Curating a Creative Life as a Storyteller, Scientist, and Business Leader
Author: Christa Avampato
The short of it:
Writer. Health, education, and art advocate. Theater and film producer. Visual artist. Product geek. Proud alumnae of the University of Pennsylvania (BA) and the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia (MBA). Inspired by ancient wisdom & modern tech. Proliferator of goodness. Opener of doors. Friend to animals. Fan of creative work in all its wondrous forms. I use my business skills to create passion projects that build a better world. I’ve been called the happiest New Yorker, and I try hard to live up to that title every day.
The long of it:
My career has stretched across Capitol Hill, Broadway theatre, education, nonprofit fundraising, health and wellness, and Fortune 500 companies in retail, media, entertainment, technology, and financial services. I’ve been a product developer and product manager, theater manager, strategic consultant, marketer, voice over artist, , teacher, and fundraiser. I use my business and storytelling to support and sustain passion projects that build a better world. In every experience, I’ve used my sense of and respect for elegant design to develop meaningful products, services, programs, and events.
While building a business career, I also built a strong portfolio as a journalist, novelist, freelance writer, interviewer, presenter, and public speaker. My writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, PBS.org, Boston.com, Royal Media Partners publications, and The Motley Fool on a wide range of topics including business, technology, science, health, education, culture, and lifestyle. I have also been an invited speaker at SXSW, Teach for America, Avon headquarters, Games for Change, NYU, Columbia University, Hunter College, and the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America. The first book in my young adult book series, Emerson Page and Where the Light Enters, was acquired by a publisher and launched in November 2017. I’m currently working on the second book in the series.
A recovering multi-tasker, I’m equally at home in front of my Mac, on my yoga mat, walking my rescue dog, Phineas, traveling with a purpose, or practicing the high-art of people watching. I also cut up small bits of paper and put them back together as a collage artist.
I’m bringing together all of my business and creative career paths as the Founder of Double or Nothing Media:
• I craft products, programs, and projects that make a difference;
• I build the business plans that make what I craft financially sustainable;
• I tell the stories that matter about the people, places, and products that inspire me.
Follow my adventures on Twitter at https://twitter.com/christanyc and Instagram at https://instagram.com/christarosenyc.
You stand in your kitchen, turn on the sink’s tap, and nothing happens. You have no water in your home despite the fact that you live on the banks of the Colorado River, one of the most valuable natural entities in the U.S. It’s not that there’s no water to be had. It’s that an investment banker in New York City sold your water to someone in Los Angeles who was able to pay more money than you.
Think that’s fiction? Think again.
Water profiteers of Wall Street Meet Water Asset Management, a New York investment firm located at 509 Madison Avenue between 52nd and 53rd Streets in midtown Manhattan. Founded by Matthew Diserio and Disque Deane, the company has purchased 2,500 acres of farmland in Colorado for $20 million over the last five years. The founders have no connection or love for Colorado. It’s just a financial transaction like any other except it’s certain to be highly lucrative due to climate change.
Mr. Diserio is quoted as saying water investment is “the biggest emerging market on earth” and “a trillion-dollar market opportunity.” He and his partners at Water Asset Management say their goal is to make water use more efficient. The truth: they intend to harness the water in the Colorado River and other areas like it, and sell it to the highest bidder — namely farmers and municipalities. Water Asset Management and other water profiteers like them are cashing in on climate change.
The situation in the West is so dire that the federal government pays land owners to leave their fields fallow and not use water. That’s a tragic loss for our food system. It’s an easy request and easy money for investment firms like Water Asset Management who have no interest in farming the land.
Solutions to water profiteering: renewable energy, drought-resilient crops, and legislation Though this current situation is both dystopian and predatory, it isn’t hopeless. Decarbonizing the grid and speeding the transition to renewable energy will help tremendously by reducing the incredible amount of water needed to refine oil. Shifting away from thirsty agricultural crops that toward those that require far less water to thrive would also help. Additionally, regenerative agriculture could be part of the solution to lowering water consumption. Food & Water Watch Research Director Amanda Starbuck has publicly spoken about this issue of the privatization of water, the need to stop it, and solutions to this crisis.
