creativity

My workplace dream about layoffs and writing comedy

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.

creativity

This is the secret of life

If you get to the end of this story, I’ve got a secret to share with you. The upper left picture is me exactly two years ago right before I had a bilateral mastectomy and reconstructive surgery for early-stage breast cancer. My “Good Trouble” photo. The lower left is me the next morning at sunrise. My “I Survived” photo. The right is my official matriculation photo from the University of Cambridge taken last month as I began my graduate studies there in sustainability leadership. My “A Dream Deferred, but Not Denied” photo.

I have so much empathy for the woman on the left. It was the first time in my life I’d ever been admitted to a hospital and the first time I’d ever had surgery. I was terrified and also determined to be brave and evict cancer from my body.

With surgery I placed my life in someone else’s hands. I told Brian, my therapist, a few days before that I was terrified of surgery because there was no way for me to product manage the operation. He listened patiently, as always, and said, “Honey, you’re talented but even you can’t give yourself surgery. You have to trust someone else. The only way to conquer fear is to run right at it.”

It was a 5-hour tag-teamed procedure to remove all my breast tissue and 37 lymph nodes, and place chest expanders under my chest muscle. 14 months of constant pain later, they were swapped for much comfier implants. I smiled through the prep, thanking the nurses who helped me, determined not to crack.

Before entering the surgical suite that looked like a NASA space station, Dr. Schnabel, my breast surgeon, and Dr. Cohen, my plastic surgeon, visited with me. Dr. Schnabel looked me in the eye and said, “Sweetie, you’ve been stoic through this. It’s okay to have a moment. Then we go into battle.” Good trouble. I wanted to be as brave as John Lewis whom Audrey, my friend Stephanie’s daughter, painted onto my mask. That photo is the last day I had any cancer in my body.

I decided to walk into the surgical suite on my own two feet, even if my only armor was my surgical gown. I was scared and I ran right at it. This was going to be the last day that I had any cancer in my body. My last thought before closing my eyes was I hoped I lived to see the sunrise the next morning.

I have no memory of the surgery. I closed my eyes at NASA and woke up in the cloud of the recovery room. I was told they’d given me just a touch too much fentanyl and my blood pressure took a nosedive. I thought this was hilarious and laughed hysterically. Then I asked for some apple juice. Ah, narcotics.

I was in recovery for a long time and wasn’t admitted to a regular room until the wee hours of the morning. My dear recovery nurse, Esther, ran all over the hospital trying to find me a fresh turkey sandwich. I hadn’t eaten solid food in 24 hours and that plain turkey sandwich was one of the best things I’d ever eaten.

I told her my wish to see the sunrise and she was determined to make it a reality. I watched Harry Potter and munched on my turkey sandwich until daybreak. Maybe it was the drugs but I did feel like a witch with magical powers, as bandaged and bruised as I was.

Esther came back as soon as the sun started to come up. She helped me walk to a corner room where I could see the east river and the first rays of light illuminate my beautiful city. She left me alone to have my moment. I survived.

Back in my room, Dr. Schnabel and Dr. Cohen visited me. When I saw Dr. Schnabel, I cried for the first time. Again she looked me in the eye, two warriors on the other side of this one battle in a series of many more to come in this war. “Sweetie, it won’t always feel like this. You’re going to get to the other side. There’s a whole team of people focused on getting you there.”

I thanked her for saving my life, and she said, “I’m just part of the team. Team Christa.”

A few hours later my friend, Marita, picked me up at the hospital to take me home to where my sister who was graciously waiting for me with my dog, Phin. I had a giant bag of meds and surgical drains hanging out of my body. “How do you feel?” Marita asked once we got into her car. “I lived,” I said. “You did,” she said. “And you will.”

Fast-forward two years after climbing mountain after difficult mountain. That war on cancer was more epic than I ever imagined it would be. I nearly died, twice, from a severe and rare chemo allergy that shut down my lungs. I lost my long wavy hair to chemo and regrew 1940s ringlets. I was badly burned by radiation and completely healed. Now I’ve got new hard-earned boobs the same size as my OG boobs. That day in surgery was the last day there was ever any sign of cancer in my body—two years clear. Dr. Schnabel was right. I did get to the other side and I don’t feel the way I did before my surgery. This journey made me fearless.

