David, thanks for your considerations, your reach — and, to some of your co-respondents, I’m grateful to be included in your search.

To the challenges that you face, I relate. I’ve seen these, sensed these travails in others. And each has borne the character of the challenge — the chasm — with either a leap, or a stride — a running sprint. And it’s what we have, these moments, so it’s profound to be called to the action of knowing, abruptly, that it ends for all of us.

So get out there and enjoy it while you can. Savor that. And surely you are there, are you not?

This idea of the concept of linking people by story is one of profound gravity for me — it’s been something that I’ve preached for a long time.

A talk on the personal, the sharing, the journal…

Notes on storytelling and emotional connectedness…

For me, it’s about paying attention – attunement to exactly that which is before you. I met a woman a while back at TED, the conference. And she and I’d talked a great deal about that: attention. For her, it was about her work for Microsoft on people’s attention to their devices. Geesh!

Here’s a telling for you, from me. I suppose that if you google my name and ravens, you’ll find it — it’s on tim.girvin.com.

But it’s epiphanic and powerful for me. And true. And unforgettable. There’s a drawing that goes with this story — see if you can find that.

Each of us has meaningful stories to tell; parts of our life passage that have touched us, deeply. In some ways, stories like this captivate our experience in many ways. On the first level, the stories reach out to us to give a basic physical and emotional lesson, then — with time — this import deepens. And the story achieves a message of greater and greater depth. This is the very nature of storytelling. You hear the story and you understand it in one way, on one level. Then, with time, you learn more in gathering the threads of the myth, as the story is told again and again.

Here is one telling, from my experience.

Since I was young, I’ve had a relationship with Corvids — the bird family of crows and ravens (also of jays, camp robbers, and magpies). In our office, images of these birds are everywhere; they are in old Japanese scrolls and screens, sculptures of the Ravens are arranged, there are also European and American prints and drawings.

When I was young, I was first called to them — the Ravens.

My family and I were visiting at an old cabin on a lake in Idaho, a family estate of an older eastern Washington family. There were no roads to this place; it was accessible only by boat. Cabins and other structures were arranged along the water. A great, dark and burgeoning forest of ancient trees gathered behind; they rose high into the hills, up and up, over the lake. I had explored the waterfront but I was called to the elder woods, out back. To enter, I had to climb, as the hills went straight up. Pines arose all around me, blocking out the sun.

As I made my way, off in the further reaches of the forest was a distant calling. It sounded like hammering, a rhythm — the ripping of saws. But it was distant, muffled in the array of the great trees. What was this?

I kept climbing and the sounds would rise, like the work was quickening. The next moment, it would diminish and disappear. It would be clearly there, then gone. I stood alone in the quiet of the forest, listening. The calling would start again, and I would climb higher. Soon, the grand blue arc of the lake was revealed below — set like a sapphire in the verdant hillocks. The trees behind me got older and wiser; the forest, except for this vista out to the lake, blackened. Walking in further the sunlight was held, far back, in the nape of the hills, but strokes of lightshaft found their way through the trees. The branches dusted the air with their pollen. It was cathedral-like, but there was the calling, like some discordant ritual choir that now was building into a crescendo.

I kept climbing, following the cacophony.

Then finally, in the deepest part of the forest, light beamed down to an open circle. There was movement, and curls of dust, like smoke. There were birds there, many birds — and they were calling. As I came closer, I could see that it was like a meeting, a congregation of Ravens. Having never really seen these birds before, this was frightening, because they were big. Black. Loud. They were flying in to rest, lifting off, hopping, moving and, all the while, cawing. It was a call to disorder, a secret forum. The light beat down, despite the noise, through the swirling dust past the deeper sentinels of the forest.

Crawling on my hands and knees, I got closer. The scent of the fallen needles and the old ground is still there, in my memory. The vocation continued. I edged closer, but somehow there was fear. It was a fear of unknowing — of “what is this?”

Abruptly, I got a feeling of the sense of being watched… that subtle tickle at the back of my mind, the light twisting of the hairs on my back, my neck — the arising sentience — reaching out to feel everything, in danger. I was still at the edge of the clearing, the Ravens scumbling in the forest dusting were still shouting.