Given water’s vital role in all of our lives, Representative Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) introduced The Future of Water Act in March 2022. “Water is a basic human right that must be managed and protected as a public trust resource,” it says. “Water should be affordable, easily accessible, and guarded from markets prone to manipulation and speculation.” In April 2022, it was referred to the Subcommittee on Commodity Exchanges, Energy, and Credit by the House Committee on Agriculture. Further action is pending. If passed, it would outlaw Wall Street’s speculation on water precisely because life requires water.
The fight for water, and the life it supports, is in its nascent days. As climate change progresses, the fight will get more aggressive if we don’t safeguard water rights now. To learn more, take action, and get involved to protect our natural world, visit Food & Water Watch, The Nature Conservancy, and the U.S. EPA.
This week I’m working with one of my biomimicry clients to explore the use of OpenAI, makers of ChatGPT. It has several models within it, including Davinci which we’ve found has the most detailed, natural sounding results but not necessarily the most accurate information. We are using this technology to ingest a wide variety of scientific papers and produce plain-language text that can be used by designers and engineers who want to explore nature-based solutions and biomimicry inventions and applications.
We tried five tests with different biomimicry topics. I compared the source papers and the two versions of AI-generated text to assess them. Of the five tests, four were decent first drafts that need a human editor to refine them. Most of the scientific data was presented in a plain text way that maintained accuracy and integrity. It missed some key findings that would be valuable for engineers and designers, and the tests need to be edited for clarity. It had some trouble extrapolating the information into potential biomimicry applications and nature-based solutions. In other words, it could create plain-language text based on complicated, jargon-filled text reasonably well as a first draft. It could not creatively interpret the data to imagine many new possibilities. The one failed test completely missed the mark on the main points of the scientific paper.
Overall, it was exciting to see how this innovation could democratize access to information that is concealed in jargon. As with any simplification task, the accuracy has to be evaluated by someone who can reliably translate from language that needs deep expertise to language that’s accessible to those without that expertise. Proliferation of misinterpreted, oversimplified, and inaccurate translations is a risk and a danger. We’re in the early days of this tool and it will undoubtedly improve over time.
Some have expressed concern that writers will no longer be needed and that all writers will be forced into becoming editors. As a writer and an editor, I don’t share that fear. Human creativity, ingenuity, and imagination will never be obsolete. My hope is that tools like AI-generated text will free up our time, energy, and headspace to spend more time on creative projects.
About Christa: Christa Avampato is an award-winning author, business leader, and biomimicry scientist. She is the creator and host of the JoyProject podcast. She is equally inspired by ancient wisdom and modern technology. She’s a proliferator of goodness, champion of nature, opener of doors, fan of laughter, and proud New Yorker.
Transcript: Hi everyone. I’m Christa Avampato and I’m your host. This is the finale episode of Season 1 of the JoyProject podcast. In a nutshell, I started this podcast because I wanted to spread more joy to more people in more places. That simple premise was something my stepfather, Joe Nucci, loved. He felt it would help anyone who listened to it and that with each conversation I’d make the world a better place. I’m sad to share that after a long and difficult health battle, my stepfather passed away on December 11th. So, this one’s for him.
This podcast started out as a short film I titled JoyProject. I wanted to interview people about what brings them joy and then film their joyful acts. When COVID-19 hit New York and shut down our city, filming people became nearly impossible. So did finding joy. 6 months later, I was diagnosed with cancer and because of the pandemic I had to go to almost all my treatments alone. In addition to the privilege of having great medical care and modern science, I knew I had to do everything I could to keep up my spirits. As a yoga and meditation teacher, I have experienced and witnessed the power of the mind-body connection. I wanted my body to heal, and I knew that meant I had to maintain an optimistic frame of mind. I had to believe to my core that I would restore my health. Finding joy became my daily practice. I’d start every day by asking myself what brings me joy, and then I’d write it down. I made it my mission to find joy, especially in the lowest, most frightening moments. When I had my bilateral mastectomy. When all my hair fell out and I sobbed in the shower so I wouldn’t scare my dog. When I was hospitalized and almost died, twice, because I had a life-threatening allergy to a common chemo drug that tried to shut down my lungs. When I had to teach myself to breathe again. When radiation left a baseball-sized burn over my heart. When my expanders under my chest muscles caused constant pain for 14 months. When I had to start medication to put my body into medical menopause. The darker things became, the more joy I became determined to find. I refused to give up. The more the world pushed me down, the harder I worked to reach for the light. As the late great Babe Ruth said, it’s hard to beat a person who never gives up. And I would not give up.
