Updated on 05.11.11

Ten Pieces of Inspiration #19

Trent Hamm

Each week, I highlight ten things each week that inspired me to greater financial, personal, and professional success. Hopefully, they will inspire you as well.

1. Barbara Kingsolver on community
This is an extended bit from a speech by the author Barbara Kingsolver in 2008:

This is an ancient human social construct that once was common in this land. We called it a community. We lived among our villagers, depending on them for what we needed. If we had a problem, we did not discuss it over the phone with someone in Bhubaneswar. We went to a neighbor. We acquired food from farmers. We listened to music in groups, in churches or on front porches. We danced. We participated. Even when there was no money in it. Community is our native state. You play hardest for a hometown crowd. You become your best self. You know joy. This is not a guess; there is evidence. The scholars who study social well-being can put it on charts and graphs. In the last 30 years our material wealth has increased in this country, but our self-described happiness has steadily declined. Elsewhere, the people who consider themselves very happy are not in the very poorest nations, as you might guess, nor in the very richest. The winners are Mexico, Ireland, Puerto Rico, the kinds of places we identify with extended family, noisy villages, a lot of dancing. The happiest people are the ones with the most community.

Over and over again, the deepest joys we find are when we’re sharing things with other people. My best memories always involve other people, usually some form of shared experience. When am I happiest? I’m happiest when I’m surrounded by people I care about doing something that we collectively enjoy. The less I do of that, the sadder and worse off I am.

2. 10 Minutes by Ahmed Imamovic
This is a ten minute film that will leave you thinking long after it’s over.

From Wikipedia: “10 Minutes is a 2002 short film contrasting ten minutes in the life of a Japanese tourist in Rome with the bloody drama of a Bosnian family taking place at the same time less than an hour away in the besieged city of Sarajevo during the Bosnian War.”

3. Gloria Steinem on values and spending
What really matters to you? There’s an easy way to tell.

We can tell our values by looking at our checkbook stubs. – Gloria Steinem

Based on my stubs, I apparently value the IRS. Actually, I apparently value my children, good food, and playing games with my friends, as my most recent significant expenditures were for my children’s ballet recital, a larger-than-average grocery bill weighted down with fresh foods, and some costs for my trip to Gencon with friends. What do you value? I’ll bet your checkbook reveals the truth.

4. Power of Art – Van Gogh
Power of Art is a BBC documentary series with each episode focusing on one artist, one specific work by that artist, and the cultural impact of that artist and that work. The series is exquisitely done and often stunning when you see the incredible impact of art on our world. My favorite episode (unsurprisingly) is the one on Vincent van Gogh, which I was able to watch again this week.

You can watch all of the parts by following these links: one, two, three, four, five, and six.

5. Van Gogh’s Wheatfield with Crows (1890)
The painting focused on in the above documentary is the breathtaking Wheatfield with Crows, one of van Gogh’s final paintings (and my current computer desktop wallpaper).

Korenveld met kraaien, Vincent van Gogh (1890)

There’s something beautiful and foreboding in this picture. It’s much the way I feel when an emormous thunderstorm is building in the west and I can see the birds circling uncertainly. The air pressure is fluctuating, with warm air on my skin mixing with just a hint of cool in the swirling breeze. There’s anticipation, there’s beauty, and there’s a bit of worry, too.

Thanks to Pachango for the image.

6. Lao Tzu on frugality and leadership
Lao Tzu, the founder of taoism, lays out some of his core principles here.

“I have three precious things which I hold fast and prize. The first is gentleness; the second is frugality; the third is humility, which keeps me from putting myself before others. Be gentle and you can be bold; be frugal and you can be liberal; avoid putting yourself before others and you can become a leader among men.” – Lao Tzu

Gentleness. Frugality. Humility. Three strong principles to live by.

7. Resume by Dorothy Parker
Modern life is full of traps and perils and inconveniences.

Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp;
Guns aren’t lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.

Rather than being afraid of everything, they’re all a reason to go out there and live our lives as boldly as possible. We can either hide in our homes and be afraid or go out there and change the world. There are dangers either way, but one path pushes us towards a greater life while the other just folds in on itself.

