20 Questions Tuesday: 221 - Deborah Frieze

This week I get the amazing pleasure of asking 20 Questions of a family friend. She started out as a friend of my wife and has quickly migrated to Favorite Aunt status amongst the kids.  Deborah Frieze is an author, she is a systems innovator, she is visionary, she is someone you should know about and watch change the world one system at a time, and more than anything else, she is delightful.  Granted, she will categorically deny most of the above points, but that is how people play this game.  For more information on what it is she does, get her book Walk Out Walk OnFun Fact: from page 188 to page 219, the book is all about the work my wife does and the people with whom my wife works.  FYI: These 20 questions started waaaay back in July and concluded yesterday.

Anyway… let’s get this party started.

I was born in Oklahoma City, OK.  The fam moved to Montgomery , AL as my father chased his Air Force career.  We moved up to Birmingham, AL when the AF Career dried up.  I left B’ham to go to school in Kent, OH and followed my then fiance, now wife to Columbus, OH for grad school and have been here for the past 15 years.  Question 1: What is your geographic story?

I was born on Greenlawn Avenue in Newton, MA. When I was an age that was still measured in months, we moved a few miles away to Windsor Rd. End of story — my parents still live in that house. However, as soon as I turned 18, the geographic whirlwind kicked in. While I always had one foot planted in Boston, the other roamed from place to place to place. Let’s see if I can remember: Colorado to Hawaii to Connecticut; then San Francisco, New York and Ottawa; and then the nomadic years — South Africa, Zimbabwe, India, Mexico, Brazil, Greece. Now I’m back in Boston. Again.

Question 2:  In your roaming… how long would you typically stay in these places?  Would you be able to set up some kind of residency or were they truly transient existences?

I’d generally stay anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. And rather than get an apartment anywhere, I’d stay with friends who essentially become my local family — kind of like I have a room in your house, which makes me an honorary citizen of Columbus. That is, until and unless your daughter decides to reclaim her room.

With the new house that we have, we actually have a guest room.  So you could stay longer if necessary, and the girl can claim her room.  Everybody wins.

Question 3:  Including mine, how many surrogate houses do you have?

Let’s see. Two in Zimbabwe, one in India, one in Brazil, one in Mexico, one in Canada and five in the U.S., including yours. Hmm… looks like I have to work on my European relationships.

So, South America, North America, Africa, and Asia… You need Europe, Australia, and Antarctica.  Stop slacking.

Everyone wants to know, a la the Paul F Tompkins bit, Question 4: Cake or pie? Which kind and why?

Neither. It’s all about ice cream. Just had my all-time favorite tonight: Purple Cow. That one aside, nothing beats a mean mint chip.

So, when we took you to Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, you really were a kid in a candy store.  I went there with the boy and my dad a week ago and had a root beer float made with their salty caramel instead of the vanilla….. Oh.  My. GOODNESSSSS….  I highly recommend.  Highly.
Anywhoo… Question 5: So what is a typical breakfast for you and what did you have for breakfast today? 

I usually have a nut bar, and a granola bar, but today was cold pizza for me.
When I replied to your last question, I feared I might dishearten the Ryan-Hart family by not mentioning the ambrosial experience I shared with you all at Jeni’s. The omission was due to the fact that I couldn’t remember the name - or the flavors - I had there. But I can remember the transcendent experience of eating that ice cream. Over and over again. And here’s what I have to say to all readers of this interview: JENI’S OF COLUMBUS IS THE BEST ICE CREAM EVER!

Moving on to your breakfast question.

I eat the same thing every day. Plain yogurt plus two items off the following list: slivered almonds, cranberries, granola, banana. That’s it. About an hour after that, I walk three blocks to Chinatown and pick up a sinfully sweet Hong Kong tea, which consists of black tea, piles of white sugar and condensed milk.

That was what I had today. It’ll be what I have tomorrow and the day after that. Only today, I threw in a curve ball — just gobbled up three Swedish Fish. The good ones. Did you know that there are good ones and bad ones? The good ones are large, soft and very gummy. The bad ones are small and kind of break off when you bite into them instead of stretching.

