Someone once said no great storyteller ever calls themselves a storyteller. I'm not sure if that's true, but does it then follow that no story is called a story?
Whatever you call them, I hope the words and pictures on this page bring you something new. Have a scroll and a laugh. And when you're done, check out some paintings.
“Here, let me get that for you,” the guy in the WeWork office across from us reaches for the door.
“No, no, it’s ok,” I adjust my posture from awkward to extremely awkward. “I got it.”
“Are you sure?” He looks at the bright yellow IKEA cube I’m holding and then at me. Does he think I’m getting fired? I’m not. He should know I’m not.
I meet his gaze, hoping he’ll see the strength I’m trying to project. “Actually, thanks. I’d appreciate it.” I smile my best power smile and do my best to stand in a power pose despite the IKEA cube weighing me down.
He holds the door open and I shuffle through. He follows.
We wait silently for the elevator. The one that always took a million years—today it took 2 million. We look at each other. We look at the elevator button. We look at my IKEA cube. Why is this thing so yellow?
Finally, the elevator comes and we step inside. He’s looking at his phone. I’m looking at my cube. Or rather the plant inside my cube. I hope you make it, little guy, I say in my head.
The silence in the elevator is thick. The jumbled words in my head are too. “I’m not getting fired,” I blurt. “It’s just...my startup isn’t going to make it.”
His gaze barely breaks from his phone. He smiles a halfhearted smile, but doesn’t say anything. “I swear I’m not getting fired.” Why would you say that? I think. Now it’s awkward. He didn’t care! It’s not your startup! You just work there.
But it was. It is. Is it? I think back to the very first day. “Derek,” I asked the CEO, “Why did you hire me?” In hindsight, not a great first day question.
“You have the spirit of a builder.”
What does it even mean: the spirit of a builder? But what else could he say? He didn’t want me to be discouraged by the fact that I had exactly about 2% of the experience required to do the job.
The elevator doors slide open and I step into the spacious hallway one last time. Who can afford a space like this in San Francisco anyway? My ex-office-neighbor pushes past me and scurries out the front door, probably wanting to avoid any more untimely outbursts. I follow slower than the pace of an iPhone Slow-mo video. How long can I make this moment last? But the plant. I have to get the plant home safe.
The spirit of a builder. The words echo in my head as I drag my feet down the sidewalk, clutching the IKEA cube so tight that even the atoms in the fabric can’t move. What a line! My mind wanders back and forward through time, searching for a meaning.
“Lazar!” I give my frentor a giant hug.
“I got the job!”
“And you were so worried. You’re always so worried.” He smirks.
“Things don’t always work out, you know.”
“Ok, let’s just look at this situation.” Oh boy, here we go. He pulls out finger after finger, his matter-of-fact tone almost snarkier than the smirk. “You get to go to Paris, you’re free of a job you hated, and you already have a new one lined up for when you get back. Tell me again what didn’t work out?”
“Fiiiinnnneee,” I grin. “Maybe this time it worked out.”
“It always works out in the end.”
“But what if it doesn’t? What if I’m making a mistake taking this job? I don’t know anything about SaaS. I barely know what the word means.”
His smirk widens. “Well, Google is your friend.”
“What if I’m not really a startup person?”
“You are, Mekkie. Without a doubt.” That guy—he never had any doubts. Me? I was always full of them.
“Stop! Just enjoy the win on this one. You are a startup person.”
“How do you know? What makes someone a startup person?”
The spirit of a builder. I’ve somehow made it to the bus stop and onto the bus. Ah, the 38 bus. The one where someone lit my hair on fire trying to put their cigarette out on the windowsill behind me. Serves me right, I suppose. I should have been paying attention instead of working. Who works on the bus anyway? I guess you can if you’re employed at Google and have a fancy Google bus with wifi and pee-free seats. Maybe that’s the way to go.
“What am I going to do?” I roll the dice and pick my card. Even a night of board games can’t distract me these days.
“You’ll figure it out,” Will says, taking his turn. “We’ll have study time. And maybe you can get a job at Google? Want me to refer you?”
“Ha,” I choke back a tear. “Google would never hire me.”
“Why do you always say that?”
Why do I always say that? “We can’t all be engineers, dude.”
“You know, Google hires designers too.”
“Yeah, but I’m not a real designer.”
He rolls his eyes.
