Life off the Rails – Be a Blessing to Others

B&M banner captureNovember was a horrendous month for me. My mom died suddenly on Veteran’s Day. 89 years old with Alzheimer’s but otherwise stable health. Expected eventually but a numbing shock all the same. My dad followed three days later, some random point in his long, slow, steady decline. The 3 days between their deaths and my knowledge that neither knew anything about the other’s last days has been eerie and almost mystical. My clergy called it a blessing and a sign that their souls came into the world and left together for reasons best known to our maker and for comfort to me.  I accept that as they have led parallel but separate lives these past forty years.

For my mom, her life well lived came full circle. The book with which she taught me to read, White Fang by Jack London, I read over and over again to her these last nine years. Beyond a love of reading, she taught me to love talking and writing and to appreciate the power of just walking around and taking the time to admire all that passed our field of vision. Libraries were important to us. She went to college when she was in her late 60’s and worked for a newspaper startup in her early 70’s. She was strong willed with a loving heart.

My father made folks feel welcome wherever he went. He made friends easily across all walks of life. He was a fixture at United Bikers of Maine’s winter Belt Sander races which went way beyond his love of carpentry and woodworking.

His long standing love of his military service tied to a strong reticence to ever speak of what he did in World War Two made Honor Flight a pivotal player at the end of his life.  Honor Flight transformed him. It made his final year more comfortable and more meaningful and the Maine Veterans Home where he resided both amplified and honored that message with their very personal care for each individual within their dominion.  Thank you Maine Honor Flight for what you do and for allowing Ray to go out as an honorary Navy Chief.

As we approach the holiday season, we should all take a moment and linger on the small things that too often are taken for granted. Smile, be kind to strangers, play nicely with others. Be slow to anger and fast to forgive. Be present in real life. Know that a caring heart is important and appreciated more than most people acknowledge. The dangers of extreme positions and failure to collaborate or truly listen to others are well known. Old and New media promote it every day.

Better to build community and to support a diverse range of friendships. Leave a legacy as they did – where their memory is a blessing to all who were lucky enough to have known them.

To your good health and the New Year.

B&M in Memoriam screen capture

Donations to honor their memory can be made here if you are so inclined:

Honor Flight Maine

Topsham Public Library

Boston & Maine – 7th Anniversary Brunswick Downeaster – Travel is fatal to prejudice

photo by Keieth Spiro of Maine Senator Angus King & TRNE founder Wayne Davis

Wayne Davis TrainRidersNE & Angus King Nov 1 2012 Inaugural Run

Seven years ago this month, I rode the inaugural train (November 1, 2012) out of Brunswick with former Governor Angus King and Pan Am President David Fink.  I had been commuting out of Exeter NH and Portland Maine on any given weekday but now I was able to roll out of bed onto a train in Brunswick and travel to my job in Boston. I became the first monthly pass-holder from Brunswick which enabled me to get on and off anywhere along the route. Five days later, Angus was elected Senator and shortly thereafter I began writing this Boston & Maine Connecction column during my commute.  With WiFi, a café car and generous seating, the train had become my De facto office.  WiFi and eticketing for all of Amtrak began on the Downeaster and my days were happily surrounded by creative, entrepreneurial types from NNEPRA to the startups I worked with in my Chief Marketing Officer job in Cambridge MA.

Seven years later, the Downeaster has the best customer satisfaction numbers in the Amtrak system. I’ve been known to get on and off in Haverhill MA and Freeport Maine or play in Old Orchard Beach without worrying about parking or traffic and there’s a caring community of engineers, conductors and train hosts from TrainRiders/Northeast that keep the ride safe and enjoyable. These folks along with NNEPRA, led by the very adept Patricia Quinn, enable continually high scores in customer experience. The ability to commute to work by train between Portland and Brunswick is a reality and NNEPRA’s recent open house explored a service expansion that could create a morning inbound rail commute to Portland and Brunswick from Wells. At a time when climate change and carbon footprint rank high in the news, there are several levels of pleasure to be gained from looking out the train window along 295 or 95 while speeding along by rail.

