I’m So Glad You’re Here is the story of a family disrupted by a father’s mental illness. The memoir opens with a riveting account of Gay, age eighteen, witnessing her father being bound in a straitjacket and carried out of the house on a stretcher. The trauma she experiences escalates when, after her father has had electroshock treatments at a state mental hospital, her parents leave her in a college dorm room and move from Massachusetts to Florida without her. Decades later, when Gay and her three much-older siblings show up for their father’s funeral, she witnesses her sundered family’s inability to gather together. Eventually, she is diagnosed with PTSD of abandonment and treated with EMDR therapy?and finally begins to heal. I’m So Glad You’re Here is Gay’s exploration of the wounds we carry from growing up in fractured families stay with us, they do not have to control us?a reflective journey that will inspire readers to think about their own relational lives. Drop In with us!
Pamela Gay is the recipient of a New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) award in creative nonfiction and an Independent eBook Award for her memoir Homecoming, which combined text, image, and sound. An installation based on this memoir and sponsored by the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) included artifacts. Gay’s writing has been published in Brevity, Iowa Review, Paterson Literary Review, Midway Journal, Monkeybicycle, Grey Sparrow, Vestal Review, and other literary journals, as well as two anthologies. Gay is a professor emerita at Binghamton University, State University of New York, where she taught courses in flash memoir and flash fiction. She lives in Upstate New York. Her memoir, I’m So Glad You’re Here is published by She Writes Press. See more at her website pamela-gay.com.Leave a comment for radio show guests
Have you ever stopped to think about yourself and your story? If someone were to write your memoir, what would it say? We all seek some level of authenticity, but have trouble removing the labels and finding our whole story. Welcome to Dropping In, with Diane Dewey. In this program, we’ll explore diverse stories on identity, to help determine what is truly yours. Now, here is your host, Diane Dewey.
Diane: Welcome to Dropping In, everyone. Today, we’ll begin with a question from our amazing guest Rick Stevenson, who said, “Personal storytelling helps us to make sense of past influences and future possibilities. It gives us perspectives on our lives and enables us to identify our own arcs, defining where we need to go. After all, how are we going to get where we want to go unless we know where that is.” It’s a mighty good question for our time, Rick and thank you, welcome to dropping in this morning.
Rick: Good morning from the West Coast.
Diane: Cool. Glad to have you. I know that your parents were teachers, and the value of education was an extraordinary priority in your upbringing, summed up by Thomas Jefferson, I thought this was so applicable. “Enlighten the people generally and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind were vanished like evil spirits at the dawn of day.” It’s like we’re taking back our power as individuals through this book and the book is called, 21 Things You Forgot About Being A Kid.
It’s published by Rick Stevenson, 5,000 Days Publisher, and it’s 152 pages of practical wisdom from stories of young people versus stories about young people. Rick, you are delving into the minds and hearts of young people through your interviews, and I want to really get to that about how your process works. For those of you that don’t know, Rick Stevenson, Dr. Rick Stevenson has produced Written and Directed 13 feature films in nearly 100 hours of television, is worked with Robert Redford, Hugh Grant, Christopher Plummer, Kiefer Sutherland, Meg Ryan, Patrick Dempsey, Jennifer Connelly, Mark Harmon, and many others.
So we’re really honored to have you with us. Rick is the founder of the 5000 days projects which involves 10,000 kids over six continents very fitting that Dropping In and Voice America internet talk radio is global. And he has pioneered the practice of personal story mentoring which helps kids capture and become authors of their own stories, the 5000daysproject.org. You can find it there. He is the author of two books including 21 Things You Forgot About Being Kids, or Being A Kid, based on his 5700 interviews with kids from 12 countries.
The kudos go on and on, but you also co-founded the film school with Tom Skerritt and Stuart Stern, and is the director of Prodigy Camp for the 20 most talented young filmmakers in the world. Rick Stevenson is one of our 40 awards for his work on film, television and commercials. The Ultra doctorate from Oxford University, a master’s from the London School of Economics, and a bachelor’s degree from Whitman.
Rick is married with four children of his own, www.rickstevenson.com, is his website. And Rick, just so glad to be with you, you’ve said that the beautiful thing about emotions, now that we’re getting right to these interviews that you conduct with kids. The beautiful thing about emotions is that despite how scary and discomforting they can be. They are actually vital clues to the greatest mystery, we will ever face. Who in the world am I?