When I was first diagnosed, I was just about to hit submit on my graduate school applications for Cambridge and Oxford. Then cancer struck and I had to put those applications away, afraid I may never get to submit them. I would sit in the chemo suite and dream about those far off places, dream that someday I would swap my surgical gown for an academic robe.

In September 2022, that dream happened. I took the train from platform 9 at King’s Cross to Cambridge, my own version of the Hogwarts Express just ¾ of a platform off. I thought about how I had watched Harry Potter’s train chug along on my TV screen in my hospital room two years before.

When I arrived at Cambridge, I dragged by very large bag that felt like a trunk onto the platform. I had myself a good cry in that train station. Here it was—my dream deferred, but not denied.

At my recent appoint to get the all-clear and graduate to annual checkups rather than 6 month checkups, Dr. Schnabel called my healing and this new academic chapter of my life a triumph. The dream became a reality, and I’m beyond grateful to everyone who helped me get here.  

I’ll never get back the life I had before the photos on the left, before cancer and COVID. I mourn the loss of that life. I miss it. But in exchange, I got something better. Environmental pollution was one of the main contributors to my cancer. Now I’m healed and dedicated to healing the planet.

Now for that secret I promised you at the start of this story. Along the way on this painful and difficult journey, I learned the secret of life. It’s love.

To love fiercely and be loved that way in return. To love whom we spend time with, the place we live, and the work we do. To love the planet that gives us everything and asks in return only to persist and continue giving to all of us. To love this life so much that our heart swells with gratitude for every day we’re given, the good and the bad, the ugly and the beautiful. To love and honor your time, and the time of others.  That’s it. That’s the secret, and it will transform us and our planet for the better.

Get into good trouble; the planet is counting on us. Survive, and then share your story because your story’s going to save someone else. Even if you have to put some dreams on hold right now, you can still make them happen bit by bit and they’ll be sweeter when you do get there.

Love, this and every moment. That’s the only secret there is, and the only work we really have to do.

creativity

Joy today: Don’t quit before the miracle

“Don’t quit before the miracle.” ~Anne Lamott

Listen up, gorgeous human. You don’t have to settle for the scraps that fall from the table.

I just woke up from a dream that put everything in perspective for me and I wanted to share it with you. I was enrolled at a very sexist college as one of only a very small handful of women. Graduation was upon us, and our small group was talking about making our graduate school decisions. A very old and cranky professor whom I had in undergrad in real life (who was not supportive of me at all) sat down at our table to tell us that it really didn’t matter what we chose to do because none of us were going to amount to anything. And I just snapped.

I stood up, grabbed my bag, and told this professor that he knew nothing about what any of us are capable of. I told him I planned to move to New York, and soon he wouldn’t have to wonder what I amounted to because he’d be reading all about it. Everyone would. Then, in true Leslie Knope fashion, I wished him a good day and said I felt sorry for him that he was so unhappy with his own life that he felt compelled to be terrible to other people.

Everyone at the table, including that professor, was completely shocked. (FWIW, everyone was wearing the same drab grey clothes and I was wearing bright pink. I was only aware of this after I stood up from the table.)

Now, here’s the fascinating part: in my dream, my dream was to have the life I have in New York in real life. That realization was a lightning bolt. I sat straight up in bed, in real life in New York, with every opportunity just outside my door. This is what I’ve amounted to: I have my dream’s dream.

