Our United Stories

Many Voices, Many Stories, One Community of Storytellers

July 1: On the Air This Week

Purpose: Who's got it, who doesn't, and what does it's presence or absence mean in our lives?


Story 1, "It Hurts My Feelings"

Our United Stories journeys to rural Tennessee to discuss how a strongly-felt sense of purpose guided artist, Wayne White's actions throughout his life.


Story 2, "Uncertain Futures"

We then meet with a high school senior and his family as they pursue an outsider's perspective about purpose, when purpose is perceived to be missing from the student's life.


*All songs this week were written and recorded by the Our United Stories band.


(A complete transcript from this recording can be found below.)

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Our United Stories Podcast by user467632840

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Limitless by user467632840

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Hurt My Feelings by user467632840

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The Back of My Mind by user467632840

Transcript from This Week's Show

You’re tuned in to Our United Stories. Welcome! On this week’s show: 2 stories that examine the idea of purpose as it relates to individuals’ lives. In the first story entitled, “It Hurts My Feelings,” I journey down to Tennessee to talk with the artist Wayne White about the ways in which his strongly-felt sense of purpose has guided his actions and decisions his entire life. In the second story, “Uncertain Futures,” I check in with a high school senior stuck at a crossroads because of what he perceives to be an absent sense of purpose. I’m your host, Alli Fischer, thanks for joining us, and we’ll be right back.


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Song: Limitless


I have wandered down many hallways

I've been many things in my own mind

And even if my time with each was fleeting

Does that mean those stories weren't mine?


I have paused in many door frames

And stopped in briefly to test the fit

And while I might not have found myself lingering

Each room I left shaped me a bit


Chorus:

Down many hallways

Are many more doors

And to say you're locking up one

Would be to say you want no more

Possibility and hope

That can come from the pain

Of wandering with eyes open

And without an aim


I have found myself lost with no direction

Unsure of which turn I should take

But with each path stretched out before me

Thoughts of more possibilities it did create


I have spent many nights crying

Wanting my wandering to desist

But it's in those nights when I did discover

That in the end my future is limitless

___________________________________________________________


Welcome back. Before we jump into the first story, I wanted to share that all music today was written and performed in-house by the Our United Stories band. You can check out the songs on our website, www.smore.come/t3gh. Now, on to our first story, “It Hurts My Feelings”.


Reporter:

Looking out over the lush open grasslands stretching beyond his family’s home in Tennessee, Wayne White marvels in a voice barely audible over the sound of the wind blowing,


Wayne White:

It’s so beautiful. It’s so beautiful it hurts my feelings.


Reporter:

As a reporter, I can’t help but feel that this turn of phrase is arresting in its stark simplicity that puts seemingly contradictory concepts like natural beauty and hurt feelings together, but during my time working with and getting to know Wayne in preparation for this piece, I’ve come to expect this kind of contradiction from him.


Without knowing who Wayne White is, you probably already know of his work. He shot into the art world in his early 30s when he started working as a puppet maker and voice actor for the Pee Wee Herman Show. Today, his artwork that pits antique landscapes against the contemporary pop art phrases he paints on top of them is featured in some of the Nation’s leading art galleries.


Given all of his success in the art world, when I first started working on this piece with Wayne, I expected to see more of a tortured artist than the contented family man I found.


Wayne White:

For me, it’s always been about the art. I was 2 years old and I was picking up my daddy’s pencil and drawing away. Hours would pass, and if I had my pencil with me, I’d be happy. I’ve just always been an artist.


Reporter:

While his calling might have always been clear to him, growing up in northern Alabama and Tennessee placed Wayne about as far from the art scene as he could get, and as a kid and young adolescent, he found that he really had to work hard to continue pursuing his passion even when those around him did not understand or value his art.


Wayne White:

As a kid, it wasn’t so bad. I had a first grade teacher, Miss Clemmons—boy I think I had a big crush on Miss Clemmons—but anyway, she actually called my mama and daddy in for a conference and she told them that I was gonna be an artist, that I had a lot of talent. Those words and her encouragement, it always stayed with me.


When I got older though, I kind of got into trouble. My grades weren’t too good, probably because I was spending so much time making art. I got arrested a couple of times in high school doing stupid things in the name of art. At a certain point, I think my principal, teachers, parents, and friends didn’t understand me anymore. I knew it was time for me to find somewhere else where I could pursue my passion and hopefully it would be valued.


Reporter:

It was in art school that Wayne first met a group of people like him. His self-described “community of artists” had also grown up certain of their identities and futures in the art world.


Wayne White:

We all just got each other, you know? There was no questioning anything. I’d always known I was an artist and so had they. We didn’t ever have to explain ourselves to each other.


Reporter:

After college, Wayne realized that if he really wanted to make it in the art world, the only place where he’d be able to do that would be in New York, so for the first time in his life, he left the Appalachian hills behind him in search of the city lights.