Yet our emotional content and this is me, speaking now our emotional content is the thing we tried to hide. Can you speak to that challenge and how you unravel it in your interviews?
Rick: What’s so interesting, because I’ve discovered through these 5700 interviews that our emotions are the one thing that tell us the truth. And if you think about it. I mean, I have several interviews with kids where they’ll be sitting there 12 years old, and say I’m really happy and tears are streaming down their face. Yeah, my dad couldn’t make the game but I don’t care. Though the subtext is the truth, that our emotions are like divining rods to the truth. And so when we allow ourselves to feel them.
And when we seek to understand them, we get to the truth of ourselves. Instead of being controlled by all of these using feelings and feelings are just emotions when our brain intervenes, emotions come from the amygdala, that part of our brain is responsible for saving our lives since we grew up on the savanna it’s like the fight and flight, we walk out of the cave, there’s a predator there.
We either run, we strike back, we do whatever. you make delay is our friend, and the emotions that come from, which are not just fight or flight, but also when we’re worried about something or when we fall in love, and we’re attracted all of those emotions comes to that part of our brain. And the more that we just trust them and understand them, the more truth will find as to what’s going on with us.
Diane: So true. I also think that there’s a lovely arc involved in that you admit in the book that your family didn’t really have a language for many emotions, including anger. So I’m very curious about whether you think that this has created an arc for you as well, that this kind of destiny has made you more fluent in the language of emotions?
Rick: Oh my gosh. Yes. I think I came from the most ignorant of places, even up until my early 40s. And, I was raised in a waspish family, where it was a great family but harmony was more important than truth. As for that reason, we had all of these means of speaking to each other without really telling each other, how we felt. Just to try to keep the peace. And I saw, I grew up where in my most intimate relationships. I couldn’t be myself, I couldn’t say what I felt.
And hence, I took a long time to find the right person to marry, because I was so confused by that process, and it’s really funny because I was with somebody had been with them for three years and she goes. Well, I go, “I love you, but I just don’t feel the certainty.” And that had been the same experience I’d had time and time again and she said well, will you go into therapy with me? I said therapists or people with problems.
And she looks at me and I’m like okay, so we went in to therapy, and within three weeks we were broken up and I got to keep the therapist. And what I learned at that time was exactly what you just observed, I knew, while I had a reasonably high IQ and had succeeded in those areas of my life, my EQ was on the floor I didn’t understand anything. And it was, it was pinpointed by when she asked me to go through the people that I had dated, and at the end of all she goes, “They sounded great. What was wrong?”
When I said, “I don’t know that they were great but I just didn’t feel the certainty.” And she said, “Rick you’re, you’ve got a doctorate in social science. What do all these things have in common?” “Nice school, they’re all women,” and she’s disappointed. She goes, think deeper and I said, “Me?” She said, “Bingo!” And suddenly, let’s see probably so obvious to everybody around me. I realized that it was me. It was my problem that I need to work on.
And instead of being at all insulted, I was actually inspired because I realized that I had in my control to fix it and that’s what I spent the next year doing and then I just fell crazy in love with the right woman who had been married to for 20 years and have four kids, and it paid off as I learned what was going on with me and I think that through learning to tell my own story which is a personal story mentoring comes from.
Diane: It’s so interesting to me. The power of the oral tradition and you really verbalized that in this book you articulated beautifully. Yes, we can write. Yes, we can put linear thought to a sentence or a page, but that the actual speaking it almost takes more courage in a way. And I think that you must have found a sense of relief in being able to not feel threatened by relationships anymore. I wonder if that really opened you up in a way to be able to take on this project, the 5000 days? Do you think that all of this is part of a whole?
Rick: Well, I think so, as it emerged out of that very crisis we were talking about when I got married, I decided I wanted to protect what I had finally discovered, my family. And I’ve been directing all around the world. And I thought I want to project can keep me at home in Seattle and Vancouver, which from our two homes, my two dual citizens. And so I got came with this idea, to basically interview kids once a year as they grew up, it was my first documentary.