It was Angus King who rightly declared that when the Downeaster pulled out of the station, it turned into a long skinny Maine town. I’ve heard more stories and met more people who’ve connected in some way while freely moving about in the train or while sitting in the café.  There’s no middle seat causing armrest warfare nor seatbacks, so-in-your-face, that you feel like you’re flying in an overstuffed sardine can in the sky.

WB&M 20190920_David N Schaaf_©KeithSpiroPhotoith the civility of rail travel, you can take the time to meet fellow passengers or have the luxury of personal space to get work done while in transit. On a recent journey, I met up in Boston’s South Station with a couple who had come in from Chicago on Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited. We ended up sharing a meal on the Florida bound Silver Meteor as these folks were on their way to Jacksonville. One mention of Maine and we were soon talking about David Schaaf’s Navy service on the Bath built USS Robert Wilson (DD-847). A post World War Two Gearing Class Destroyer that was later assigned the abort station for the first unmanned Apollo space shot and then as prime recovery ship for the Gemini 9 space mission.

These are the stories that come out of person to person – In Real Life – encounters on rail travel. Over the years, I have shifted my business to be able to leverage the networking power and the eco-friendly transit that rail travel affords. Don’t fall for the “railroad subsidy” vs. highway “investment” language that incorrectly identifies automobiles and trucks as the eco-transportation mode. The trains I travel on are often filled to capacity – taking hundreds of cars off the road for any given trip. Our human need for connection gains the added benefit of random meetups and life changing opportunities.

That Boston and Maine travel Connection?  Mark Twain described its value long ago:

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

So get out there and be among the people. You might just find a little more joy in the world.

It Can Only Happen in an Open Community

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When biotech companies gather, good things happen. Especially with disarmingly easy looking lawn games.

It Can Only Happen in an Open Community

The FRAXA Biotech Games exploded onto Cambridge Crossing with a capacity crowd. What was immediately obvious was the genuine camaraderie and mutual support of the biotech community and its many vendors to help raise awareness of and funds for research on Fragile X, the most common inherited cause of autism.

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FRAXA seemed to rise in community consciousness almost overnight but the reality was it was hard work. FRAXA Biotech Games founder Dave Bjork said, “Three years ago I had this crazy idea that I would organize an event in Boston that would bring together the Boston biotech community to network in a friendly setting, form new relationships and potential collaborations, while raising money for research in Boston area labs. I found several people who shared my vision.”

I was one of those dozen or so people who helped guide this exciting event to life. The first year we struggled to get 30 teams onto the oval at MIT, but we raised $30,000. This year more than 96 teams were vying for the 64 places in the competition and we delivered $80,000 which will benefit the Mark Bear lab and the Jeanne Lee lab, both of which do Fragile X research. More importantly, we raised a wider circle of awareness and action.

Why should you care? Time and money put into research today will help deliver health solutions a decade or more from now, perhaps when you yourself might most need it. The people who gathered at Cambridge Crossing recognized that today’s cures and treatments for some of the scariest diseases came about only after decades of investment of time and money. Investments made by our parents’ generation helps us today.

 With Fragile X, it’s just a single gene on the X chromosome that shuts down, but even with that knowledge and precise research focus, a resolution has not been found. Resolving Fragile X is likely to help people affected by autism, Alzheimer’s, and other brain disorders, but it will take financial investment and years of recurring support and patience.

 Community activation and focus led to this success with something as simple as backyard lawn games. The leadership team reached beyond the obvious borders of “only people affected by this disease” to create an anchoring event in which most anyone who heard about it could visualize themselves as a stakeholder or a player. The rewards of this approach were visible in the weeks leading up to the event and continue even now.

 At the outset, two participating companies, Synlogic and Ginko Bioworks, raised the stakes with their social media challenge and banter. Bob Socci, the radio voice of the New England Patriots, added gravitas in his on-field interviews. Not many in this particular cohort had met before the event but the location and the community opportunity made it all work.