Wayne White:

It was hard at first, New York. I was living in this tiny room, barely getting by, making my money by putting on puppet shows, but you know what? I was happy. I was creating art. I was where I was supposed to be.


Reporter:

From then on, Wayne’s talent, efforts, and as he himself freely admits, a good deal of luck led him to landing his gig on the Pee Wee Herman show, meeting and then marrying the artist, Mimi Pond, and moving out to LA where his work on his pop art landscapes really started taking shape; eventually getting him invites to galleries all across the country.


Now, at the age of 50, Wayne is still a staunchly self-proclaimed artist, “married to an artist” and with 2 kids who are both “artists themselves.” When asked to look back on the decisions he’s made that led him to where he is today, Wayne steps back and looks out across the grasslands once more before answering.


Wayne White:

For me, it was never about there being a choice. I knew who I was from the beginning, and it always just felt like every action I took was just about placing me a step closer to my destiny.


Reporter:

In a world where so little can ever be known with certitude, where so many end up feeling powerless at the hands of decisions and events beyond their control, the conviction and determination to pursue that conviction is perhaps the greatest contradiction of all in Wayne’s life. It’s beautiful in its simplicity—in its inevitability, and while it sure makes me envious given the tortured hours I’ve personally spent trying to make sense of my future, the fact that such a calling can exist is what is most beautiful of all. And it in no way hurts my feelings.


Song: Hurts My Feelings


You need not work to make me cry

I can do that for myself, I can do that for myself

And when I think of where I've gone

Oh I need a lifeboat, I need a some help

I'm swimming upstream

And the water's strong

And the waves, they come crashing in on me

But in the quiet, in the magnitude

All I notice is the beauty


Chorus:

It's so beautiful it hurts my feelings

It's so beautiful it hurts my feelings

It's so beautiful it hurts my feelings

It's so beautiful


Where were you when everything was working

When everything was just as planned

And I was standing at my ship's center

Oh you were my figurehead, you were my figurehead

No you were never there to see the power

To see the rise that comes before the fall

I've been both places, and now reflecting

An aerial view makes storms look small


Chorus:

And they're so beautiful they hurt my feelings

They're so beautiful they hurt my feelings

They're so beautiful they hurt my feelings

They're so beautiful


Tossed in all directions, I'm a displaced captain

Of a crew that has mutinied

There's no north star pointing

Where I'm heading

Making signs for the sea


Chorus:


It's so beautiful it hurts my feelings

It's so beautiful it hurts my feelings

It's so beautiful it hurts my feelings

It's so beautiful


_________________________________________________________



Welcome back! In the last story, we discussed how the artist, Wayne White always felt a calling to do something in his life. But what about the other side of the spectrum? What about all of those other people who go through their lives never sure of what they should do and never sure of the next decision they are going to make. The people in a constant state of mental or physical transience who never feel compelled to put roots down anywhere? In this next story, “Uncertain Futures,” you’ll hear about one high school senior’s experience living in this state of uncertainty and the measures he took to carve out some semblance of purpose.


Reporter:

June 10th, the start of summer, a time when soon-to-be high school seniors like Carl Barry are supposed to be hanging out with friends, sleeping late, looking for summer jobs, or starting work on those college essays. The start of summer means none of those things for Carl, however, or at least not quite yet, because on this already humid morning, Carl and his mother are busy readying their 10-year-old van for the hour-long pilgrimage to the Career Aptitude Testing Center, or CATC.


Carl and his family are taking part in a growing industry that is removing the often challenging and confusing process of career and education planning from that of an individual or family decision to a 3rd party that uses science, or pseudoscience, as some might counter, to make a person’s most important decisions for them.


For the next 8 hours, Carl will be sitting in a tiny cubicle in a 3-story office building an hour from where he lives. Instead of working or talking with individuals, he will be presented with various ability assessments on a computer that tests his aptitude and ability to perform a variety of tasks, both conceptual and manual. Asking Carl and his mother what the purpose of the pilgrimage is, their answer is simple. At the end of the day, after taking all of these assessments, a licensed psychologist will meet with them and interpret the results, with the session culminating in the psychologist telling Carl what career he is most suited for and what path he should use to pursue that career.


Rachel Barry:

We’re all really excited about today. We haven’t been able to sleep! I can’t help but think that today’s the day Carl’s going to find out about his future. Today’s the day these big decisions get made.


Reporter:

For Carl’s mother, a former elementary school teacher, today marks the culmination of years of investment of both time and resources. You see, the primary reason why Carl’s having so much difficulty envisioning his future career is not because he lacks options; rather, he feels as though there’s an overabundance of them. As an all A student, the president of his National Honor Society, the first chair cellist in his school’s orchestra, and a starting point guard on the basketball team, Carl’s never been able to narrow his focus down to one interest or hobby, and he’s never felt that any one idea or concept could adequately describe or define him.