Joy became my constant companion. The more I looked for it, the more of it I found. Joy was, and is, everywhere. Once I was officially declared cancer-free and vaccines against COVID-19 were readily available, the idea of JoyProject came back to me with more purpose than ever. After all we’d survived, it was time to inspire and spread joy as far and wide as possible. And while I could do that with a film, a podcast felt more approachable and would allow me to connect and talk to people all over the world. I wanted to ask anyone and everyone the same question I had asked myself for nearly a year, what brings you joy?
That’s what every episode of this podcast is about. The answers and conversations are varied and wide and beautiful. I’m not the only one who is finding joy everywhere, far from it. There are so many of us who are joy seekers and joy makers. If you’re here and listening to this podcast, welcome to our joyful community. I’m so glad you’re here.
The title for each episode is “the joy of” followed by whatever the subject is about. When I was a kid my Uncle Tom and Aunt Mary bought me the book The Joy of Cooking because I loved being in the kitchen. I still love being in the kitchen and I still love cooking. It is one of the things that brings me a lot of joy. So, it’s no surprised that 4 of the interviews in Season 1 center around food: The Joy of Pizza with Rachel Josar, The Joy of Baking Birthday Cakes with Dana Phillips, the Joy of Baking Challah with Vicki Eastus, and The Joy of The Great British Bake Off with Abby Anklam. Food brings people together and these foodies were a delight to interview.
I also love to travel and in 2022, I returned to traveling a bit more now that we have COVID vaccines and my health is restored. The Joy of Travel Planning with Dr. Edith Gonzalez and The Joy of Airports with Felicia Sabartinelli reignited by wish to get out into the world, meet new people, see new sights, and have new experiences. In 2023, I’ll be taking a few more trips and some of those will involve what’s coming up in Season 2. More on that in just a moment.
Passion is a common theme through all of the interviews in Season 1. Quite a few of them involved interviewing people about their passion projects. The Joy of Book Clubs with Libby Seiter Nelson, The Joy of Making Shoes with Kaylee Scoggins Herring, The Joy of Fostering Animals with Mary Talalay, The Joy of Winnie-the-Pooh with Christine Caccipuoti, The Joy of Water Skiing with Kate McGormley, The Joy of Old Time Radio Shows with Zachary Lennon-Simon, and The Joy of Podcasting and Neurodivergent Stories with Carolyn Kiel showed me that joy can truly be found anywhere and everywhere. Their passions inspired me to try new things and revel in the joy of being a beginner. I also want to give a shot out to Carolyn Kiel. Her podcast, Beyond 6 Seconds, recently won 2 podcasting awards and I’m so proud of her.
Three of our podcast guests have turned their passions into their careers. The Joy of the Unknown with Eric Fisher, The Joy of Photography with Amy Selwyn, and The Joy of Old Things with Ashley Semrick inspired me to bring my own passion projects that comprise my career into this podcast. And that’s exactly what I’ll be doing in Season 2.
Speaking of Season 2, here’s what’s on tap and how I’d love for you to be involved. This year, I started a new Masters Program at University of Cambridge in Sustainability Leadership. In 2023, I will start the year-long process of writing my dissertation. Protecting the health of the planet is a passion of mine, and with my dissertation, I’ll combine my love of storytelling and science. To do this, I’ll be interviewing people all over the world who are expert storytellers. I want to learn from them about the elements of the most joyful, uplifting stories that inspire people to take action in their own lives, and I want to apply that learning to inspire everyone to help restore and the health of the planet which supports the health of all beings. My hope is that some of the people I interview will allow me to share our conversations about storytelling during the second season of JoyProject.