I roll the dice. Snake eyes. Just my luck, can’t buy any cards with snake eyes. I sigh. “I just want so badly to be a part of something, you know? I just wanna make something. Have something that feels like it’s mine.”
“Why can’t I let go of this?”
“It’s not your fault, Mekkie. You did everything you could.”
“So I’m just supposed to believe that I wasn’t good enough?”
“No!” He rolls and picks a card. “It wasn’t your company and it wasn’t your job to save it.”
“It felt like it was.” He had so many points. "I’m going to lose, I just know it.”
“You’re not—and since when do you care if you win or lose?”
“I always lose. I’m such a loser. I—”
The air fills with silence. Yes, you need to stop Mekkie. “I’m sorry, I know I’m not a lot of fun right now. I just don’t know what to do anymore.”
More silence. More rolling and card drawing. Finally, a breath. “You know,” he says, taking a sip of his whiskey. “I’m a little jealous of you.”
“It’s not that—” Wait, what did he say!? “What did you say?”
“Yeah, I’m a little jealous of you,” his eyes widen as if he was seeing a dream through me. “You care so much. It must be nice to have something you’re so passionate about.”
“Ha. Sure. Yeah, that’s one way to think about it.”
The spirit of a builder. I cling to my yellow IKEA cube as the bus turns a sharp corner. The plant leaves quiver a little, catching a stray ray of afternoon sunlight from the window. Does this plant need a lot of light? What was I thinking bringing this thing home? How am I going to keep it alive—I don't even know how much light it needs! I push thoughts of plant death away with thoughts of the office. The one without the windows.
“Every time I walk in here, you’re sitting in the dark.”
“It’s better for the planet.”
“Like a vampire.”
“And these fluorescent lights are just so depressing.”
“You are the only person that thinks dark is a better alternative.” Derek flips the lights on and I cringe as the room fills with hospital-grade lighting and my gut fills with hospital-grade ick.
"Maybe I am a vampire. That would explain a lot.”
Derek rolls his eyes. “Well, we only have this office for another week, so you’ll have to do your vampiring from home.”
The ick turns to nausea. “Yeah,” I sigh, “what then?”
“What do you mean ‘what then?’ We can meet at the Danube if we need to.”
“Right, the Danube. The coffee shop. Right.” There is a prolonged silence during which time I jiggle my mouse back and forth. A sharp breath. “But what then?”
Derek sighs, tossing me a moving box. “Do you want any of these plants?”
I drop the box on the floor and grab the bright yellow IKEA cube that’s been stashed under my desk for months. “I’ll take this one.” I carefully pick up the plant on my desk and carefully lower it into the cube and carefully place the cube on the floor and carefully scoot my chair away in little jerking motions.
“It’s not a baby, Mekkie.”
“Of course not,” I glance back at the cube. “Also, it has a name, you know.”
Derek raises an eyebrow. "Yes?"
“I didn't say I knew what it was yet."
The spirit of a builder. I’ve made it to my stop. Shockingly, no one has pushed me out the door yet. Or rather pushed past me to get out the door. I take my sweet time getting off the bus today. There’s no rush. Why rush? What am I rushing to?
When I make it to my apartment with this plant that I possess and this disenchantment that possesses me, will I be a different person? A failed startup person. The thought punctuates my mind as I step off the bus. A person who worked at a startup that failed. Yes, the latter will make a much better interview story.
I walk the few blocks to my apartment. The plant walks them with me, its leaves rustling in the wind. Somehow, I manage to make it up three flights of stairs without tripping, dropping the box, or having one of countless other possible clumsy moments that my friends have (affectionately?) dubbed “Mekkie moments.”
Immediately, my cat meows. I step over him, meowing back, and head straight for the kitchen. I have to get the plant to safety. Refill its water dish. Sing to it, maybe? “You did it, little—” I pause, "Builder..."
The word drops, hitting the plant's leaves, which rustle in agreement. "You like it, huh?" I breathe a sigh of relief at Builder sitting in the afternoon light, cheery and green. “You made it!”
And I will too.
I’ll make something of my very own.
Thirty years ago, a little boy running through the streets of downtown Mexico was fascinated by a man painting pictures with aerosol cans. Now, in the heart of bustling Harvard Square, that same little boy spends his days (and nights) selecting just the right bottle of spray paint to empty over his latest surreal masterpiece.