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Mark Roopenian, Managing Director at DivcoWest, in his words of welcome touched upon this key point in the success of the FRAXA Biotech Games and indeed in the growing success of Cambridge Crossing itself. Diversity, access, an open community. I arrived & departed via The Downeaster, Amtrak train. The Green line is right there. The FRAXA Biotech Games at Cambridge Crossing was both a celebration of work accomplished while also being the touchstone acknowledgement that we are all in this together and important work (like finding cures for disease) needs recognition and cheerleading from the community.

 In the bigger picture, this concept of an outwardly welcoming cluster has powerful implications for the success of non-profits, small towns, and specialized real estate developments within larger cities.

How fitting that, of all the teams assembled, it was Synlogic and Ginkgo Bioworks that “fought it out” in the finals with Synlogic taking home the bragging rights and trophy to proudly display through the next twelve months. I already sense that the good feelings of empowerment and cooperation will continue to pay benefits all year long as teams and organizations are already plotting strategy for the 2020 Games.

If you’d like to be part of this – we are already recruiting for next year’s lead sponsors and volunteers. Game signups will be available in the spring. Stay informed by signing up here.

expanded from the original article published in the October 2019 CRYER with a readership of nearly 100,000 from Brunswick Maine to North Station Boston.

Essences – A unique PhotoPoem Exhibit by Akiba & Maryam Mermey

Essences exhibit photos & story by Keith SpiroI had the unique privilege of documenting ESSENCES – A PhotoPoem collaboration between Akiba and Maryam Mermey which is on display at Cundy’s Harbor Library through Labor Day 2019. It’s an exquisite combination of poetry and photos that grew out of their desire to collaborate and effect change via The Transformative Arts. Dr. Maryam Mermey, is a registered Expressive Arts Therapist, holds a Ph.D. in Arts, Health and Society and also has an M.A. in Counseling Psychology, a M.Ed. in Arts in Education, and a B.A. in Dance and Poetry.  I met her through her husband,  Transformative Arts Program Director, Akiba Mermey.

Akiba and I share in a weekly practice of Tai Chi and for over a year I have been previewing some amazing photos of birds that only he can capture. He has a magical way of connecting with these graceful creatures and they somehow pose for him, often in mid-flight. All three of us all strongly believe in the power of art to create change, raise awareness and transform into action. While my focus is business- art – technology, theirs has been centered on healing and transformation. Their show, Essences, is filled with images from nature and words that bind one human to another and to nature itself.

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Akiba and Maryam share an incredibly strong connection that in their presence you immediately feel

Most importantly, their message and their invitation is- to – you, the viewer,  to take action – to create something individually important to you.  They invite you to create some piece of art – be it writing, photos, drawings, dance or music and share it with the world.

I’ll start here with this photo of them in action. Click here to see their short video describing their intent.CundysPhotoPoem_DSC0381wC_©KeithSpiroPhoto

 

 

 

Two mountains, Two mountaineers, One Extraordinary Moment

Two mountains, Two mountaineers, One Extraordinary Moment. Dan Szczesny and Ed Webster.

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Here in Maine, we all know Ed Webster who got his start climbing trees in Lexington Massachusetts. His lifelong love of rarified views from the top includes 7 Himalayan expeditions 3 of them on Mt. Everest. It was his 1988 ascent of Everest for which he is best known in the climbing community and beyond. Long before the world began to examine the ethics of large heavily equipped climbing expeditions Sherpa guides and bottled oxygen, Ed and three others did the unusual. They formed a small climbing group and sought out a new route to the top without use of radios or local guides. Their expedition is recounted in Ed’s book, Snow in the Kingdom, My storm years on Everest. These days Ed shares his love of climbing with the next generation of climbers through his programs and lectures at schools and libraries from his home base of Topsham and Harpswell Maine. I met him years ago at his lecture and book signing at the Topsham Library. He’s one of America’s best known mountaineers.

