By: Stella Orange
True story: I was trained as a public-school teacher, years ago. After I got my master’s degree, my career objective was twofold: to work part time, and to find what I called a “funky” teaching job.
To work part time as a teacher in the United States is to live below the poverty line. So I started a housecleaning business to finance my teaching habit. Mornings, I taught at a one room schoolhouse, grades eight through twelve, in the basement of a Presbyterian church. After lunch, I’d ride my bike to someone’s house to clean it.
It was an alternative school, for young people who needed more attention and understanding than 30-person public school classrooms are able to offer. Run by a husband-and-wife pair of educators, the name of the school was Everyone Has a Song.
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Smash cut: I recently watched a Belgian film that came out of few years ago called The Brand New Testament. It imagines god as a mean, unhappy dude in a bathrobe, who sits at his computer all day, programming our lives. He’s emotionally and physically abusive to his wife and daughter (Jesus’ younger sister, Ea). Ea escapes their miserable apartment through an unexpected portal and sets out to assemble her apostles and write a new holy text.
To compose the Brand New Testament, ten year old Ea asks the humans she meets to tell her their life stories, using their lived experience to derive clues for the rest of us.
For each of her apostles, there is a moment after they tell her their stories. Ea leans in and puts her ear on their hearts and listens to the song it’s singing.
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Apparently, I write a lot of websites for a living. But really that’s a front for what I’m actually doing. I am actually listening for the song. Here are some of the songs I’ve heard lately:
A woman whose business more than quadrupled in revenue last year, thanks to a lucrative contract with one of the biggest tech companies in the world, says of her business, “I have built a cage for myself over the past seven years.”
Another woman sold more than a million dollars in six dollar e-books in her business in a year, only to discover that the way she did it was not congruent with her or her values.
Another woman tells me, “If only I had more time to dream”. But right now her business relies on her working in the business, instead of being the visionary, ambassador, and messenger that she can (and is called to) be.
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I’ve never been a practical person. I’m wired to experience the world through metaphor, image, symbol, narrative, story. Poet and political activist Muriel Rukeyser wrote a poem called Speed of Darkness, that I had not read fully until this morning, that describes how I experience the world with a line that rings my bones like a bell:
The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.
Yes. Yes, that’s right.
Surely there’s a point in here somewhere.
Let me dig around a bit more and see if I can find it.
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The trick in writing a website, I find, is that you’ve got to listen for where the person and their work is and also be able to see what they are becoming.
Side bar: I call this skill “octopus eyes”. I once heard that octopus have the ability for their two eyes to look in two different directions. One eye can look at the surface of the ocean, while the other eye can be trained on the depths. I’m not sure whether this is true. Doesn’t matter. As my family says, “Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.”
In a website project, there is also sorting work to be done. I find myself regularly drawing a bright line between a past version of someone’s ideal clients, and their incoming crop of future ideal clients.
There is often tidying up to be done there. Emotionally processing of blessing and releasing the past group, bless them, in order to make room for the new batch to show up and come in the door.
Lately, I also notice myself getting curious about what people tell me is true about their work and what’s possible… and whether or not it’s actually true.
I suspect working with Rebecca and Sarah for the past four years and watching them support people in getting their feet on the ground of reality has had an effect on me here. So has working with teenagers, whose B.S. detectors are some of the finest in the land.
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My point, if I had to pick one, is that, as Freud was reported to have said, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”
Sometimes a website is just a website.
But lately, none of our website writing projects have just been websites.
To a person, they are bowls that hold the big questions about what a person envisions for themselves, for their families and quality of life, for their clients, for their vendors and employees, for what they want to give and receive, and increasingly, for the change they intend to have within their sphere of influence.
Every business has a song, I see now.
And I turn again to poetry, to Rukeyser:
Big-boned man young and of my dream
Struggles to get the live bird out of his throat.
I am he am I? Dreaming? I am the bird am I? I am the throat?
Stella is cofounder and copywriter at Las Peregrinas, a creative and consulting agency. As our resident word nerd, she writes copy and points out the stories everyone is living and telling through their work. She is also fun at parties.
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