I pretty much done drama, comedy, and went to local school district, they got very excited about the idea. And sure enough, the first interview was in February, 2001. The second interview was in December, 2001. And what happened in between was 9/11, and I suddenly realized that kids needed and wanted to talk on a much deeper level, and at that time I went back to a good friend of mine, Dr. John Medina who wrote, Brain Rules.
It’s a wonderful brain Scientists. He helped me come up with some good questions that would help kids, challenge them and I’m very deep level every year of their life and help them learn to develop their emotional intelligence, and process this difficult world around them better and while has never been more difficult than it is right now.
Diane: There just seems to be a cumulative number of traumas the school shootings, you know what we are experiencing now with COVID-19. The individual trauma as well. I mean, many of the kids that you’ve interviewed worldwide are victims of abuse or have been abandoned by their parents. You work in orphanages as well. I can only imagine how embracing schools, and places that do offer sanctuary to kids would be of your project, and it becomes more and more and more a question of building character right then, the curriculum.
Because, how do you navigate life becomes sort of a bigger question than, how do you do your math although, math is gets taken apart in the book too. But I am wondering also about when you talk about 9/11 and things like school shootings and the traumas that kids absorb all around the world. You know the amygdala, so this is can be dysregulated by trauma, and yes, you know, paying attention to it I’m right there with you. Is it also something that needs to be processed through the act of speaking through the intimacy of the interview process, and on covering yourself as a person, as young person? Does that help regulate it, does that help process?
Rick: Absolutely, and I’ll tell you why. That’s a very insightful question and there’s endless amounts of research done about written journaling and it’s hugely helpful, it’s a wonderful process as most people that ever written anything, you know about their feelings will attest, but it’s only recently that we’ve really discovered the power of verbal journaling, and it works in the following way. When, so you have something that says off your feelings or you’ve got a traumatic event, childhood event, or something like this. The way that your amygdala processes, it creates this sort of tidal wave of emotion. And the way you can best process it, is by verbalizing it because you can’t verbalize that emotion. Without it, then having to move to the prefrontal cortex where your language and reasoning skills are. So in that way. It processes which is what basically dreams are.
Your brain is like this huge computer that is processing which is why sleep is so important. Take some time to download everything that’s happened. And so, the power of verbal journaling which if we go back to the beginning. I guess we started with cave paintings, which aren’t true, but the very next thing as we developed our languages was sitting around fire, telling stories, and the purpose of those stories, was to share the human experience, was basically based in a certain level.
Like, there’s a great story that I tell in the book by that, it’s about Aboriginal man standing on the shore, and the date is December 26th, 2005. And he notices that the waters behaving strangely. He notices that the birds have stopped singing. He notices that the winds have changed in a variety of things he suddenly realizes, even though it’s a totally an educated man he realizes a tsunami is about to come. Because of stories that have been passed down generation after generation.
He goes back to his village. It’s not everybody high ground and unlike all the cities and whatever around him, now one person’s life is lost. And that is because of the value of stories. So Diane, I want to tell you one other story if I could, because this is a great one about the power of verbal journaling. I have this nephew named Andy and at nine years old, I was standing at his house, and he wanted to become a 5,000 Days Project kid, which again is this process of personal story mentoring.
We do an interview once a year with these intense questions, and his brother and sister in the project and he asked me, if he could join? I said, “Sure.” And he sets up the camera, turn it on, I said “Andy you’re ready?” Not to immediately burst into tears, and I said, “Andy I haven’t even asked your question.” Yeah. He goes, “I know, but I know what you’re about to ask me.” And I said, “What’s that?” And he said, “You’re gonna ask me, when’s the last time I cried and why?”
Well that’s normally question seven, but like you know the answer to that. He nods and after a moment he starts to tell me about this event that had happened three days before in his classroom. And he started getting into the story and then he just couldn’t continue. And so I said, “Andy, I really want to get to story when you’re ready, I’m here, cameras rolling.” He nods, he tries to tell me a story again, second time again. Finally, third time he gets to the story and basically what happened was that he was in the school musical. The teacher asked him to stand up singing solo in the classroom. He stood up, saying the kids laughed at him. He burst into tears ran out of the classroom, the same thing that would cause you to go to therapy when you’re 42 as to why you can’t speak in front of the Rotary Club.