That very same Topsham library recently hosted Dan Szczesny in the first Maine stop of The White Mountain book tour for one of America’s best known mountains, Mount Washington in New Hampshire. Dan’s book, The White Mountain: Rediscovering Mount Washington’s Hidden Culture began as a concept focused on the mountain but it expanded rapidly as he allowed the quest to be shaped by the many people personally touched by the mountain. The journalist/reporter side of Dan kicked in and the finished product presents an extraordinary cast of characters and their association with the mountain.

That they would meet each other face to face was inevitable. The two men share common paths as touring authors and lecturers with a strong desire to share the love of “their” respective mountain. And those two mountains couldn’t be more different. Everest, inaccessible to all but a few.  Mount Washington, accessible by foot, car, cog railway and snow coach in the dead of winter. World famous, the cog railway has been a tourist attraction since its 1800’s endorsement by then President Ulysses S Grant. Mount Everest has its own share of legendary stories.

While Ed Webster was celebrating the 30th anniversary of his Everest climb, Dan Szczesny was on his way to celebrating the 3rd printing of his book. And so, when I saw Ed heading over to Dan’s table after the talk, I knew we were about to experience one extraordinary moment in Southern Midcoast Maine.

Ed Webster & Dan Szczesny at LL Bean photo by Keith Spiro

two mountaineers

Dan Szczesny & Ed Webster signing each other's book. photo by Keith Spiro

one extraordinary moment – as each inscribes their book for the other.

This article was originally published in the May 2019 edition of The Cryer.

Winning at Facebook

banner B&M winning at facebookThe White Mountain came to town in the shape of Dan Szczesny’s winter book tour. I’ve seen many different attempts at doing business on Facebook and we’ve all seen those noxious notes that “others have boosted ads like this” and heard the many negative comments ranging from naivety to manipulation when it comes to Facebook. Who hasn’t seen those awkward desperate pitches trying to grow followers. Well, imagine instead, building a community of real connections and not spending money “boosting ads.” How about not even creating or spending money on ads? This is not about instant success but rather allowing the right audience to build and follow your every activity that is relevant to your project. With Dan, this has been a multi-year build up, from the concept, to the writing, to the launch phase of his book. What started out as “365 days of Mischief & Adventure on Mt. Washington with author @danjszczesny” turned into “The White Mountain: Rediscovering Mount Washington’s Hidden Culture” by Dan Szczesny published by Hobblebush Books.

“Over the course of one calendar year, journalist Dan Szczesny explored the history and mystique of New England’s tallest mountain and found” … a whole lot more than just a 6,288 foot tall rock pile;  With video and daily missives he built a team of cheerleaders & advocates for his book, making all of us part of the fabric of this story. What started out as an exploration of a mountain quickly became a focus on the people and stories connected to the mountain.  In connecting via Facebook and in real life, Dan created champions across a widely dispersed geographic area. The book tour had all of us cheering him on no matter where in the world you resided and Facebook was the platform he used to maintain his human to human connection.

photo of Dan Szczesny at LL Bean by Keith Spiro

A full house turned out at LL Bean’s Discovery School event for Dan

For Dan, the power of Facebook was the power of a few to share the message of stories in the making with a few more people, ultimately linking many friends of friends who chose to follow and sometimes guide Dan to another part of this adventure.  His ability to practice his writing craft daily as he shared snippets of his life as husband, father and author/explorer, as a person and not as a page, has been central to his success. His influence as a writer and storyteller grew as one real connection after another joined in.  The amazing part of all of this was the rather easy opportunities to meet some of the real live characters whose stories appeared in the book. They appeared in person at talks and book signings along the way. Dan shared thoughts, short stories and musings during his work in progress and the stories and opportunities for more stories continued to grow.

In 2016, I signed on to be a sponsor and cheerleader for Dan’s as yet unnamed new work; a book about Mount Washington. The first edition was released at a launch party at Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord New Hampshire in June 2018. The book is now in its third printing which would be unheard of for relatively new author and a small label using just traditional publishing practices. Dan’s experience as a journalist with his good eye and ear for special moments allowed him to become a participant or supporter himself within each intimate story in real time. Weaving history, legacy and current events, he created The White Mountain and continues to help us all rediscover the hidden culture surrounding Mount Washington.