He works quickly, grabbing can after can in a wild frenzy to finish before the images escape him. A bead of sweat drips down his unshaven face onto his paint stained T-shirt, but he’s so engrossed in his world of fantasy that he doesn’t even notice the heat that has made the people around him dizzy. In a matter of minutes, he has created a picture from white nothingness. He holds it up for the crowd to see and spots a mesmerized child staring at it with forlorn eyes.
“How much?” the child’s parents ask hesitantly. The artist waves his hand at them and smiling, hands his creation to the delighted child still staring in awe.
He works quickly, grabbing can after can in a wild frenzy to finish before the images escape him.
Antonio Maycott, now in his early forties, never expected that he would spend his days painting elaborate designs on everything from paper to people’s motorcycles, refrigerators, helmets, cars and walls, but that is exactly what he does. Having lived in Mexico and worked in Japan, New York and Miami before coming to Cambridge, Maycott’s background is almost as colorful as his pictures and his personality is equally as vibrant. Every day from noon until eleven, Maycott shares his culture and his art with the people of Cambridge, rendering them flabbergasted by his talent and touched by his kindness.
“He’s such a nice person,” Cambridge resident Kathy Kottaridis said. “Even when he’s busy painting, he’ll always stop and talk to the kids crowded around him.
”However, Maycott’s compassion extends far past the occasional friendly conversation. “I remember when I went to San Francisco on my birthday and decided to work,” he said. “Business wasn’t very good because it wasn’t the weekend so I decided to give a lot of my pictures away because I have so many and it was my birthday. I wanted to celebrate and seeing the people I made happy made me feel happy too.”
But bringing joy to people isn’t all that allows Maycott to take pleasure in his work. “What I do is so interesting,” he said. “I’ll repeat designs sometimes, but it’s not as exciting.”
"Tony always thinks of something new to do with his art,” fellow street artist Joanna He said. “I’m always glad to get to know the art of other countries and Tony’s designs really represent a rich culture and a vivid imagination."
It’s not all imagination, though, as much of the artist’s inspiration comes from observation. “When I was a kid, I loved to watch science fiction movies and, even now, I look at science fiction magazines and paintings for inspiration. It’s easier to come up with designs now than when I first started, but it’s still hard to get into the right mood sometimes. That’s why I play my music.”
“I want to learn how to paint like my dad someday!"
Although Maycott thinks of the Latino rock and pop he listens to as a relaxation tool, others around the Square don’t find it as enjoyable. “Every day when I walk by, he’s playing his music,” Cambridge resident John Sandoval said. “It makes it difficult to have a conversation.”
Sandoval isn’t the only one that struggles to have conversations. After painting in the Square, buying supplies, cutting designs and doing housework, Maycott relishes the few conversations he gets to have with his two sons—Kevin, 5, and Jason, 10—who live with him instead of his ex-wife. “Families in Mexico are closer because most people have more free time,” he said. “They work for eight hours and then relax. But they don’t have the same opportunity I do: if I work hard, I know I can succeed.”
The artist’s job certainly isn’t lacking in hard work, but he didn’t always define what he does now as “work”. Like many little boys, Maycott wanted to join the military and fight to defend his country, but after moving to Tokyo, he took up work as a waiter to support himself and his family. “One day, while I was working, I saw a man making good money by painting on the street,” he said.
It was then that Maycott decided to turn his hobby into a career. “Hey, I want to do that too, I thought to myself, because then I’ll be able to make money too. After that, I practiced the art a lot harder, not just for fun anymore, but because I knew it would take me far. I think that’s why most people come to America: they’re looking for a better life.”
In the artist’s case, however, money and the promise of a better life weren’t the only reasons driving his move to Cambridge. After working in Japan for awhile, he began to miss home, but his ex-wife wanted to come to America. “I would still love to go back to my country someday, but my kids are Americans and they don’t speak Spanish. I don’t have much freedom to travel either since they’re living with me right now, but I love them and they’re fascinated with my work.”
“I want to learn how to paint like my dad someday,” Maycott’s ten year old son, Jason, said. But according to Maycott, Jason is still too young to work with the toxic paints.
Although he cannot travel the world just yet, the artist takes pleasure in local diversity. “I like how Cambridge is so international,” he said. “I have the opportunity to learn a different language – English – and I appreciate the freedom to express my art. But the best part of my work is getting to know people. I’ve made a lot of little friends, and some of the kids even come back to see me when they visit the square.”
