creativity

I’m on my way to the U.K.

Photo by John Cameron on Unsplash. Taken at the Marble Arch in Park Lane, London.

I’m on my way to the U.K. to begin my dream of starting a graduate program in sustainability leadership at University of Cambridge and the Cambridge Institute of Sustainability Leadership. Such a mix of emotions at this pivotal moment in history— gratitude, elation, responsibility, nervousness, excitement, fear, anticipation. All of that is in my heart now as I start this path of purpose to hone all my business, science, and storytelling skills and experience to play a role in saving our planet, our stunning natural world, and all species, including our own.

When I booked this flight months ago, I had no idea how consequential this time would be for the U.K. and the world. The passing of Queen Elizabeth II and the beginning of the reign of King Charles III has brought a new sense of meaning to this trip. For decades, The Royal Family and especially King Charles III have been advocating for economic and social transformations to address climate change. King Charles is a graduate of Cambridge with a close association with the graduate program I’m about to begin, and I feel fortunate to be on this path in this place at this time. I will witness this moment in history, and will share what I experience by posting regularly here on this blog.

I feel a huge sense of responsibility and duty to use my time to protect our only home. This work is personal and professional for me. Everything I’ve been through in the past 2+ years, from the pandemic to my own successful battle against cancer caused by environmental toxins, has been fuel for me to take this journey. With the help of my doctors, modern medicine, innovative science, and my community of friends and family, I healed myself. Now I want to heal the planet.

I am willing to do whatever it takes. The changes we make (or don’t make) now will dictate how the history of our world unfolds for the next several thousand years. The consequences are that profound. We will absolutely turn the corner over the next few years. The question is what awaits us when we do, and that answer is up to all of us, individually and collectively.

I want to thank everyone who helped me to get to this place and cheered me on. There are so many of you who moved mountains and I promise to pay forward all of it. Now, it’s time to go have an adventure and personally witness this momentous time for Britain and the world. I’m excited to bring you with me.

creativity

How my life and career prepared me to work on climate change

When people ask me, “what do you do?” my response is always, “have you got a minute?” If they say yes, I say, “I’m a digital product developer / business leader / journalist / author / biomimicry scientist / public historian / tour guide, and I kicked cancer’s ass during a pandemic. Now I’m bundling up all of that experience together to fight climate change and protect the planet. Do you have any questions?”

Some of the most important research on climate change has yet to be done: What happens in a worst-case scenario? This week, an international team of scientists led by the University of Cambridge (where I will start my graduate studies in Sustainability Leadership in September) published a paper about the urgent need to do this work. As I read the piece and considered my experience, I realized my life and career have primed me to be a part of this endeavor.

Cancer during COVID-19
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic I was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer. You think taking precautions to protect yourself and others from COVID is inconvenient? You think changing your lifestyle so we curb climate change in inconvenient? Trying getting cancer. Now that’s inconvenient. 

Cancer upends every facet of life to battle it. And even if you do everything right, there’s no guarantee you’ll be cancer-free. Having to face that demon and my own mortality (several times thanks to a life-threatening chemo allergy I had and never knew about) changed me. Then to find out that my cancer had a strong environmental component added insult to injury. It also lit a fire under me to change my life and dedicate my career to healing this injured planet. 

Nothing teaches you how to live like having your life on the line. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Since I had to go through it, and have emerged on the other side cancer-free, I’m determined to use what I learned to help make this world a better place for all beings.

Hope for the best; expect the worst
I’ve lived my entire life by this philosophy. At times, it’s exhausting but the tremendous upside is that I’m often prepared and rarely surprised. This thinking gave me a stiff upper lip as I’m not someone who runs from conflict or difficulty. I’m incapable of deluding myself or anyone else with any kind of pollyanna scenarios. Just give me the facts. Tell me what I could be up against and I’ll take it from there. I’ve mastered pro-con list making and I love a good SWOT analysis. Difficulty doesn’t depress me. I can sit with suffering and not be consumed by it. I’m not afraid of the future; I’m here to shape it. 

