy things on the Internet. In other words, The New York Times can’t be for free and I have no problem with people reading The New Yorker online. I’m 54 years old, you’re 58 and we may prefer it printed for all the reasons that all the people prefer things that they are used to. I prefer certain kinds of drinks, I prefer Bob Dylan to the latest hip hop sensation, but that’s because I’m 54, that’s nothing, that’s just an ordinary normal human being.

What I want to say is that you can be beautifully informed with nothing but a laptop, but you need a laptop and a credit card. Because it can’t be for free.

Can’t recall a single run-in with David Remnick — reading a piece of his, or an interview like this — where I didn’t come away incredibly impressed.

From this interesting interview at The Content Strategist:

GE is one of the brands out there that’s done content really well. Do you think that’s because the topics are inherently interesting, or is it an internal attitude that allows the content to shine? What do you think?

What GE does is interesting – that helps. But the culture inside the company is becoming hugely focused on storytelling. We have a CMO and CCO who have pushed us to focus on creating strong content and finding interesting ways to tell our story. Another colleague and I have been traveling around the company and holding writing workshops for our communicators. We teach storytelling – how do you put together an interesting narrative, like something you would read in a newspaper or a magazine. Now you have a chance to write the story yourself, so do it right.

What’s success look like?

The ultimate goal is to retire the press release. It’s a great holder for facts, but you’d never want to read one. We want to tell stories.

As I’ve mentioned in client presentations and conversations more than a  few times, GE’s been doing a great job with storytelling in recent years (GE Reports, GE on Tumblr, Txchnologist, and more).

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