Wow, you know how to live it up.  Swedish fish is quite the curveball… you’re quite the crazy risk taker.  Crazy-Ass Deborah is what we call you in Casa Del Ryan-Hart.  She once threw on a few Swedish fish into her normal granola almonds and yogurt breakfast.  That’s Crazy-Ass Deborah… We freeze our positions, with our heads tilted in mid-laughter, and credits roll. Our lives are a sit-com, and you are the wacky aunt who visits occasionally.

Question 6: So, since you like Hong Kong Tea, do you like southern Sweet Tea?  It is super-saturated with sugar.

I have never tasted southern Sweet Tea. Now I want some.

oooh, southern sweet tea is crazy sweet.  There is some serious chemistry stuff going on with sweet tea.  By heating the liquid, southerners are able to add more sugar and create a super saturated solution of tea, sugar, and water.  Southerners also have a kind of tea called “Sun Tea.”  This tea is brewed by leaving the pitcher in the sun for hours and occasionally stirring.  In fact there was a brand of tea bags called Luzianne hat was shilled by Burl Ives back in the 80’s in the south.

Question 7: Bing Crosby or Burl Ives? Who would you like to be stuck on an island with during Christmas time?

Burl Ives? Bing Crosby? OMG, what’s a good Jewish girl to say? Answer to your question: Adam Sandler & the Hanukah song, hands down.

Full disclosure:  I know that you are Jewish and that was part of the fun in asking that question.  Sandler would be a better choice to be stuck on an island with during Christmastime.  Firstly because he is not dead, and secondly, he would probably help out on the island.  Burl is pretty much useless weight and Bing would be a ruthless abusive taskmaster to be stuck with on an island.  I like that you always go for a third un-named option.

You are someone who I know lives “in a question,” so… Question 8: What is the over-arching question that is driving you?  What question are you attempting to answer through your thoughts, actions, and intentions?

O no you didn’t! You did. You asked the Big Question. I wondered if that was going to come my way. Okay, time to dig deep.

There are three over-arching questions, all of which are unanswerable, which is what makes for a good question. The first is the mother of all questions, which I’ve borrowed from my dear friend Allan Cohen: “What is a life well lived?” How about hanging out with that one?

The second is less metaphysical and more vocational, which is "How do we create the conditions for healthy and resilient communities to emerge?"
And the final question I believe is essentially another way of asking the second question, if you really think about it, and that is, "Where shall we have lunch?"

(You, my dear Scott Ryan-Hart, as a bit of a geek like me, I fully expect to get the reference. Your readers, I’m not so sure…)

Oh, I did.  Of course I did.  I like breaking out this kind of question early when dealing with people I know are introspective and consistently working within a question and consistently questioning… and as for lunch “Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.”  

Question 9: Correct me if I am wrong, but you are currently in the process of re-aligning your work, is this partly due to attempting to address your second question?

Yep. Definitely the re-aligning of my work, as you accurately put it, is still related to this core question about healthy and resilient communities. Over the last 10 years, I spent most of my time asking that question in the Global South. The message I received from my friends and colleagues in Southern Africa, Brazil, Mexico and India was the same: “Go home. Make change happen there. That’s where we need you to make a difference.” So in asking the question about creating the conditions for healthy and resilient communities to emerge in the U.S., I find myself turning toward the Local Living Economy movement — the idea that we might rebuild our local economies through local ownership, local production for local consumption and wise stewardship of natural resources.

Always helping.  I cannot wait to see what you end up doing.  It feels like you are on the cusp of something big.

Question 10: So, what do you do in your down time?  What does a Deborah Frieze do to pass the time?

Right now I’m watching the Olympics streaming on my laptop while I write this message to you—which is the only way I can watch it, since there’s no TV at home. Does that count as down time? Or is writing you work? Hmm…

Lots of time spent at the gym, practicing yoga, dancing and doing anything I can to move my body, which is what my friends remind me I must do lest I become unfriendly. And, of course, to allow myself to eat unlimited amounts of ice cream (see Question 4).
Also some guitar playing, singing, camp-firing, kayaking, meditating and the occasional leap out of an airplane.