How to win business at Facebook:

  1. Make your posts interesting to your readers (it’s not all about you)
  2. Be consistent; in your style, in your storytelling, in your frequency of posting
  3. Think like Ted Rubin – it’s all about people – Return on Relationship (#RonR)

Therefore:

  1. Be human – being a brand doesn’t cut it – you need a face – and not necessarily your own
  2. Interact with your audience- and yes – we  are an audience looking for entertainment
  3. Get out there and meet folks In Real Life – Facebook isn’t real – it’s just a tool.

Then and Now

Boston and Maine Connection – Then and Now

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Then and Now is both the title of the Topsham Library’s recent show of work by six Maine fiber artists as well as the title of this installment of the B&M Connection.

photo of Connie Bailey & Natasha Kempers-Cullen

Topsham Library gallery coordinator Connie Bailey with Natasha Kempers-Cullen

The show at the library’s Crooker Gallery was curated by Natasha Kempers- Cullen.  This was the first time founding volunteer gallery coordinator Connie Bailey, selected an artist to both exhibit and curate the entire show.  Being a founding member, partner or entrepreneur usually comes with a strong vision and sometimes difficult choice between “doing it your own way” and opening up to encompass the ideas and direction of others.  I congratulate the Topsham Library and Connie for the long term vision and implementation of programming and the confidence to grow and experiment – as every great entrepreneurial endeavor must – in order to stay fresh and relevant.

Kempers-Cullen, brought together Susan Mills, Arlene Morris, Kathleen Bird, Kirsti Sandoy and Jill Vendituoli and encouraged each artist to explore and display their own early works and more recent pieces.  Their show bios are an interesting discussion of motivation and growth in their medium of choice. From Jill Vendituoli’s  observation that “the needle has long been a part of a woman’s work” and “escape from the mundane activities of daily life” to Arlene Morris’ willingness to following art where it takes you “trusting you shall discover something” each artist had a strong statement of worth, of exploration and the fearlessness of an entrepreneur to just put it out there for the world to see.

These thoughts fit well in keeping with my long standing business theme that Art Makes a Difference. Art humanizes business. It can often simplify a message and get straight to your soul.  It is the modern marketing equivalent of “a call to action” just more deeply satisfying.  In fact, with art, you don’t have to try to rise above the noise. You and your most important messages and endeavors can be found in a more friendly way; more human; less technological.

Implementation is the most important and powerful force for the success of any enterprise. I have consciously chosen to submit my photography to the Cryer because Charles Crosby is driven by his need for ever improving representation – of images – of stories – that make a difference to community.  Then, way back in 1985, it started as a small one town newsy update. Color was like most other papers haphazard and sometimes muddled. Now, it has become a monthly compendium of activities and events in the Southern Maine Midcoast but the drive for better color, better centering of images and layout is what helps make it a success.

The Cryer champions high quality production from their vendor. This high standard supports the artist and showcases art in its best possible light.  They have given over much space to telling community stories and by direct mailing much of the print run, they insure the stories are seen heard and acted upon rather than leaving it to a chance pick up from the overflowing stacks.

The same attention to community can be said of Jim Howard’s Priority Real Estate Group.  Over the years, if you’ve been involved with non-profits, you’ve seen the generosity of PREG in its cash donations to area non-profits. Their long term community development  philosophy matches their business development philosophy.  They listen to the community, take action and give back to insure the least provided for, the hungry, the lonely, or homeless are watched out for and helped.

photo of people interacting and touching fiber art

We humans gravitate toward the tactile and the physical connection with others

This is a time of great change in how people get information, gather together in community and communicate with one another.  But despite all the technological advancements, most of us do best when we feel part of a community. The best businesses are those that recognize and honor these connections.

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