Then he and this was his default. And just for stupid filmmaker reasons I said, “Andy, could you just tell me the story one more time, so I can get it clear?” And so, he nods and sure enough the fourth time to the story. He gets it all in one. And I get this idea. I said, “Andy did you trust me?” And he said, “Of course.” I said, “Okay, last time I promise when you tell me the story. One last time. This time, I want you to sing it.”
And he likes it, he strangely and goes, “Okay, well I was in my class and the teacher told me to,” and he start singing what happened, and within moments he burst out into laughter and I saw in the space of six minutes this thing that had been so difficult for horrific that had been residing inside of him that he couldn’t even talk about. I find barf it up, hold it in his hand, expose it to the healing qualities of air and laugh at it.
Diane: And laugh at it.
Rick: That’s when I realized our verbal journal.
Diane: It’s a beautiful thing that it lifts off that way, and of course when you do have a trauma or an emergency. The first thing a police officer will do is to continue to ask you to tell the story over and over there’s power in it for sure. I’m very glad to hear those anecdotal stories about this process and we are going to go to a commercial break right now but when we come back, we’re going to understand more about how the bitch of anger, and the bitch of control and the bitch of perfectionism can become our bitch?
We’re here with Dr. Rick Stevenson and author of 21 Things You Forgot About Being A Kid. Don’t go away, we’ll be back on Dropping In.
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You are listening to Dropping In, with Diane Dewey. We’d love to hear from you if you have a question or comment about the show, send us an email to DDewey@trunordmedia.com. That’s the letter D, Dewey at T-R-U Nordmedia.com. Now, back to Dropping In.
Diane: Welcome back everyone. We’re here with Rick Stevenson, who wrote the book, 21 Things You Forgot About Being A Kid and who is the pioneer of the 5000 days project. Rick, you say that, I first came up with the idea of filming kids once a year so as to create a kind of time lapse portrait of growing up, what researchers called a longitudinal study. In fact, 5,000 Days Project was born on the loose number of days, it takes a child to go through school.
I wondered if the 21 Things You Forgot About Being A Kid, if that number was coincidental or if it referred to 21? As that common maturation point that we think of 21 years old, now you’re graduated college, now you can have alcohol, legally. Is it coincidental or was that resonant?
Rick: I wish I was that clever. I feel like your spinal tap where he’s got the amplifier that actually goes to 11. I probably had another 10 on the tail of that. These are just the ones that I could speak to, kind of most anecdotally, because the book is really foot-filled with stories, because that is so interesting when you listen to a speaker. Your interest level, you can literally see an audience, lean forward. Once the story starts and lead back once it ends. It’s because it is stories that ultimately, the way that we communicate with each other.
Diane: And absorb one another. I think there’s an energy exchange, right? You go through the catharsis of someone’s story it’s so interesting, you’re intrigued, you’re curious, there’s a combination, there’s an arc and then you have a kind of cathartic. You know takeaway moment to absorb it all. I think the thing that really, there was so many nuggets in this book but I really loved that you delved into the idea of Fear and Desire, and you have this dynamic where you talk to kids I think quite frankly, and openly, I’m sure they appreciate it very much.
To have this receptive person in you, where you talk about the dynamic, as I mentioned before the break of you ended up, ultimately saying to a kid, you’re the bitch anger, you’re the bitch of anger, and, you know, how do you convert that? You know, your subject constantly is subjected to anger as a kind of a control switch. How does that work in terms of mastery, self-mastery?
Rick: Well first of all, typically, don’t use that language. One particular kid was sort of a hip hop kid and had a half million followers online, and had a brilliant filmmaker, and he came to the Prodigy Camp. And he talked about, how over the past year, he made a whole bunch of bad decisions and gotten into bad situations and almost ended his life as a result of some of those decisions. And I suppose, let’s get into this, let’s find out what’s going on because we all literally live on a continuum between what we want and what we’re afraid of.
Between our longings and our fears, and I was looking at what he’d been doing and I said, “You know what I’m noticing that you’re deeply angry about something.” And he was kind of confused by that, but the more that we dug into it, we discovered that his anger was based on something that his brother had been doing that hadn’t been addressed by the family. And he was so upset by it, cause him to make this self-destructive decisions, and I said to him, “You’re way too smart to destroy yourself to something else has a bigger control over you than your rationality.”