The Olympics are seriously fun.  We just "cut the chord" for our cable service and are therefore limited in our Olympic viewing capabilities, and, wow, NBC seems to really be dropping the ball on its coverage and its editorial editing.  That being said, I watched 1-man pursuit cycling for a bit last night and it was cool.

Question 11: Most of your downtime activities are movement related.  Do you consider yourself a kinesthetic learner?  Do you remember things better when you learn them while moving? Do you integrate thoughts more when you are not still?  

Absolutely and completely kinesthetic. It’s not so much that I have to be in motion to learn (though I can’t actually utter a word without also moving my hands). It’s more that I feel like I absorb information through my body first and my mind second. There’s a sense of expanding and contracting — expansion if something rings true or is intriguing; contraction if it rings false or is uninspiring. Once I catch that response, I try to follow it with my intellect.

Question 12:  Did this kinesthetic learning cause issues in a, presumably, “shut down,” “locked tight,” “rigid” learning environment such as middle school and high school or were you lucky enough to have a more relaxed learning environment?  I for one retain information better when I draw, but that seemed frowned upon by education professionals when I was a kid.   

The kinesthetic learning thing wasn’t as intense when I was a kid. I was very active (lots of sports), but didn’t have too much trouble being still enough for public school standards. There was a lot of doodling, foot-tapping, note-passing and the odd prank or two. That said, I never felt like I retained information well. I was always much better at thinking on my feet and winging it than actually “knowing stuff.” I also subscribed to the theory that my brain was already too stuffed with song lyrics (plus band name and year song was released) to make room for any new factual knowledge.

ooh, music.  Gonna put a pin in that and ask my typical Question 13: Do you hold dear to any superstitions or rituals?  If so, which ones and where did they come from?

Oh goodness do I have rituals! Source: my father’s fervent commitment to Boston’s sports teams. As a child, I remember being sent up to the TV every time Yaz (Carl Yastrzemski) came to bat to give him a good luck kiss. And I have some vague recollection about never turning my back on Larry Bird.

While I’ve let go of many of my sports spectator superstitions, the world of ritual is definitely very much alive for me. But now we begin to tread on territory that may be a little too personal for 20 Questions Tuesday… ;-)

I do not have many rituals currently.  When I was all sporty, whenever I was getting ready for a game/match/bout I created a very specific sequence of events to assist in my preparation.  That became a my way of getting into the game space.. it became less about luck and winning and more about clearing my mind of things not sportlike.

Back to the brain stuffed with band name, realease year, and lyrics…

Question 14: From what year to what year do you have this mental catalog, what genre of music, and what is your favorite guilty pleasure song to listen to (the one that you shouldn’e like, but do, for example, Robbie Williams’ Millenium is it for me, I cannot help but listen to that)?

I don’t know exactly how early this began, but I can remember playing with my brothers’ record collection, highlights of which included Meatloaf Bat Out of Hell (1977), Fleetwood Mac Rumours (1977), Peaches and Herb 2 Hot (1978) and so on. But the most significant influence of all happened in 1979 when the Sugarhill Gang came out with Rapper’s Delight, and the Frieze household would never be the same again.

As for guilty pleasure, I confess to exuberantly singing the guy part of "Paradise By the Dashboard Light."

In 1981 I knew everything on the top 40 charts… now? I would have trouble finding the top 40 charts, and it all sounds like noise… Getting old sucks, now get off my lawn, ya damn kids, with your beep beeps and your boop boops…  Where was I again?  Oh yes… Question 15: I have never understood this… what is the appeal of Meatloaf (the “artist” not the foodstuff)?

I have absolutely no acceptable answer to this question. I can’t even make one up. Meatloaf has absolutely zero appeal to my adult self. The musical tastes of my pre-teen self are as archaic as my tastes then in eating Fun Dips and wearing parachute pants  There is no explanation for such phenomena.

I wish someone could explain the phenomenon of Meatloaf to me.  Question 16: Given that you think your pre-teen self’s music is a bit archaic, would the 12 year old Deborah Frieze be happy with the different aspects of the current Deborah Frieze’s entertainment choices (books, movies, TV, music, etc…)?