8. Playing piano with no fingers
Sometimes, I stumble at playing the piano because my fingers are big and I accidentally hit two keys at once. I get frustrated. This video shows me how small my problem really is and also shows me exactly what’s possible.


9. What we can’t eat
There is always more money. There isn’t always more of the things we really need.

“Only when the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realise we cannot eat money.” – Cree Indian Proverb

10. Rhapsody in Blue
I don’t really need to say anything, do I? Just listen.

Enough said.

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  1. Johanna says:

    That’s one of my favorite Dorothy Parker poems, but I don’t understand your interpretation of it. It’s not about being afraid of “traps and perils and inconveniences” – it’s about pondering different ways of killing yourself.

    I still find it weirdly inspirational, because if someone as brilliant and talented as Dorothy Parker could be suicidal (as indeed she was), then there’s not necessarily anything wrong with *me* for feeling down on myself sometimes. Just because I feel worthless sometimes doesn’t mean I am.

  2. Johanna says:

    My very favorite Dorothy Parker poem, by the way, is perhaps not very inspirational at all, but here it is:

    If I don’t drive around the park
    I’m pretty sure to make my mark
    If I’m in bed each night by ten
    I may get back my looks again
    If I abstain from fun and such
    I’ll probably amount to much
    But I shall stay the way I am
    Because I do not give a damn.

  3. Lisa S says:

    >Based on my stubs, I apparently value the IRS.

    Hee! I know you’re making a joke here, but it’s actually true, going back to number 1 (I love Barbara Kingsolver!). It’s the means we have for showing we value schools and libraries, clean water and air, food for the hungry, assistance when disaster hits our community, roads/trains/air travel for staying connected to extended family, etc.

  4. Misty says:

    Thank you for posting the video of the young woman playing the piano with no fingers on one hand. That’s exactly the kind of reminder I needed today. :)

  5. kjc says:

    Yes, your reading of Resume is unique, to say the least.

    Parker wrote it after attempting suicide. The final line has been attributed to Robert Benchley; she wrote the poem around it.

  6. Tara says:

    I really enjoy this weekly spot on your site. I copy your quotes often (with credit of course :) ) and find myself musing over all of the important things in life that we don’t generally discuss with strangers.

    Fight the good fight and continue to make your day matter.


  7. Interested Reader says:

    How do you get The Resume as inspirational?I found a kinship to the poem – when I was suicidal and would go through a litany of reasons not to kill myself – I always thought poem because she was right it’s all messy and inconvenient and hard to get right.

  8. Dorothy says:

    Yep, if there’s a poet whose view of life is the polar opposite of yours, Trent, she’s Dorothy Parker! And, yes, “Resume” is about suicide.

  9. moom says:

    hmmm Mexico has some serious problems right now with its “community” and Ireland is or was one of the richest countries on Earth. At least till the GFC came along.

  10. valleycat1 says:

    I’m surprised no one’s asked what a check stub is. :) I don’t think my daughter would understand the reference.

    To bring that quote to the 21st century, it would have to be about CC and bank statements. I write 2 checks a month, so literally by my check stubs, my priorities are sewage and trash service (all other payments are by debit card, electronic transfer, or CC).

  11. tentaculistic says:

    10 Minuta was really heart-rending. It was amazing how accustomed they all were to really horrible circumstances. I’m definitely choked up.

    The girl playing piano isn’t helping! That’s a different kind of choked up though – admiration at bravery and sheer doggedness, as well as the her beauty and the beauty of the song. No hiding her hand out of sight for her, and I admire the hell out of her for that.

    I do also really like Dorothy Parker. She and Mae West seemed to have the brazen grab-life-by-the-nose-hairs kind of attitude. Not me at all, but very cool.

  12. Nicole says:

    Yeah, yeah, yeah, self-interest is part of our “native state” too — not necessarily a bad thing, if it keeps one from being a doormat. Perhaps this idyll of Kingsolver’s was before the advent of professions. It wasn’t those people’s job, nor did they need to calculate the wage value of an hour’s time. I’m sorry to say, as nice as it is to make people happy, I wouldn’t be playing 40+ weddings a year if there was no money in it. But again, what’s wrong with that? Sometimes I feel attacked with expectations; I feel like something in that statement is aimed at people who have the audacity to want to get paid. It’s really ironic finding those sentiments embedded here, too.

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