On the Calm app, Matthew McConaughey reads a sleep story titled Wonder. In the earliest days of my cancer diagnosis and treatment, in the middle of the pandemic before vaccines when death tolls were skyrocketing, I waited for biopsy results and surgery. I would lie in bed praying for sleep, knowing cancer was in my body. I’d often wake up in the middle of the night—alone, afraid, and lost.
I would turn on Wonder, and Matthew McConaughey’s voice would help me escape from my panicked and fearful mind. I needed to build my own anchor, and that story one was of my tools. It features a 7-year-old girl named Zoe who loves dinosaurs, art, and the cosmos. Her stargazing grandfather is wise and kind, and lives on a lake. When Zoe can’t sleep because of her worries about the world and her future, he reassures her of the beauty and comfort we can find in the darkness if only we are willing to step into it with curiosity and courage.
In those nights of drifting liminal space, caught in the sea of time between no longer and not yet, between living and dying, between this world and what’s next, Zoe, her grandfather, and Matthew helped me became limitless, fearless, and amazed. They kept the tiny light within me burning bright. Awe became my salvation.
I was Zoe, and her grandfather and Matthew were my guides. They reminded me again and again that in this moment, I was alive. “What might happen in the future can’t happen now,” they assured me. That truth was my North Star and I clung to it like the life raft that it was. I listened to this story so many times that I could recite it from memory.
Now, over two years cancer-free, I’m in the midst of re-imagining my future home and career. Recently I woke up in the middle of the night, concerned about what’s ahead. I listened to Wonder again for the first time in a long time. Again, as then, Matthew, Zoe, and her grandfather soothed my worried mind. They reminded me of how far I’ve come, how far we’ve all come, since those terrifying nights when, in the wise and timeless words of Ani DiFranco, self-preservation was a full-time occupation (and then some.)
When we are most unsure, we can be certain of this: if we can find something, anything, to help us hang on, there is so much beauty and wisdom to be gained in the struggle. Someday, our struggle and triumph will be the inspiration that helps someone else survive their own long night. That is reason enough to keep going—to have the honor of paying it forward.
I’m moving and looking for a new apartment. Yesterday I received my renewal lease – $2750 / month for 1 year, $2850 / month for 2 years. A $300 / month increase for 1 year, $400 / month for 2 years. This after they raised my rent $210 / month last year. Over a 20% increase over the course of 2 years, and I never got any kind of pandemic deal either. Time to find a new place. Even if they reduced it a bit, it’s still too much for me.
I’m sad to leave. I’ve been in this apartment for 6 years, the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere as an adult. I love my neighborhood and neighbors, and I really like the setup of my cute and quirky apartment. I love the park, and all the conveniences of this area.
This apartment has held so much for me. Over the last few years, I’ve dealt with a lot of heavy and difficult situations and emotions in this apartment. They’re part of my attachment to this place. Maybe this is a sign that I can let go of all that, turn the page, and move forward into a new chapter. I’m dreaming of a place loaded with natural light to start a-new.
So if you’ve got any leads on a great place for me and my very sweet old dog, Phin, I’ll take ’em!
1/3 of the global population plays video games. With engaging climate change storylines and content, video games have the potential to create billions of new climate advocates to protect the health of the natural world, and by extension the health of all beings including us. This is the topic of my first two academic papers at University of Cambridge. I got my mark and feedback on my first paper and my graders were very complimentary saying the paper was of professional quality and has a strong literature review and purposeful recommendations for the company to use going forward. They also liked the persuasive case I made for the value of hope and joy in climate activism.
This is the first time I’ve ever written a paper in this style of academic writing. My topic was unusual for them. I brought my heart and personality into the style and structure of the paper. They said that’s also an unusual choice for academic writing but it works. I wrote the paper I was passionate about creating, and I’m proud of it. I learned a lot in this process that I will use throughout the rest of my graduate degree program and in my career going forward.
A huge thank you to my friend, Jennifer Estaris, and the entire team at ustwo games for inviting me to be a part of this gorgeous video game project that brings me so much joy and hope, and has taught me so much. Thanks also to everyone who cheered me on as I spent more hours on this paper than I’ve ever spent on any one academic assignment.
Now I’m drafting the action plan for my next assignment and preparing for my next workshop in Cambridge in March. I can’t wait to be back together with my cohort in that magical place. On to the next tranche of this adventure with a grateful and open heart and mind…
I just completed a challenging jigsaw puzzle of Frida Kahlo that I started with my mom when she was here visiting last week. It got me thinking about dreams. All dreams are built by small pieces put together one after another after another. Small steps forward in a clear, focused direction. Tiny actions that each make the full picture clearer. The final product is greater than the sum of its parts.
Maybe in this start of the second month of 2023, you have dreams on tap, goals you’d like to achieve. Maybe these dreams and goals are so audacious and daunting that you don’t know where to begin. I often feel that way. Can I do this? Should I do this? What do I do first?
Step back. Take a breath. Break it down. What’s one small action you could do today, in the next ten minutes, that would help? Read a news article. Write a paragraph or draw a picture. Make a phone call. Send an email. Phone a friend. Say your dream out loud or write it on a post-it. Something. Anything. Every little thing is progress.
I’m working on a fun experiment right now that I haven’t told anyone about. I wrote down my idea and then came up with a few different actions to get me to step one. Yesterday, I sent a few emails to people who could possibly help me get some raw materials to put together a tiny prototype. It felt good to do something, to make one micro-dent on an outsized project. Once I get the raw materials, then I’ll work on some different ways to assemble these parts, and then I’ll ask a few friends to test out the prototype and let me know what they think.
I’m sure I’ll fail 100 times. That’s okay. The dream is big but the stakes are small. I’m beginning. I’m just trying something out to see if this idea has legs.
I hope you’ll join me on this journey of baby-stepping it. What’s your dream? What’s the one small thing you’ll do today to get yourself just a tad closer to realizing it? Let me know. Let’s cheer for each other and lift each other up along the way.
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 email@example.com, 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!