Now here’s where I could use your help. Are you an expert storyteller? Do you know an expert storyteller? Have you ever heard a story that changed your life? I’m looking for stories and storytellers from every corner of the globe on any topic. The only requirement is that the stories and storytellers are so captivating that you can’t forget them and that you couldn’t help but change something about your life because of them. Got something (or someone) that fits that bill? Please get in touch with me.
You can find me on Twitter at @christanyc, on Instagram at @christarosenyc, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and through the website for this podcast christaavampato.com/joyproject. The website has all of Season 1’s episodes, links to everything we talk about on the podcast, and links to our incredible guests.
Thanks to all of you for spending this season with me and JoyProject. I hope you’re finding joy in some way every day. Take care of yourself and take care of those in your corner of the world. Season 2 will begin in 2023. Stay tuned for the launch date! I hope the episodes in Season 1 inspire you as much as they inspire me. I hope joy becomes a daily practice for you. I hope you create it, revel in it, and share it. I’m Christa Avampato and I’m so excited for what’s next. I hope you are, too. Happy New Year and I’ll talk with you again about joy and storytelling in 2023.
Every day the unknown is waiting for us. As much as we plan our lives, the unknown is our constant companion we meet every day. In this wide ranging discussion about joy, faith, and the future, storyteller Eric Fisher takes us through his three tiers of joy and explains how reframing the stories of our past can help us create a brighter, more joyful future.
Topics discussed in this episode:
The philosophy of joy
How to reframe our challenges, not only as sole actors, but collectively in community with others
Building back better after difficult times so that the world is improved for all beings
The beauty of being able to hold a whole range of disparate emotions at the same time
The best compliment that anyone can give us when we tell them our stories
How to look forward to what’s next when we’re in liminal space
How Eric’s faith helps him to find joy and helps him help others
How joy can heal us on many levels and bring us closer to one another
The wish our friend John Bucher has for anyone and everyone who goes through challenges
Cory Booker’s comment about joy on the Senate floor, “You can’t steal my joy”
Eric’s business that helps people preserve their life stories
Eric’s three levels of joy that help him find meaning
The difference between joy and happiness
Eric’s life philosophy rooted in the classical narrative structure of stories
How joy can and is present in all phases of our story, even and especially conflict
Making joy in the midst of the experiences we never wanted to have
Eric Fisher has always had a large imagination and loves good storytelling! In his early years, he expressed these passions through sports and humor with friends. He’s worked several types of jobs and specialized in wellness and coaching for over ten years. He now pursues writing and acting. He’s always dreaming of what’s next. Even now, his life is full of unknowns! He knows he will undoubtedly fail, but he holds hope in every possibility.
Talking about books is one of the greatest joys, and to have a conversation about books with Libby is a treat for all book lovers. In December 2015 Libby was going through a time of intense grief and participating in the POPSUGAR annual reading challenge gave her the joy she needed. To amplify that joy, Libby posted about the challenge on Facebook to see if she could get a few friends to read with her through 2016. That Facebook group, 2022 Reading Challenge, started with a small group of friends and now has grown to almost 500 members in 2022. Anyone and everyone who loves to read books and talk about them is welcome. It’s all online through Facebook with zero pressure and a source of joy for everyone in the group. And yes, you’re invited to join us! We’d love to have you read with us in 2023.
About Libby: Libby Seiter Nelson is a highly skilled and extensively trained certified professional coaching. She is an Executive Coach and Facilitator in an innovative coaching program that helps parents with the critical transition to life as a working parent. Her coaching is especially focused on the return to work — an underestimated challenge that impacts gender equity and inclusion. She facilitates courses and group coaching, and teaches seminars focused on the realities of the current work environment, offering tangible solutions for the challenges of being a working parent. Libby is a Certified Daring Way Facilitator™, a program created and run by Dr. Brené Brown.