Following the sense of foreboding, I turned slowly, so as to not distract the other birds. There, high up, tucked far into the darkness of the branches was a big Raven, much larger than the others. Its head turned slightly, its eyes staring down at me like an old master of the woods. It was Merlin, looking down, cloaked in black. Watching me.

He seemed to say, “Now, you have seen. What will you learn from this?” I lay there, watching — looking, listening to the celebration. This communal gathering, with the Old One, overlooking. And then quietly I crept away. The Old Raven, watching me, slowly, silently turning his head to trace my path.

Although I was a child, I knew that there was something symbolic here, in seeing this gathering. But it was really years before I began to interpret what this could mean for me. Each story has its layering; at the beginning, a story is merely a telling, but successively, the tale achieves a deeper understanding that perhaps speaks to the heart of us all.

In traveling, from Tibet to Costa Rica, from Mongolia to Japan, from Canada to Mexico, France to Italy… I have found that the Ravens are there, everywhere. They all seem to look at me with the same question — watching me, for an answer.

To this day, the presence of the birds, both in nature and in my surroundings, calls to me to reach deeper — and to grasp the reminder of that day in my childhood: “Are you here? Are you listening? Are you paying attention?”

Tim Girvin

On Jul 7, 2007, at 5:24 PM, David McCanless wrote:

Dear Tim,

I am writing to you because you are someone that I admire and respect. I am doing a project for my final class at Portfolio Center, and was hoping that you would participate. The assignment was part of a Design History class taught by the President of the school, Hank Richardson. I was to compare a theme from Steven Heller’s book, “Swastika, Symbol Beyond Redemption?”, with a seemingly unrelated topic from current media and see where the two intersect. I chose to cross people’s tendency to ignore problems because they are a source of pain or shame, with society’s obsession with celebrities and television.

The intersection of these two ideas got me thinking about communication. The majority of our conversations these days are filled with small talk and gossip. It seems like no one really opens up to anyone anymore. Are any of us making any real connections or are our conversations serving the sole purpose of passing the time?

I hypothesized that if you open up to someone, if you could share just one personal story with each other, then that might be enough to plant the seed from which a personal connection could grow.

The end deliverable has been driven by these ideas and is taking the form of what I am calling an experiment. I would like to share with you my personal story. After reading my story I ask that you jot down a story of your own and send it back to me. Your story can be funny, serious, long, short, whatever you like, as long as I can’t Google it or look it up in a book. The hope is that, if one day I meet you in person or I need your advice, we will have a rudimentary connection. I am no longer a complete stranger, a faceless résumé or a random email address, and you are not just a name and a face in a book.

When this idea was first developed, I sent it to a few people to test the waters. I was not sure what kind of response I would get. To my surprise, I have received wonderfully touching and personal stories from many of the industry’s greats such as David Carson, Paula Scher, Eric Baker, Sean Adams, Craig Frazier, and Michael Bierut.

Thank you for taking the time out of your impossibly busy schedule to read this note and I look forward to hearing your response. (The story follows)

David McCanless

I was born with a heart that leaked like a sieve. Hundreds of tiny holes sporadically placed throughout, making normal blood flow impossible. It only took me turning blue once for the doctors to know they had to patch things up. My mom calls me her miracle child. She always said that the doctors took that lemon god had given me and made some sweet lemonade.

I visited a pediatric cardiologist once every year from the time I was born until I was eighteen, when I was given a clean bill of health. When I turned twenty-one it was time for me to see an adult cardiologist. At my first appointment, my doctor ran me through every test he could think of, in order to bring my charts up to speed. I was told that I would receive a letter in a about week explaining the results and to come back for a check up in one year.
Two days later my phone rang. The nurse said that they found some abnormalities in the tests and the doctor would need to discuss them with me as soon as possible. The next day he told me I had an unseen problem with my heart that will probably catch up to me before my 40th birthday.

It’s hard to say how I took the news initially. I suppose you could say there were some feelings of angst and confusion. I think those were normal gut reactions to the news. It’s tough to hear that at twenty-one years old you are middle aged. I’ve been living with this news for nine months now and I have a strong optimistic outlook on life. I can’t help but feel that somewhere, within this situation that seems so ugly and scary there is still a great deal of hope. I still have lots of things I need to accomplish in my life and I can’t let this stand in my way.