Conversation Is My Livelihood

Mike, Russell, and John - Dannebrog - 8.17.15 copyright Stuart Chittenden

Mike, Russell, and John – Dannebrog – 8.17.15 copyright Stuart Chittenden

Stuart’s Story

As an expat Brit new to Omaha ten years ago, I wanted to crack open the rigid carapace of “Nebraska nice” and reveal the intimacy of a people’s truer characters. In 2010 my wife and I began hosting conversation salons in our home reminiscent of those from Enlightenment France. Since then, spurred on by a spirit of curiosity, my belief in conversation’s benefits has motivated an active artistic and humanities practice centered around conversation-based interactions. I develop and deliver a variety of conversational programs and engagements for individuals and organizations.

 Telling and hearing our stories is an affirmation of our common dignity and a simple act that contributes collectively to our sense of togetherness.

Having read Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley in my teens, I long imagined embarking on the archetypal American road-trip experience. Some thirty years later, and now with a belief that community thrives through conversation, I devised the project, a couple of 830 mile long conversations. Approaching Nebraska with honest warmth, open acceptance and sincere curiosity, I am traveling the side roads of the state in an RV to engage with Nebraskans. Honoring a long line of oral history tradition, from traveling troubadours to Alexis de Tocqueville to John Steinbeck to Charles Kuralt, I am creating or engaging in public conversation spaces in towns on the route. In each conversation, I am inquiring into our shared culture and evoking a place and its people, connecting us to Nebraskans, their stories and their lives.

a couple of 830 mile long conversations is especially concerned with using the art of conversation to explore the nature of our togetherness and our lived experience of community. Owen in St. Paul expressed a personal desire for community, saying that “everybody wants to feel appreciated.” In Hastings, Lisa observed, “The differences are what make us more, not the similarities.” When I asked a morning coffee group in the Danish Baker in Dannebrog, the simple response was community is “What you see right here.”

Telling and hearing our stories is an affirmation of our common dignity and a simple act that contributes collectively to our sense of togetherness. I believe that conversation enables us to live better and well, and it is my calling.

About Stuart

copyright Andrew Marinkovich

copyright Andrew Marinkovich

Stuart Chittenden is a British expatriate who, with his wife Amy, has called Omaha home since 2004. He believes that conversation helps us to live better and well, as individuals, families, and communities. Driven by that belief, he founded Squishtalks to design conversation programs for corporate and non-profit organizations and for public, personal, artistic and community purposes. Stuart also is a partner at the branding consultancy, david day associates, where he consults on brand strategy with local and national clients. As an amateur poet, his work has been published in The Antigonish Review, the Blue Moon Literary & Art Review, Euphony Journal and the Tulane Review.

To read more about a couple of 830 mile long conversations, visit http://830nebraska.com/ .

NCE 2015 Road Trip Review

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The Nebraska Cultural Endowment exists to serve you by providing reliability and sustainability for the arts and humanities programs supported by Humanities Nebraska and the Nebraska Arts Council. Hundreds of organizations around the state benefit from their grants and programs. Continue reading

Aspiring to a Livelihood

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Oliver’s Story

We live in exciting times. I watch the changing Nebraska environment and ambience and relish its growing complexity. On Thursday March 12, 2015 we had to choose between a Georgia O’Keeffe lecture at the Joslyn, a lecture on kimonos at the KANEKO and a potluck at Gallery 72 feting father and son artists, all were free, two came with food. As a professional historian I see accomplishments and unmet goals, both encouraging and disappointing. We have a crisis of abundance and a dearth of social resources, thus inequality of opportunity and income. We have no family in Omaha. Our children fled to Kansas and Wisconsin and landed in Berkeley and San Francisco. Our work colleagues, religious affiliation, and people with like minded bicycling, art, music, culinary, wine, and liberal political pursuits has made a “family of friends.”

I want to elevate the common, the mundane, the human condition, into the universal, turn the autonomic into the noteworthy and remarkable, as in “who knew.”

My books are my friends. I read, mark the margins, jot down notes, and record how the text enhanced or confirmed my understanding. I am Google computer literate, but lag behind Facebook, Twitter, and whatever. I like sunrises (though prefer to sleep late), Nebraska’s piercing spring sun and rosy sunsets. I am in awe of the flight path of birds in a V formation, the backyard creek with the sound of cardinals, yellow finches, paired doves, woodpeckers, errant turkeys, rousted squirrels, and frequent four-engine behemoths flying low toward Offutt. I see the world through the eyes and sensibilities of an emigrant from England, (my parents escaped the Nazis in the late 1930s), a Vietnam veteran, a recipient of a UCLA education and Creighton law degree, forty years of teaching and thirty of practicing law, and almost fifty years of marriage — a wonderful maturation.

Historical methodology, reading, gathering and organizing evidence transcends time and place. Burma, Southern Africa, England, legal history, print culture, Jewish history, foodways, became playing fields for a process of analysis and narrative, turning ideas into paragraphs, articles and books. I want to elevate the common, the mundane, the human condition, into the universal, turn the autonomic into the noteworthy and remarkable, as in “who knew.”

People should read and write joyously. This is a personal essay, a feuilleton. I wrote these words and approve this message.

About Oliverpollak_o

Oliver B. Pollak was born in England to Ruth and William Pollak during World War II. His parents were refugees from Germany and Austria. The family emigrated to America in 1952. After living for a while in Ohio they settled in Los Angeles. Oliver earned his doctorate in history at UCLA and his law degree at Creighton University. He has written 10 books and more than 100 scholarly articles and writes popular columns for several publications. He is a co-founder of the Nebraska Jewish Historical Society and has served on the boards of the Nebraska Humanities Council and the Nebraska Center for the Book.  Oliver is a member of the Humanities Nebraska Speakers Bureau.