Product development
All product development, regardless of the product, service, or system being built is anchored in two principles: what problem are you trying to solve and who are you trying to solve it for? I don’t fall in love with anything I build or any idea I have. A long time ago, I fell in love with serving others and making the world a better place. My ego and my fear of rejection hover near zero. Being a product developer requires me to be measured and methodical, to care about the grand vision and every tiny detail. Strategy and tactics are two sides of the same coin and they serve each other. I like both of them equally. 

Business and leadership
I’d love to tell you that well-meaning governments, NGOs, and nonprofits are going to save the planet and humankind from destruction. They aren’t because they aren’t the problem. Business, and how we conduct business, is the problem. Because business is the problem it’s also the solution. 

Business is responsible for climate change because of the way it operates. Change the operations and you see progress toward solving the challenge. It’s not easy work. There are a lot of stakeholders with conflicting interests and priorities. Then you add the whammy of many people in the world being down on business and capitalism, and rightly so. Given all that, it’s easy to see why some businesses toss up their hands with a “I can’t do anything right so I’m just going to soldier on as I always have.” 

Except they can’t. Business and businesses will have to change and evolve. It’s not a choice anymore. Destroy the planet and every business, every person perishes. So business colleagues: buck up, roll up those sleeves, humble yourself, and get to work to make your business sustainable. I’ll be in the trenches with you and I’ll help you.  

Scientific studies in biomimicry and sustainability
Biomimicry begins and ends with the mindset of looking at a problem and asking, “how would nature solve this?” It’s a fascinating, hopeful, and wonderful way to live and work. I feel fortunate to be a biomimicry scientist. I’m excited to begin my studies at Cambridge to extend my work in biomimicry and business through sustainability leadership and bring them together to build a better world. 

Digital media
I’m often asked, “do you make your whole living in biomimicry?” No. I don’t. I have an MBA from the Darden School at the University of Virginia and I’ve worked for years to become a storyteller in a variety of mediums. I make the majority of my income working as a product developer for a media company and from my writing. I also produce and host a podcast about joy called JoyProject, used to manage Broadway shows and national theater tours, and hope to get back to producing and hosting storytelling shows, in-person and on screens large and small.

Science is what I do because I love it and it’s a force for good in the world. With my studies at Cambridge, I’m hoping to work with energy companies to end the production of fossil fuels. You can read more about my career plans here

Being a journalist and a fantasy and science fiction author
Writers make stuff up and write it down. We love playing out scenarios and asking questions like, “What if…?”, “And then what happened?”, and “How did we end up here?”. We research. We interview people. We observe. We dig through historical documents and archives. We create characters and we put them into impossible situations. This is the kind of thinking and acumen the climate change movement needs. 

Public historian and tour guide
Science was my first love. History was my second. I was a history and economics major in college at the University of Pennsylvania. I majored in history because everything has a history. It felt to me like I could do anything if I was a historian. I can happily spend countless hours reading and uncovering history, talking to people about history, showing people history, and imagining what once was, why it impacts what is, and how it will shape what’s yet to be. 

I’ve never been a person who easily fit into a box of any kind. I had no interest in that. When I was interviewing for my first job out of business school, a man interviewing me commented that my resume looked like I had done a lot of exploring. He didn’t mean this as a compliment; he was criticizing me because he thought I lacked focus. I didn’t. My focus just happened to be on anything and everything that interested me, and a lot interests me. 

I got the job, but that guy who called me an explorer was never approved of me. That’s okay. He just couldn’t see what I knew to be true—the solutions to worldwide problems need worldwide views. They need lots of different types of experience to create something that’s never been done before. Turns out all my exploring gave me exactly everything I needed to make the world a better place, and that’s what I will do. 

creativity

How writing my Emerson Page novel trilogy saved my life—my conversation with Dr. Ed Freeman on The Stakeholder Podcast

In June 2022, I had the great good fortune to speak to my professor, mentor, and dear friend, Dr. Ed Freeman from the Darden School, on The Stakeholder Podcast.  