When it comes to picking up new hobbies, Kaylee isn’t shy about trying something completely new and outside her comfort zone. She took her two hobbies of swing dancing and leather working and combined them by learning to create 100% handmade swing dancing shoes. Now she’s expanded to make shoes and boots of all kinds, along the way discovering a community of cordwainers, artisans, historic supply businesses, and classes all over the country. Her enthusiasm is highly contagious and before you know it, you’ll be dreaming up shoes designs and dancing!
Topics discussed in this episode:
How Kaylee got started making shoes
The highly technical process and the artistry that goes into making shoes
Resources to get you started making your own shoes
About Kaylee: Kaylee was born and raised on an alpaca ranch on the coast of California, where she spent most of her days learning how to knit, sew, paint, hand spin, and teach herself all types of random crafts. She used the excuse of a degree to briefly run away to university in Australia, and after securing a degree in archives and records management and becoming a certified archivist, she used the lockdowns as an ideal time to teach herself how to make shoes. After two workshops and a year and a half of projects, Kaylee has made over a dozen pairs of unique shoes!
I submitted some of my collage art to Stone Canoe, an award-winning literary and art journal in July. On Friday I found out that one of my pieces was accepted—the first time a piece of my art will be published!
It will be part of Stone Canoe’s 2023 annual journal that is released in March 2023. The mission of Stone Canoe is “to make the work of writers and artists with ties to Upstate New York available to a national audience.” (I grew up in the Hudson Valley on an apple farm.)
This wonderful surprise has inspired me to make more work and submit it more often. I’ll make sure to share the published piece when it’s out in the world. Thanks to Amy and all of you who encourage me and inspire me to keep creating. You can take a look at my collage work here.
This morning I had a workplace dream so odd I woke up laughing, something I used to do often and haven’t done in years. I can’t keep it to myself because it was, as dreams often are, full of entertainment and insights too good not to share.
I was working at a large media company with a bird as the logo (not the one owned by a billionaire lunatic, the other one). I was sitting in a very grey cubicle in a very grey office in front of my computer when an email popped up. There was a huge layoff and reshuffling of jobs at the company. Most of the company had been laid off but not me. I still had a job and that job had a two-word description stated in the email: Christa Avampato – writes jokes. My boss was J Lo.
My colleagues, and now former colleagues, were a mix of people I knew from my many past real-life jobs and people who were either figments of my imagination or who I’ve yet to meet. Though there was going to be a big meeting with everyone who still had a job the following day at 4pm, I huddled in separate corners of our very grey office with my team, past and present to talk about the reorg.
With the ones who’d been let go, I expressed how sad and outraged I was, wondering aloud how the company was going to get by without them. I was very upset they were leaving. Ironically, none of them were upset and were all making plans to go to dinner to celebrate their departure. They asked me to join them even though I still had a job. Sadly the dream ended before that dinner happened.
With the ones who still had jobs like me, an odd shift of energy happened. We all sat around in a circle, and immediately began drawing up plans of how to move forward. They were all very eager to just get on with it and began drafting up new plans that looked very much like the old plans put together by our now-former colleagues but no one except me saw the irony in that. I asked why we would throw out the old for the new when the new was a replica of the old with nothing more than a shiny new package. “That’s the way it is, Christa,” I was told.
Then the de-facto leader of this little group asked if there were any questions. And if you know me, you know I always have questions and I always ask them. Apparently I’m as utterly myself in dreams as I am in my waking hours. I had two questions:
1.) Why was I, a person who thinks comedy is hands-down the most difficult genre to write and who is by full admission only occasionally and only situationally funny, tasked with writing jokes? If you asked me to tell you a joke right now, I’d draw a total blank. I am by nature a serious person, sometimes too serious.
The leader of the group (the man with the clipboard, pen, and glasses who I’ve never seen before in my life) said, “That’s the point, Christa. If it makes you laugh, then it must be funny.”
As an aside, in real-life, I find most things in life amusing and I am a very easy audience member. I pretty much smile and laugh the whole time. I know it’s damn hard to be really funny and I applaud and support anyone brave enough to give it a try, even if they aren’t funny at all (to me).