Brian often tells me that we get what we settle for. It’s a refrain that rings through my mind every day. I’ve only ever been willing to settle for my dream, and bit by bit I got that dream. It was hard work, with lost of disappointments and twists and turns. I never gave up, and I’m not done yet. There are still some pieces waiting to be found and set in place—the right romantic relationship, another book, a film, a home I own—and they’re all abundantly possible. I know that now. Let’s go get Monday, shall we?

creativity

Joy today: I accepted a new job…at the movies

I’m absolutely THRILLED to share that I’ve been offered & accepted a new job as a Development Manager at a TV & film production company in New York City to develop, produce, and write. I’m over-the-moon excited about this new adventure and dream job. I’m literally pinching myself to make sure this is really happening! A year ago I never would have believed this was even a possibility. It’s been a huge lesson for me that if we live our passions and share them, our lives can change in ways we can barely imagine.

creativity

Joy today: My new business in biomimicry, The Green Atelier

“The wilderness holds answers to questions that we have not yet learned to ask.” ~Nancy Newhall

I’m pretty jazzed that my final assignment for one of my biomimicry classes is giving me the opportunity to lay down the very first tracks for the invention company I’d like to build with biomimicry when I finish my graduate degree. At first, I was so excited about this prospect that I was actually afraid of it. This felt like a big commitment to make to myself. And once I put these dreams and hopes out into the world, I couldn’t take them back. Once I had to admitted what kind of business I really wanted to build in this field, I could unsee it. Sure, it could morph, but there would be no denying my dream. There would only be choosing to do the work to make it happen, or not. And so, I went for it.

The assignment was to imagine my career in biomimicry 25 years from now and the business I would build with a sustainable framework. Here is what I came up with. What do you think?

25 years ago in the winter of 2019, I took my first class in biomimicry. At the time it was a burgeoning field and in many ways felt like the Wild West, a new frontier. Every day there was a new discovery, a new way of seeing and being in the world.

At the time, our planet was racked with difficulty—climate change deniers, enormous and growing islands of plastic in our oceans, rampant habitat loss, and painful species extinctions. This is not to say that we don’t still face difficulties today; it’s just that now in 2044 there is no denying our role as the chief contributors to climate change. We wore out the planet’s welcome and her resiliency; now it is common place for most people to consider the environmental consequences of their actions and purchases. We simply don’t have a choice to ignore our responsibility now as we so often did in 2019.

After graduating from my Master of Science in biomimicry program at Arizona State University, I put together my 20-year career in product development with my passion for science and started The Green Atelier, an invention shop that reimagines, patents, produces, and commercializes sustainable products, systems, and solutions that mimic the deep design principles found in the processes and structures of nature. We work with for-profit, nonprofit, and local and international government agencies. We are a small and mighty team with skill sets in product development, business, science, design, and engineering. We determined that we must begin this business as we wish to go. And so from Day 1, we fearlessly put a stake in the ground and committed to create conditions conducive to life.

Zero waste and maximum resource efficiency
We operate as the planet operates, taking only what we need and returning as much as we can to the greater communities where we work and live. This conservative approach to resource management means we have what we need for today and also ensure that we and others have what we all need for all of our tomorrows.

Life-friendly chemistry
We do not and never will use any type of toxic chemicals in our products, processes, and operations. When we must do activities such as travel, which is now much-improved with high-speed trains but still has a long way to go in terms of air travel, we make sure to pay a monetary contribution that covers our cost to the environment for that activity.

Locally attuned and responsive solutions
Context matters to us. Before we take any action in our product development process, we thoroughly research and incorporate all of the environmental factors in which our solutions must exist. We use locally available resources—including physical goods, labor, and mindshare. Community-involvement in our co-creative processes is always top of mind and a part of every project. We are guests in the areas where we work, and we act accordingly—with gratitude and grace. We listen much more than we talk.   

Integration of development with growth
We recognize that progress can and must coexist with conservation. Indeed, the two can feed one another in a symbiotic relationship so that everyone wins. There is a level of give and take that fluidly happens in the course of our work. However, it is not without effort and consciousness. Every player is aware of every other player, and respectful of their right to survive and thrive in the same space. The investment of our time, attention, and action with this mindset is crucial to our success, and the success of our clients, customers, and neighbors.