And it worked out to be this anger and I said, “You know what your problem is, is your anger’s bitch!” He goes, “What?” I said, “Your anger’s bitch!” And he goes, “I’m no one’s bitch!” And I said, “Yes you are! You are being controlled by your own anger until you get to an end and we are all the bitch of something.” For me, it’s been my impatient. That’s one of the things that’s controlled me my whole life. And the great thing about the 5,000 Days Project, is that there’s nothing like starting a project that never ends. To help you get up in patients.
Diane: Your patient now.
Rick: That’s right. Well, I think my kids would say not at stoplights, or be time behind slow drivers but besides that, I think I’ve made a lot of progress.
Diane: And make it real.
Rick: So part of it is identifying, you know. Who is your master? It’s either who or what is your master for all of us, when you define that, that’s when you can start to turn it around and some to some people that answers just their emotions, they’re so afraid of them, that they become victims of them. And through this process you can actually become master.
Diane: Well, I think you mentioned it before when you talked about your nephew, you hold it up to air, you externalized it, you look at it and you can then laugh at it. That’s beautiful thing perspective, it gives you perspective to see actually, I wondered if your storytelling and your film making being able to stand outside the character and see the arc. I wondered if that informed your work?
Rick: Yeah, I think which you’re saying is it was two things there. One is perspective. That is that we live our lives like we’re still standing in front of 100 foot painting ourselves, and we’re one foot away. You know we see the brushstrokes, we see the errors, but we don’t really see the whole picture and when you go through this process. It’s about stepping back and looking the whole picture. And a great method that I think works very well is, we all know, movies, we all know how movies are told the stories that are told.
And in every movie there’s a main character, and that main character in every movie has an arc and you go back to the Wizard of Oz. Dorothy, who feels that her future and her life lives somewhere over the rainbow and she discovers through the story that actually, she’s always had everything she needs all along. Lame is, John starts outs this, a criminal who’s embittered, who needs to learn to accept grace and then give grace himself. So everybody has this arc.
So discovering your own arc and we’re all in a grand arc and we’re all in many arcs every moment of every day. We’re going through many arcs, we’re trying to solve the challenges before for us and a great example that I use in the book is a young person that came to the Prodigy Camp and we talked about the Prodigy Camp later if you want. But at the center of it is the campfire where kids come to us, talked about the most difficult thing to ever faced and in this particular case.
This is a 14-year old boy, who was sharing about what a difficult year he had, how everything had gone wrong, how he literally was afraid to get up every morning because of what was going to happen that day. I was the definition of depression actually, and how miserable he had been and I turned to the group and I said, “Okay, you know we learned about three arcs structure today and we learned about character arcs.” Like, what his character arc?
Because how is he going to get there if he doesn’t know where there is and so everybody is, “Okay, let’s work out his character arc.” So this character, if his issue was being afraid to get out of the bed and what was coming running around every corner, kids raise their hands, “So well maybe it needs to make safer decisions or maybe needs to slate it slow down his life summer.” They had a whole bunch of very good sincere ideas and then the younger kid at the camp who is this little rap artist with dreads named Diego, and probably smartest person at the camp.
He raises his hands, he says, “Well, doesn’t he just you need to discover the beauty then expected in the possibility of the unknown?”
Rick: And everybody’s like, “Oh, yes.”
Rick: That’s it. That’s something that could apply to each of us in this pandemic like our arcs right now, is the sphere of not knowing what’s coming and we can either be paralyzed by it or can look at it and go, something great maybe around this corner. What are the possibilities unknown and that arc really helped a kid get on top of this issue? So by identifying about using movies as a reflection of our lives and it’s an appliance to ourselves. This is something I often do in the personal story mentoring the 5,000 Days Project, is it’s apply that perspective where they basically, because they are effectively making a movie of their own lives.
Diane: Sure. Well, as a metaphor there are several times I’ve entered a movie theater back in the day. When I came away thinking to myself, that was the story I needed to hear that, I identified with it so closely that it is transcendent. And I think that that’s so interesting that as a filmmaker, you exchange the personal for the creative, giving in effect the person is the camera, get on the other side of the camera and you know make this movie.