A few years ago, I had to determine what snack food I was most like as part of an icebreaker for a creative conference. After much rumination and several snarky responses from my friends (“Bitter like grapefruit”? Ouch!), I decided I needed to take a break and watch a movie or two—maybe reconsider some of my social circle.
Time was dwindling before registration was due and all I could do was watch TV and eat popcorn. Popcorn…popcorn—oh my gosh, popcorn! It’s light; it’s bold; it assimilates easily to its surroundings while maintaining its essence. I ran to my computer and completed the registration. Creative inspiration and industry networking, here I come!
The following week, while I was mingling at the conference, someone caught a glimpse of my badge where the icebreaker answers were listed.
“Do you really eat that much popcorn?” he said.
“What?” I had forgotten the trials of the previous week and the Great Snack Food Personality Conundrum.
“Your favorite snack food.” He pointed at my badge.
“Oh, that! I thought we were supposed to say what snack food we're like.”
He gave me a blank stare. "Popcorn?"
I smiled. “I blossom under pressure.”
He rolled his eyes, laughed and sent me a LinkedIn connection. Mission accomplished.
January 1st, 8 a.m.
Time to weigh in. I roll out of bed, still reeling from last night’s chocolate coma. There will be no hiding from the scale’s all too accurate, electronic machinery. It blinks. Then drops the numbers like an avalanche of chocolate-covered guilt.
The phone rings, shocking me out of my stupor. It’s my chocolate-loving compadre, Melissa.
“How bad?” I give her the number and she gasps.
“That’s worse than last time!”
“Definitely. Fifty bucks says I can lose more than you in a month.”
“You’re on!” The exuberance in her voice lifts me from the suffocating blubber lodged comfortably on my derrière. “But you better act quick—I’m already stocked up for healthy eating.”
Healthy eating. Psh. Those 50 bucks are as good as mine.
I decide to start with the magically detoxifying Master Cleanse, which boasts a 10-pound loss per week using nothing more than lemons, maple syrup and cayenne pepper.
I’m skeptical at best, but the site declared the diet “Beyonce-tested and approved”. I’m almost positive questioning the pop diva’s verdict would cross a line no mortal should tread.
I pull out my cauldron and begin to brew. Lemon juice, maple syrup and a spoonful of cayenne (the more you add, the more you lose). I take my first sip. My stomach lets out a yelp as the potion incinerates my colon. But I’m sure it’ll get easier.
Day two and my stomach isn’t the only thing spinning. They should really put a disclaimer on this diet: Warning, may cause dizziness. Do not drive or operate heavy machinery. Maybe I just need a little break—just a few days off…
The metaphorical “wagon” is hidden behind a week-long waterfall of Gobstoppers, chocolate chips and an extra two pounds. I try finding shelter in self-control, but to no avail. Enough is enough—it’s time for an umbrella—and a new diet.
I wander the store’s aisles like a lost soul in search of my messiah. And there it is—like a ray of hope banishing all despair—the cookie diet. I swear I can hear angels sing as I read the regimen.
“Wash away unwanted pounds by simply replacing one meal a day with two delicious, mouth-watering, chocolate chip-crammed cookies. This is the one diet anyone can follow.”
I grab the box off the shelf, giddy with the thought of the cookie-filled meals to come. I run to the checkout, pummeling any person that dares to stand between me and my glorious weight loss.
Even the WWE Superstars would be jealous of my impressive stride.
Barely in the door, I rip the box open. So desperate am I to begin my journey that I must remind myself the plastic surrounding each cookie is about as edible as week one’s lemonade.
I take my first bite—delicious. I take my second—decadent. I take my—ouch! I have just bitten into the fragile cuticle of my index finger.
My stomach growls like a pissed-off cat being introduced to another. How do they expect me to subsist on just one of these?! I’m not a rodent, you know—girl’s gotta have her chocolate.
The month’s almost over and I’m becoming increasingly desperate. The extra two pounds sit on my bloated belly like an overstuffed burger sits on a tiny bun. I need some proven science.
I settle on the recently FDA-approved, fat-blocking diet pill, trusting that the government wouldn’t approve something that didn’t work. And, at 50 bucks a bottle, it better work.