Link to the podcast episode: https://stakeholdermedia.libsyn.com/christa-avampato

Ed and I chat about:

  • how writing my Emerson Page novel trilogy saved my life
  • my live storytelling shows, screenwriting, and passion projects
  • my love for history, being a NYC tour guide, and how I got a tattoo live on stage
  • how product development helps me as a writer, and how being a writer helped me as a product developer 
  • living through difficult times and mental health challenges through creative work
  • my multi-faceted and varied career
  • making a living through a creative life
  • business and product development
  • building a better, more sustainable world

Ed is a treasure. He’s been one of the greatest influences on my work and life. He recently won University of Virginia’s highest honor: The Thomas Jefferson Award. Ed’s pioneering work on stakeholder theory changed the way we think about business and how businesses all over the world make decisions to create value. 

If you’ve ever used the word “stakeholder,” you can tip your cap to Ed. His writing about sustainability and stakeholder theory is what put UVA’s Darden School on the map for me, why I applied, and why I was honored to attend and graduate from the school with my MBA. He changed my life in incredible ways and I’m forever grateful for him. Thanks to Ed and producer, Ben Freeman, for having me on the podcast as a guest. 

creativity

JoyProject podcast: The Joy of Old Time Radio Shows with Zachary Lennon-Simon

The Joy of Old Time Radio Show with Zachary Lennon-Simon

Travel back in time with JoyProject as we delve into the world of Old Time Radio Shows, a form of entertainment from the 1920s to the 1960s that had families and friends gathered around the radio to tune into their favorite mysteries, drama, and comedies. Zachary Lennon-Simon, a comedian and storyteller in Brooklyn, New York, is our guide through this delightful and light-hearted audio-forward history for the latest episode of the JoyProject podcast—The Joy of Old Time Radio Shows.

At the end of the podcast, I share something that brought me joy this week related to the episode. I found a bunch of free online resources where you can tune into all kinds of old time radio shows with just a few taps on your computer or phone. I also share my two favorite apps where you can access thousands of free audiobooks through your local public library.

Topics discussed in this episode:
– How Zach discovered old time radio shows as a kid and rediscovered them after college
– Zach’s favorite shows and where to find them today
– The differences between old time radio shows, audiobooks, and narrative podcasts, and some good ones to check out
– The importance of sound design in old time radio
– Stars who made old time radio popular

Links to resources:
– Zach on Instagram – @lennonhyphensimon
– Zach on Twitter – @zachlennonsimon
– Zach’s short film, frantic delicate summer – https://vimeo.com/63383000
– Christa on Twitter – @christanyc
– Christa on Instagram – @christarosenyc
– Christa’s website – ChristaAvampato.com
– Old Time Radio Archive – https://www.youtube.com/c/OldTimeRadioArchive
– Old Time Radio Shows – https://www.youtube.com/c/OldTimeRadioShowsOnline
– MakeUsOf article – https://www.makeuseof.com/listen-old-time-radio-shows-online/
– Internet Archive – https://archive.org
– Relic Radio – https://www.relicradio.com/otr/
– RockIt Radio – https://rokitradio.com/
– Internet Radio – https://www.internet-radio.com/search/?radio=old+time+radio
– Pumpkin FM – https://pumpkinfm.com/
– RUSC – https://www.rusc.com/
– Libby App for free audiobooks – https://libbyapp.com/
– Cloud Library for free audiobooks – https://www.yourcloudlibrary.com/

A little bit about Zach:
Zach Lennon-Simon is a filmmaker and storyteller who was born & raised in Brooklyn, NY. He has told stories for many different shows such as Kvetching & Kvelling, Everything is Bad, Beaver Helmet, and The Teacher’s Lounge. In his spare time, he tries his best to sing both parts of Judy & Babs’ “Get Happy/Happy Days Are Here Again” medley. 

creativity

How research helps writers get unstuck

Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash

Have you ever been in the messy middle of a writing project? It’s the point where you’re not quite sure how to get from the middle of the narrative to the satisfying conclusion you have planned. It feels like you’re in quicksand, unable to clearly see the path forward. Your characters look to you for guidance, you look to them for guidance, and none of you have any answers so you just spin place, or worse—you abandon the project altogether. 