And I think, you have experienced firsthand epiphany, an epiphany that you mentioned in the beginning about emotions, and it seems to me that you’re probably a very trustworthy guide as a result, taking people through.
Rick: I hope so.
Diane: Yes, it sounds very much that it’s authentic to you, and that revelatory upending is something that you have experienced firsthand. You know we talk about COVID, now. We are now, not in control. We thought we were.
Rick: We never, we never were.
Diane: We never were. It was an illusion to start with but it’s been laid-bare. Let’s go back to the Prodigy Camp, since you did bring it up as a study which sounds wonderful, and the campfire that’s another like the watering hole, a universal central place of warmth and community. How does it work there? I mean, you’ve talked about it but give us an overview of what it’s like.
Rick: Yeah, just a little background of the camp, it came out of a discussion 15 years ago with a group of friends, like, how do you change the world it’s completely possible? And at that time Warren Buffett had just had lunch with Bill Gates, Warren Buffett had said, “Bill, why aren’t you giving your money away?” And Bill Gates goes, “Oh that’s a good idea!” And sets up the largest foundation in history which has done an immense amount of good and it struck us at that time.
But what if you found the Bill Gates in their various fields as teenagers. And you did the following. You gave them a sense of great social responsibility for the gifts. You gave them the highest level of training was often not available until people get into college, you put them in touch, and help them calibrate their moral compass so that whatever their values are reflected in their work. And then you put them in touch with their voice like what is unique about them, learning their own story learning tell their own story which is the most difficult story they’ll ever tell, quite frankly.
And in that way. There are only so many stories but they’re made original by the storyteller, by the lens through which we, we share them. And then finally creating something that synergistic, where you take the 25 most talented young filmmakers and songwriters from around the world every year between the ages of 1218 and bring them together and create the synergistic whole that becomes greater than the sum of its parts.
So at the core of it, is not filmmaking, or songwriting, it’s becoming the best human beings possible. Because that will then be reflected in their arc of the storytelling is not only applicable to their arc. But it’s mostly applicable to the people that they’re becoming the campfire is at the core of that and they come to ask, having a talk about lots of difficult things that ever faced and boy, we have heard every story under the sun of that campfire.
Diane: And the ability to take risks after that, Rick, we know where you’ve now just face down your biggest demon, the biggest hairiest demon that you have? Does it make it easier for someone then to say, “I’ve seen it? I’ve seen the enemy?” And I think there might be something to that as well, that you provide that safe platform for someone to make that investigation. We have a couple minutes again for a little bit before the break.
I wonder about the importance of storytelling and the realization of it sort of culturally, people are self-publishing people are you know, making Steven Spielberg made the show a project? You’re making 5000 days? Is there something in the air?
Rick: I hope so. I’m not sure I’m smart enough to be the observer of that and more than just the participant. But I will say this, one of my favorite phrases comes from a little known token work, “Where he envisioned to all of mankind as a giant choir that only reaches Sonic perfection, when every voice can be heard.” Think of how beautiful that is. And how this African proverb that when an old person dies, a large library burns down?
Rick: Think of a sheer waste of human knowledge that goes out the door every day, because we have not found a way to capture it. Our stories, we hear maybe the top fraction of 1%. And then we hear social media, which I don’t really think fully reflects who we are fully, as a US that sarcastically. You know, this, telling our honest and sincere stories, is what connects us. And that’s I envision a world where every voice in the choir can be heard.
Diane: I think it’s not only beautiful, I think that’s what we’re meant to do. And right now, there’s been I think, sort of repression of that. And certain people’s stories were not older, we’re favored over others. It happens even in social media because of the dimension of celebrity. And I love this notion that each voice will be heard, that it will be maybe an oral tradition, because if the man with a tsunami coming, had to go find a book, he might not have found it.
He had it at his disposal because he’d heard it, and it’s much more integrated into our beings. So when we come back, it’s such a pleasure speaking with Rick Stevenson, author of 21 Things You Forgot About Being A Kid. And as you can tell, there’s much more to this story as well. And we’ll find out more about the motivation. Why family is paramount to everything, and how kids teach us something about resilience? Don’t go away. We’ll be right back on Dropping In.