Bridging Cultures Is My Livelihood

Sovereign Youth Leadership camp

Sovereign Youth Leadership camp

Nancy’s story:
“You will wear two dresses” my great-grandmother told me, referring to my mixed heritage of Cherokee/Choctaw/Scots Irish and the challenges to be faced.

But, thankfully from an early age I had a great-grandmother who taught me about tribal traditions, and a grandfather who wanted me assured of a western education and willing to indulge me with trips to natural history museums, art galleries, historical sites; anywhere to feed my insatiable curiosity about the world both “out there now” and “long ago,” which led eventually to a career teaching college level history, anthropology, and sociology.

Nancy at Genoa 2014

Nancy – “Wearing Two Dresses”

Teaching was the obvious choice for such broad interests but two remarkable opportunities arose here in Nebraska melding avocations and vocation. In 1987 beginning work with a church on the Winnebago Reservation propelled me into public speaking across the country on its behalf seeking potential supporters; then in 1997 being hired by the Neihardt State Historic Site creating educational programming on Neihardt and related topics. Neihardt’s literary and journalistic career and his inextricable link to Native Americans (think Black Elk Speaks) broadened the topics covered both in what was offered on site and what could be taken out to schools and other groups across the state.

For a mixed blood Native woman, these presentations expanded finding a perfect niche market. Using my own life experiences (i.e. being told in 3rd grade “You can’t be Indian, there are no Indians left” when I went home to a whole household of them) combined with what I taught in the classroom, was an excellent way to bridge gaps between cultures. Putting it bluntly, utilizing the combination of my European coloring and Native upbringing made me the “safe” Native person to answer potentially uncomfortable questions from non-Natives and allow for opening dialogue using factual information, informal manner, and often humor. And it works; for adults and school children alike, and hopefully leaves a lasting impression and appreciation for our shared history.

So, my great-grandmother would not be surprised at all to see me in a variety of settings wearing either a business suit or regalia – wearing two dresses.

About Nancy:
Nancy Gillis is the former Director of the Neihardt Historic Site, retiring in 2014; teachingNancy 2008 at Wayne State College, NECC, N.I.C.C. and Little Priest Colleges in Native American, U.S. and World History, Sociology, and Cultural Anthropology.

Gillis served the Nebraska Historic Preservation Office and NE Folk Life Network; NE Arts Council Multi-Cultural Grant panel; reviewer for Nebraska History Magazine; trained museum docents; coordinated writers’ workshops for Native youth; consulted for a 3-year Teaching American History grant; and as counselor for the 2014 Sovereign Youth Leadership camp. She is the 2014 Addison Sheldon Honoree for “service to the history of Nebraska” and for Humanities Nebraska she presents a variety of programs on both Native Americans and Neihardt.

To read more about Nancy’s speaking topics http://humanitiesnebraska.org/speakers/speakers-index

Writing is my Livelihood

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My interest in wordplay began in childhood. Growing up in North Omaha I found myself attracted to the wonder of certain words, usually multi-syllabic tongue twisters I heard television talking-heads wittily brandish. I also fell under the near fatal spell of alliteration.

I believe my real fascination with language stemmed from seeing my late father working his crossword puzzles, reading the newspaper and occasionally immersing himself in a book. Then there was the colorful vernacular he used around the house and that my extended family, who lived in South Omaha, used. Sprinkled in with the cuss words were  idiomatic descriptives favored by my father’s white-collar clan, whose expressions were just different enough from those of my mother’s blue-collar bunch, to stand them apart. Further seasoning this verbal stew were stray Polish words from my father’s side and occasional Italian words from my mother’s side. It was a multicultural linguistics education. As our all-white inner-city neighborhood became mixed, African-Americans introduced me to another rich vein of language flavored by their Southern roots and urban Northern street culture.

“….the simple joy of playing with words is the main

appeal to me.”

Even with all those influences I do not believe I would have been drawn to writing were it not for the Marvel comic books and high school English lit books I inherited from my older brothers. These stimulating hand-me-downs were enhanced by the periodicals that came into our home, particularly Sports Illustrated. By the time my brother Dan started writing his own personal sports column, just for the sheer pleasure of it. I, too, discovered writing could be fun. Later I found out what hard work it is. As teachers encouraged my efforts, I stretched myself. In high school I was recruited to write for the school paper and that led me to study journalism in college.

Even now, as a journalist and author, the simple joy of playing with words is the main appeal to me. Follow my work telling the stories of people, their passions and magnificent obsessions at leoadambiga.wordpress.com or http://www.facebook.com/LeoAdamBiga.

About Adam

Leo Adam Biga is a working journalist who contributes articles to newspapers and magazines. He is also the author of Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film, a collectionleo of the writer’s extensive journalism about the Oscar-winning filmmaker. Additionally, Biga is the coeditor if Memories of the Jewish Midwest: Mom and Pop Grocery Stores and the author of two e-books for the Omaha Public Schools.

The University of Nebraska at Omaha graduate worked in public relations (Joslyn Art Museum) before becoming a freelance writer. His published stories for dailies, weeklies, monthlies and quarterlies number well over a thousand. As a generalist he writes about a broad range of subjects, though most of his work is arts and culture-based.

He is finishing the biography of a retired Catholic priest who served marginalized populations around the world and he has plans for more nonfiction books. A new edition of his Payne book is in-progress.

Sample his eclectic work at leoadambiga.wordpress.com or http://www.facebook.com/LeoAdamBiga.

NOTE: His partner, artist Pamela Jo Berry, is a past Livelihood subject. Read more about Pamela Jo Berry here: http://bit.ly/YAt45c.