I suppose the displacement of pre-teen pop music and blockbuster movies in favor of indie flavors would have seemed inevitable. My pre-teen self would perhaps have been most perplexed by my current TV habits, which have been whittled down to only the Daily Show and NFL football — two choices that would likely have tortured my 12-year-old soul.

I am pretty sure that 12 year old me would be beyond perplexed by my current viewing habits.  Number 1: having “cut the chord” and relying almost solely on streaming media would confound my 1986 brain, and number 2: My reliance on podcasts for audio entertainment… primarily people talking without comedy… You’ve changed, man.  You’ve changed…

Question 17: Is there anything that I haven’t asked you that you wish I would have?

Wait, wait… Isn’t that supposed to be Question 20? What could you possibly have up your sleeve for Questions 18, 19 & 20 if you’ve already popped the “whaddid I miss” question? Hmm… an enigma you are, Mr. Scott Ryan-Hart.

Okay, how about this… You get to choose one of the following questions for me to answer:
1. What stupid human trick can you perform?
2. Who is your celebrity look alike?
3. Do you have any experience with guns?

OOOOH!  The stupid human trick one!

I can cross one eye.

Sounds harmless, but looks pretty freaky - or so I’ve been told.

Well the next time you are in town, you will have to show us the trick.

Now is the question I have been dreading asking you, and pretty much anyone who has witnessed my wife’s ability to ask wicked questions…

Question 18: Do you have any questions for me? /cringe

Wow. Awesome.

Question 18: How did you nail as hot and cool a woman as Tuesday for your wife?

(Good luck.)

The only way I can figure this out is that it was a perfect combination of timing, and pure , raw unadulterated dumb-luck.  She was young and, from what I can gather, temporarily addlepated.  I really have no idea and I thank as many gods, goddesses, spirits, and powers that be everyday for her lack of decision manking at that moment, and her sense of duty and how she feels she needs to fulfill her obligations (i.e. her relationship with me).  In the contest of relationships, I won and she lost. easy as that.

Penultimate question… Question 19:  What are you taking from these 20 Questions that you did not bring in with you?

What I’m taking from these 20 Questions is my unexpected delight this format! As someone who far prefers conversation — particularly the spontaneous kind — to email, I confess to having approached this exchange with some skepticism… Would I follow the thread of conversation? Would it engage my attention in a meaningful way? Would you try to entrap me? The answer is yes, yes and undetermined — you have one question remaining, as well as the possibility of abusing my confession about listening to Meatloaf. But then again, I trust you. (Shouldn’t I?)

The next question is not about Meatloaf or your potential love for the deep cuts on a Styx album… the next question is, luckily for you, one of my prescribed questions.

Question 20:  What is next for you?  Be as concrete or as vague as you want to be.  Be as realistic or philosophical as you want to be as well.

What’s next for me is a bowl of pho. Beyond that, I’m moving to a new home in Jamaica Plain (Boston) in November, exploring whether or not I’m going to write a new book about the Localism movement and launching a Boston-based impact investing fund. Local is hot; travel is not — that’s my new motto. Now I just need to learn how to break the airplane addiction and find a way to stay connected to friends and communities around the world that have taught me so much over the past decade. Everyone is invited to come visit me in Boston — most especially, the Ryan-Hart family. I promise to provide ice cream.

Well, this was delightful.  I always enjoy asking people I know more than we typically talk about.  Deborah is an amazing person and has a book out that should be read.  So, go read the book, Walk Out Walk On.  Check out the book’s companion website, and Deborah’s personal website (www.deborahfrieze.com).  When you are done reading her book, keeping up with the companion website, and perusing her personal website, give her a follow on the twitters.

To Recap:
The 4 yr old had to go to the ER this morning because of contact dermatitis from the Myrtle Spurge plant
Swollen face and itchy rash
Bad news all around
She is now on going to be on Orapred for 15 days
President Obama is at the OSU today
That will make getting home a challenge
Especially since I need to go close to campus to pick up the girl’s meds
Screw you, Myrtle Spurge!
Oh, boy! 15 days of 4 year old girl rage beast coming up
Have a great weekend, everyone
Donate iffens you wanna…. on the actual web-page…waaaay down on the left
No, further down than that… still further… on the left…. there you go