2.) Why is it that when companies say they need to cut costs and save money, they often cut people who actually do the work and rarely the people at the very top who do so little work and make so much money? Apparently I had done my research (dreams imitating real life again.) The CEO of this bird media company made $3,000 a minute. That’s roughly $375million / year. Why wasn’t he being asked to give up anything while my friends who made only a tiny sliver of that and did all the work were let go?
Silence from the whole group. J Lo walked by and didn’t even look at us.
My parting thought as I headed back to my grey cubicle was, “Man, they’re really going to wish they hadn’t put me in charge of writing jokes.” Then I woke up.
It’s a shame my dream didn’t include that 4pm company meeting the next day because I’m confident I would’ve had time to come up with some real zingers and I probably would have been fired in a really fantastic, dramatic way that could have made for good comedy. Maybe next time.
I woke up to write down this dream and then walked into the kitchen to make coffee. I’ve got a long day of writing ahead of me that unfortunately won’t include any jokes. (Though maybe some humor in the academic writing I need to do today wouldn’t be such a bad thing!) As I sat down at my laptop, I decided to write up this dream to share with you and a few insights from it bubbled up to the top. They seem worth sharing, too.
1.) Love the company you work with and the company you keep. No matter how long you live, life will always be too short to do anything else. Many of my now dearest friends (and more than one of my past romantic partners) I met through work.
2.) You can be and do lots of things, even those you aren’t particularly good at when you first begin, so long as you love the practice (comedy included!)
3.) Given my love of and belief in the value of practice, and lots of it, it’s ironic that I’ve worked with Carnegie Hall for almost 4 years—a storied institution where practice is so foundational that it’s been their unofficial motto for almost 100 years. It’s also ironic that this unofficial motto started as a situational joke. It’s credited to violinist Mischa Elman who was born the same year Carnegie Hall opened (1891) and made his debut there in 1908 at the age of 17.
4.) For years I’ve wanted to write something funny but always told myself comedy isn’t my thing. Leave that to the experts, to people who are naturally funny, I thought. But maybe this dream was meant to shake things up in my real-life. Maybe it was a message that funny is my future, or at least part of it.
If that 4pm company meeting shows up in a future dream, I’ll be sure to let you know. Maybe my new boss, J Lo, will run it. I sure hope so because I’ve definitely got some funny questions to ask her.
Climate change impacts are hitting Florida hard right now in the midst of an out of season hurricane. Most of my immediate family lives in Central Florida. My sister messaged me this morning. The coast is a mess—houses washed away and no beach to speak of. Even Orlando, smack in the middle of the state, is in shambles.
Working on climate change issues is necessary and vital to so many all over the world. That fact is motivates me every single day.
A sobering truth: even if we went to net zero across the globe today, there will still be dire impacts over the next few decades because so much damage has already been done. We have to change how we live now and build mitigation plans at the same time. It’s expensive but it’s the only way to secure any kind of healthy future.
Another sobering truth: we need to start relocating people in the United States. It’s tragic and heartbreaking to say that. No one wants to leave their home. The Florida coast is a gorgeous, precious place. Sadly, because we’ve stuck our heads in the sand on climate change and allowed the profits of big oil to persist and grow exponentially, we have no other choice now.
It will only get worse from here over the next few decades. Building on the Florida coast is no longer viable. Living on the coast of Florida is no longer viable either. The longer we wait to relocate people, the worse it will get. It’s a brutal policy and will be wildly unpopular but the time for retreat has arrived.
Today I ended my relationship with a client I’ve worked with since 2015. Over 8 years, 5 editors, and hundreds of interviews, I wrote 50+ pieces for them on education, travel, healthcare, science, and culture. It was a wonderful experience and I’m very grateful for all of the opportunities I had with them. I wish them all the best. Now I’m excited to write for new publications and I’m open to referrals, ideas, and suggestions.
To be true to ourselves, sometimes we have to move on from where we’ve been. It’s not easy to let go of clients or to turn down work, especially when the work is comfortable and easy. But in this new chapter of my life, I’ve committed to only doing work I can do with my whole heart. That means that I have to make tough choices, but I know they’re the right choices for me. I’m excited to see how this space I’ve created in my client book will take shape.