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You are listening to Dropping In, with Diane Dewey. We’d love to hear from you if you have a question or comment about the show, send us an email to DDewey@trunordmedia.com. That’s the letter D, Dewey at T-R-U Nordmedia.com. Now, back to Dropping In.
Diane: Welcome back, everyone. We’re here with Rick Stevenson, author of 21 Things You Forgot About Being A Kid, and also a pioneer of the 5,000 Days Project, which is a longitudinal study of interviewing kids. That being then periodic, annual revisits to this growing identity, this emerging person, super exciting, and I read some of the comments Rick, on your website, from parents whose children are in or children becoming adolescents who are in the project 5000 Days, who just remark upon the calming influence of being able to check in with you, being able to update who they are, excavate their current emotional state, their content, their concerns, and that it’s such a kind of gift, and you are quite accessible to people who might be listening around the world. You’re accessible at Rick@Rickstevenson.com. For anyone that would like to perhaps have a child become part of the 5,000 Days Project. There are auditioned. And I think it’s the fairly open kind of criteria. But how would you describe it, Rick?
Rick: Yeah, we’re primarily looking for kids that are open honest, that tell us what they feel about what they think we want to hear. The project, as I said, is in 12 countries and ever is expanding 50% the projects largely financed by donations, and parents, so 50% of kids pay to be involved, which enables the other 50% that they’d be from Zambia, or South Africa or Cambodia, or even more developed countries of these can’t afford the involvement. We don’t want to turn down anybody that qualifies.
And so yeah, it’s a process that in one shape or another, whether it be 5,000 Days Project or just through other verbal sort of journaling techniques that I just encourage for everybody. Not just kids, I mean, I’m also doing legacy interviews as well, with people sort of 40 and up, they’ll come take stock in their lives, and just helps them to sort of put, again, as you said things in perspective.
Diane: Right. And that was the word that actually was used by one mother, that she felt that you know, is a way to have her child telescope out a bit and see themselves as part of a work in progress. I also think, the thing that was an enormous takeaway for me, and by the way, this book 21 Things You Forgot About Being A Kid is a distilled compilation of stories that Rick Stevenson has elicited by being a receptive listener to children who needed to really very deeply and badly get their story out.
And I think at the core of it for me, and the thing that gave me the biggest rush was this idea of defining yourself, defining success because part of the reason you’re the welcome anger is that kids are on a treadmill to perform. We as adults are on a treadmill to perform. It’s going around in our heads that you know, we need to achieve accomplish and we forget what it’s all about. The core values we have, are attributes and traits. And I think, maybe do you feel by witnessing those core values and traits that you’re substantiating and corroborating a person’s identity?
Rick: And one of my key struggles that’s every kid faces is, “Who am I?” And where does my self-worth come from? And from the beginning, we tend to divide ourselves, we’re then how we’re doing academically or athletically or socially or all these external factors. And what kids discover, ideally through this process is that’s all ridiculous, that we’re chasing a moving goal line, where we’ll never achieve satisfaction and success. And that kind of like Dorothy, they have inside them what they needed all along. So the idea that their affirmation that will come internally, something they have control over is, is vital. And that’s why I asked the question there, what are your strengths? What are your character strengths? And people go into that a little bit like, “Well, I think I’m friendly. And I think I’m kind.” And then they’ll discover.
Well, actually, they work hard, and they’ll discover that they’re loyal and things come out and somebody else suddenly discovered that those are things that people can that no one can ever take away from them. And that if they base yourself worth on that, they will always be solid, and not open to the vicissitudes of things outside their control. I tell a big story in the book about issues I had at Oxford.
Diane: And I love that.
Rick: There’s a huge failure that eventually worked out fine. But I learned more about life through that situation than ever. And at that time, sort of a mentor said, “Ricky, go on this show business.” Now, that is full filled with people that base yourself worth, on what they do versus who they are. And so when they’re successful, they’re unbearable. And when they’re not successful, they’re suicidal, is that the way you live?
Diane: Don’t sound too appealing. I know but you gathered equilibrium through that, you I mean, and I love that you were vulnerable, both to us as readers, but also encourage parents to be vulnerable to their children and to share failures as the greatest lessons that can be experienced, and that we’re not here to just be perfect and get accolades. Sure, those are nice. But you know, that these a whole, the whole texture of it is much more accepting, the language of it is much more accepting.