I can’t wait to see the look of defeat on Melissa’s face when she learns I won by just taking a pill with every meal. Healthy eating—psh. We’ll just see about that.
February 1st, 8 a.m.
The big day.
Standing barefoot in my bathroom, I can almost hear Biggest Loser weigh-day music in the background. Melissa volunteers to go first—two pounds! I congratulate her, secretly rejoicing at my upcoming victory.
My turn. My blood pressure spikes like the puck on a carnival high striker game. Melissa looks over my shoulder. What?! The numbers blink even higher than last month!
Stupid, demonic, heart-colored arrow will probably never go south.
Speaking of hearts, how much longer till the chocolate ones come around?
If you’ve ever bopped along to a good tune or danced the night away, you know how powerful the sound of music can be. So how do you solve a problem like aging? Well, it’s much easier than holding a moonbeam in your hands.
Modern senior technology has made it easier than ever to medicate your mind with melody. Follow these three tips to release your inner Von Trapp Family Singers and get in touch with the sound of music.
Learn to “Do-Re-Mi”
In the timeless musical, The Sound of Music, Fraulein Maria sings “Do-Re’Mi” to teach the Von Trapp children the notes of the major scale. The children had grown up in a house without music. What a shame!
Singing stimulates the immune system and decreases stress hormones. It also improves cardiovascular function while calming the central nervous system. Some think music might even be as effective as medication in reducing the symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s. By teaching the children how to sing, Maria not only raised their spirits, but also changed their lives.
Enter the groundbreaking app SingFit app for iTunes. The SingFit musical experience can help seniors reduce the effects of cognitive disease. SingFit is great for individuals, small groups, or large gatherings in senior facilities. Seniors can sing and record their favorite hits. The built in lyrics engine prompts the correct song lyrics at the right time. This helps seniors with dementia to join in the singing experience.
Like the SingFit, the Singtrix karaoke machine helps seniors “climb every mountain.” Singtrix is the next generation of karaoke machine. It transforms your home into a studio and your senior into a star. The Singtrix was recently featured on The ABC daytime television program The View.
Remember: When you know the notes to sing, you can sing most anything.
Enjoy a few of my favorite things
Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens may do it for Maria. But, maybe bright copper kettles aren’t your thing. Finding your favorite musical thing may be the key to healthy aging for seniors.
A 2013 McGill University study found that emotionally significant was key to healthy aging. Significant music stimulates the release of dopamine, a brain neurotransmitter. The Alzheimer’s Association suggests this may maintain or improve senior brain function. In fact, a New York based nonprofit Music and Memory gives seniors iPods so they can listen to their favorite songs.
Seek out a few favorite things in your senior’s life. Just about every song you can imagine is available in the iTunes store, Amazon Market, or Google Play. Provide your senior with an iPod and help keep her sharp.
Music is great when the dog bites, when the bee stings, or you’re feeling sad. Simply, remember the power of the sound of music and then you won’t feel so bad.
Don’t be “The Lonely Goatherd”
At the musical’s climax, Captain Von Trapp strides out to the stage. He sings Edelweiss, a sad goodbye to his beloved homeland of Austria. His emotions overcome him; his voice breaks. The entire Von Trapp family joins him on stage to bolster him. Soon, the audience joins in and the collected voices build to a memorable crescendo.
Music means you never need to be alone. And that’s a good thing according to The National Institute on Aging. Studies suggest social seniors are less likely to develop age-related mental problems. As an added benefit, social seniors live longer. Socializing prevents a feeling isolated and leads to better quality of life.
Sing! Karaoke by Smule helps tech savvy musical seniors join a chorus around the world. Choose a song and sing along. You can go solo or join your voice to new friends anywhere.
Seniors don’t even need to lean in to get the benefit of music. Some research shows that passive consumption can also help the neural map. Seniors can enjoy websites or apps like Vevo, Spotify, or Pandora. Most have free advertising supported services or you can pay to remove advertisements. ZenVibe is an app designed to provide music designed to help listeners distress and meditate. You can personalize your session according to the level of nirvana you desire.
But, there’s more to music than just singing. According to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America, practicing musical instruments can have therapeutic effects. Music practice helps seniors reap brain rewards while not overburdening cognitive functioning. Certain instruments like the clarinet or keyboard are great for both adult learners and the experienced hand. Remote music lessons make it easy for even homebound seniors via skype or ichat.