Respond and adapt to changing conditions
In the past 25 years, our planet has become more diverse than ever. This diversity has driven a compassion, curiosity, and resiliency that has become the backbone of our strength as a species and as a cohesive, cooperative biosphere. Relationships are the cornerstone of everything we do. We experiment, expect the unexpected, make changes based on new information and learning, and then replicate that work. We are committed to continuous improvement with every breath.

While all of these operating principles of our business seemed aspirational 23 years ago when we officially opened for business in the first days of 2021, to us they were an absolute necessity. We could see what our planet would become without this unwavering and sincere promise to operate and build in a sustainable, healthful way. A world without a sustainable ethos was not a world we want to live in. Indeed, it was a world none of us would actually be able to live in. Without exaggeration, we were on the doorstep of extinction and we were the only ones who could pull ourselves back from the brink. We had seen the problem, and the problem was us.

And so we set about becoming our own saviors, our own solution, and thereby the saviors of our elders in the natural world who were counting on us to make amends and drastically change our wasteful ways for the benefit of all beings. We would not, and could not, disappoint them. They needed us to be successful in our pursuit, and so we did everything we could to live up to our potential and responsibility while taking on the genius of nature as our wisest teacher and guide.

23 years on, we have no regrets at The Green Atelier about our brave and bold choices to build a business on the foundation of a sustainable framework. Our only regret is that we did not do this sooner, that our society had to quite literally be on a burning platform before we would make the necessary behavioral changes to survive.

We cannot change our past, but now that we are awake, we will never go back to sleep when it comes to the consciousness with which we make all our decisions, as a business, as a community, and as individuals who are but brief flashes of light in the landscape of deep time. We are privileged to be here in every sense, and we’re grateful for the opportunity that life affords us to support life.

creativity

A Year of Yes: Application to grad school sent!

20180805_140530Last week, I wrote about my interest in going back to grad school to pursue a Master of Science in Biomimicry. I intended to do a *little* work on my personal statement this weekend and then just couldn’t stop myself. I wrote the whole dang thing in one sitting. And I cried because A) it means that much to me and B) I am a big ol’ sap. I had a good night’s sleep, got up early, edited it, and sent it off. So now, we wait. I feel insanely happy that I’ve taken this step. I can’t wait to spend my days learning from nature so that I can literally build a better world for all beings. I still feel like I’m dreaming a bit that this is actually going to happen (provided the application process goes well), and that’s okay with me. I’m fine with having a life that is the stuff of my dreams. Thank you all for sharing in this process!

creativity

A Year of Yes: Shoot the moon

The only upside I can see to terrible times is that they can open the door for good people to make big ideas for positive change a reality. I sent some big ideas to potential partners yesterday. I shot the moon. Let’s see if I land in the stars. My hope for better days for all persists. I hope you’re hanging in there, and finding the light where and when you can. If you need help, let me know.

creativity

A Year of Yes: Storytelling dinner with New York City secret history

This week, I got some very exciting news today about my storytelling dinner with New York City secret history, all inspired by my time in Ireland: my #1 choice for a museum partner is very interested! Friends, swing for those fences and make ’em high. You never know what you can do until you try.

creativity

A Year of Yes: Writing at dawn

Sunrise over the River Liffey by Christa Avampato
Sunrise over the River Liffey by Christa Avampato

“The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you. Don’t go back to sleep.” ~Rumi

When everything’s quiet, late at night and early in the morning, there’s a magic time when anything we dream with raw creativity and hope. That’s when I write, when I’m fearless.

creativity

A year of yes: My day at the Edelman Fossil Park with paleontologist Ken Lacovara

It filled my heart with joy to see kids actively engaged in science and hunting for fossils at Rowan University’s Edelman Fossil Park yesterday. It is such a special place, unique in the world for the scientific history it holds. Walking through a 65 million year old time machine and physically seeing that time in layers around me is something I’m still wrapping my mind around.

An enormous thank you and congratulations to Ken Lacovara, the town of Mantua, staff, students, and volunteers who are working so hard to preserve this natural treasure. What a gift it was to spend the day there with them. I can’t wait to go back. Childhood dream of fossil hunting and being a paleontologist for a day fulfilled!