And I couldn’t help but of course, go back to if by Richard Kipling poem that you quote, and I, of course, love it very much. “If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two impostors just the same, you will be a man, and I would argue a woman.” And these words are inscribed at Wimbledon, I happen to know it’s on that locker room.
Rick: Oh, are they?
Rick: That’s so cool. I didn’t know that.
Rick: He wrote the poem to his son, and how to be a man in the best sense of the word. And it’s so interesting, because you look at our day, and our day can be filled with sexism failures that have something to do with us, but often don’t. They have to do with all sorts of external factors and things outside of control. But what’s really important during the day? Is it achieving that sort of temporal thing? Or is it being a good son or good husband, or a good wife? Or a good friend? Like, what’s more important in the scheme of life? In the scheme of things and the scheme of being an individual that contributes to the music the world instead of the noise? It’s like who you are not what you do?
Diane: Yes, yes, absolutely.
Rick: So beautiful to see people come to that revelation.
Diane: I agree. It’s completely empowering. And I think, when you sit there and the fear question is, well, what do I have to offer? What can I bring to the table? You know, it’s really reassuring a person of their identity and self-worth. And I think that I just think this contribution that you’re making is huge. I wonder if you feel called to do what you’re doing?
Rick: I definitely do. And I think I’m going to die doing this.
Diane: Okay, but not soon.
Rick: I only pity the child, you know, that that happens to like, what do they do with the body?
Diane: Ops, was that the wrong answer?
Rick: Let’s just say that, I’ll be very careful about that not to die in front of anybody, but I will be doing this, for the rest of my life. I’m so very grateful to it.
Diane: And what a great way to go, I would say, I think about the story cue method that you’ve developed, even in conjunction or inspiration with your father, which is a technology-based. Tell us about this technology-based repository of human stories?
Rick: Yeah, the idea is sort of technology that allows the participant to answer a series of questions that are asked by an interview, but not live. These are time tested questions. And that participants can think about the answer, ruminate, and then lay it down. And then it goes to their cloud. And they can see it, when if it’s the kid when they’re 18th or otherwise, you can see it, reflect upon it whenever they wish.
But it’s so fascinating to see, what is what people say, in years past, we’ve just done to the project camp, Black Lives Matter project with one of our kids named, Nathan Zonga. And he started doing these interviews at age 10. And then wrote a hit song called, Truth, about police brutality and about learning to love one another. But then in the last, that was four years ago, he wrote it at project camp. Then recently, given all the events, he wrote a song called Truth. And so we’re just now putting together this sort of 10 minute, cinematic experience, but it uses his interviews from when he was 10, 11 and 12. And looking back at those, and seeing this well-raised black child talk about, “Well, I’ve had a crush on this girl, and then I was with my friend, but then I realized I was their waiter.”
And in my dream and expressing worries about whether he’ll be homeless, when he grows up and to just be able to capture this awakening of this young man over 10 years which will be coming out in the Truth. The truth video, is a testimony to how we feel so many different feelings, but then just get lost in our history and being at the capture that leads called an informed life.
Diane: Know thyself. We only have a couple minutes left, sadly. But I think there you’ve really hit upon also the untold story, the unheard voices, the unheard range of emotions that we’re just learning about. Thank goodness now, with Black Lives Matter and this will contribute to it. Learning about the talk that black males received from their mothers and the horror of their fears. How to establish a fear desire continuum becomes just that much more challenging? We have just a moment left but I want to thank you so much, Rick. Rick Stevenson, author of 21 Things You Forgot About Being A Kid.
You can find him on Facebook at Dr. Rick Stevenson and also Rick, at Rickstevenson.com. Such important work Rick, congratulations and thank you for dropping into our years.
Rick: Thank you!
Diane: Yes, thank you for being here.
Rick: Thanks, Diane.
Diane: It was such a pleasure. Matt Wagner, Aaron Keeler, and producer Robert Julian. Oh, thank you and to our listeners go our biggest thanks till next week. Stay safe. Be well everyone and remember what it was like to be a kid.
Thank you so much for dropping in. Please join Diane Dewey again next Friday at 8am Pacific Time, and 11am Eastern Time on the Voice America Variety Channel. We’ll see you then.