The wisdom and guidance you need to get out of the messy middle is research. Right now I’m working on a historical fiction novel. The main tentpoles of the plot have remained the same but I’ve brought in many new details to make the script come alive. It’s set in an Italian bakery in New York City in 1910, a dynamic and wild time in the city, country, and world. A myriad of historical events would have had an outsized impact on my characters so I have to research that time to get the details just right. It’s a heavy lift, and ultimately worth the time and attention.

I got myself out of that messy middle by digging into The New York Times archive for specific dates and events that figure prominently into the lives of my characters. In that research I found a plethora of information, and that information created the map I needed to find my way to the conclusion. 

If you’re in the messy middle now and ready to throw in the towel out of frustration, take a deep breath and go to the archives. Let history be your guide. Research your way across the channel to safely emerge on shore on the other side. It’s only a matter of time. The world needs your story.

creativity

My JoyProject podcast launches TODAY: The Joy of Old Things with Ashley Semrick and a joyful news segment

My podcast, JoyProject, launches its first interview and joyful news episodes TODAY. Historian and teacher, Ashley Semrick, talks to me about The Joy of Old Things. Listen at the link below or anywhere you listen to podcasts. This link also has a transcript of the episode, photos, and links to extra resources.

In this episode, Ashley and I talk about our love for history and its relevance in society today. We explore the history and stories held in objects, and how anyone can get started doing historical research about any topic that interests them. We especially focus on teaching history to young people and getting them excited about digging into the past as a way to understand the world around us.

Topics discussed in this episode:

– The complexity and necessity of joy in difficult times, and how to find it and create it

– How and why to teach history to young people

– How to conduct historical research about any topic of interest

– The important role of museums, media, and cemeteries in historical research

– Ashley shares how her parents sparked her love of history at a young age

– How Ashley found and returned a 100+ year old diary to the family of the man who wrote it thanks to Ancestry

– The joy of found objects and discovering the history behind them

– NYC’s Sanitation Museum—a collection of found objects curated by a NYC Department of Sanitation worker who collected items that New Yorkers threw out for 30+ years

creativity

Write every day: How to know where to begin a huge story

For a few months, I’ve been wrestling with an idea for a TV pilot I want to write. The trouble is that it’s a period piece (which are notoriously expensive because you often have to recreate a world that no longer exists) and the story is mammoth. I’ve been making lists of ideas, notes, and sources, but I wasn’t getting anywhere. And then last night, a break through.

I was reading a book about the heroine I want to showcase, and there is a key moment, a turning point where a choice she makes sets in motion a set of tumultuous events. So I’m going to start right at that key moment. I can see it so clearly now—how everything unfolds from there and changes the course of her life forever. The moment is small but the implications are huge.

With mammoth stories, it’s often those tiny moments, that one decision that tunnels into an entirely new world, that should be the beginning.

creativity

Write every day: Prohibition and organized crime

Screen Shot 2020-02-02 at 7.05.39 PMTake a ride through the underworld with me! I wrote a piece about Prohibition & organized crime in New York City for Inside History magazine’s latest issue called Crime and the Underworld. The piece is titled If Organized Crime Could Make It In New York…It Could Make It Anywhere! If you’d like to read just my article, click here.

The entire magazine is filled with juicy true crime stories throughout history so if you’d like to get a copy, here are the order links:

UK delivery (print)
Worldwide delivery (print)
Digital PDF download

creativity

Joy today: I finished my third National Novel Writing Month

The day before Thanksgiving, I wrapped up my third run at NaNoWriMo and hit my 50,000 word goal for my third novel. I’m giving the novel a good long rest on my desktop until I pick it up again to begin editing in early 2020.

Here’s the draft synopsis:
“After a succession of personal tragedies, Libby Farina runs her family’s Italian bakery on Mulberry Street in the year 1910 in New York City’s Little Italy. As the city around her swirls with innovation and its often dire consequences, a stranger arrives on her doorstep near death. Who is he and how will his presence in her life, however brief, forever change her world?”

creativity

Joy today: I’m writing a theater piece about Prohibition in NYC

Today I’m putting in a funding application for a piece of writing that combines my love for secret New York City history and immersive theater. Would you go to a show based on historical events and figures set in one of New York City’s only remaining original speakeasies during prohibition?