Carl Barry:

I’ve always seen myself as so many different things. When I was little I wanted to be a doctor. Then I wanted to be a baseball player, then a music teacher. Now I’m 17, and I really don’t know what I want to be. It feels like many careers would fit, and I’m just tired of not being able to decide or make the decision for myself. This place, this place where I’m going—they’re going to use all of these tests, and I don’t know, it seems like if tests can tell me what I should do—what I’ll be good at—well, that’s a good thing, you know? It’s scientific.


Reporter:

It’s no wonder that agencies like the Career Aptitude Testing Center are seeing an influx of participants each year. As college tuition costs are at an all time high and as students are more commonly finding themselves on 5- and 6-year graduation plans due to changing majors, for purely financial purposes, some parents and students are considering the $1,000 fee the CACT charges a financially prudent decision in the long run.


Rachel Barry:

You have to think, would I rather spend $1,000 now or an extra year of college tuition later? It’s bad enough that so many youngsters graduate from college without being able to find jobs. This is one thing that I can do to help my kid out with regards to his future, and so I feel like I have to do it—nothing is too much for my Carl.


Reporter:

An hour later and Carl and Rachel find themselves in the sterile waiting room of the CACT office. When a receptionist calls Carl to follow her to another room to begin the testing session, Rachel wishes Carl good luck, before a visibly nervous Carl disappears through the waiting room’s one door. As Rachel settles back into the cushions in the waiting room, she tells me how proud she is of Carl and how different this whole process has been for him compared to when she was 17 and finding herself facing the same decision-making precipice.


Rachel Barry:

When I was 17—God, that was a long time ago now!—when I was 17, all of these opportunities, all of these possibilities—they didn’t exist. I knew I wanted to be a mom. I’ve always known that. And I knew I was going to marry Jim, Carl’s father, we’d been high school sweethearts. When I graduated from high school, I kind of just fell into teaching as a career cause that’s what future mothers did, and well, it all worked out ok for me. But Carl, he as so much potential! I look at him and think, man, he could be a doctor, or a lawyer, or a professor, you know? He’s just that smart.


Reporter:

8 hours later, and a tired, slightly more disheveled Carl surfaces from the same door through which he’d disappeared a few hours earlier. Asking Carl how the tests were, the nervous excitement Rachel is feeling is palpable.


Carl Barry:

Umm, it was ok, I guess. Some of the tests were hard, like this one where I had to listen to these sounds and then repeat the sounds back to the tester, you know? But I think I did ok. I guess we’ll find out soon enough.


Rachel Barry:

And soon enough they do. About 30 minutes after Carl finished the last testing session, Rachel and Carl are called back to meet with the psychologist. Due to the sensitive nature of the meeting, with test scores being shared and interpreted, Rachel asked that I wait in the waiting room during the meeting, which I did. When they came back out an hour later, I myself, was anxiously awaiting to hear what they’d discussed and found out.


Carl Barry:

Well, the guy, the psychologist dude, he did a lot of talking. He said I’m really good at tasks that involve a lot of reading and writing—like I’m off the charts good. I don’t know. There were some other things I didn’t do so well in. But anyway, he says I should consider going to law school and things like that so, I guess, Harvard Law, here I come!


Reporter:

I ask him if he’s serious, if the results of this one assessment this one day really are going to be the deciding factor for him when trying to figure out what he’s going to be when he graduates.


Carl Barry:

No, man, I’m not crazy! But well, I’ve never really ever thought about being a lawyer, and it seems like maybe he was on to something there. I have some time to figure it all out. Who knows—maybe I’ll decide to be a painter instead?


Reporter:

Rachel, who’d been quiet up to that point, suddenly jumped in.


Rachel Barry:

I think what we got here today were some really good ideas; some really good things to think about. Who knows where this thinking’ll lead us?


Reporter:

As Rachel and Carl stride outside of the office building and pile back into their tired old van for the hour’s journey home, I imagine their conversation in the car and consider the decisions I witnessed them making before my eyes just then.

Before doing this piece, I’d had a terrible fear that Carl would immediately latch on to the profession recommended to him, and that he’d give up all ownership of the decision-making process in so doing. Instead, it seemed that this 3rd party perspective, rather than supplanting the rich complexity of the concepts and constructs that Carl used to define himself, just became another textured thread in the beautiful tapestry that is Carl.


Perhaps what people are really seeking when they go to places like CATC is not a decision that is made for them, but rather, affirmation that it is ok to be confused during this process—to feel pulled in many directions and to know that no one decision is the right decision. Perhaps the most powerful gift that Carl walked away with today was not a willingness to accept a decision that was made for him, but rather, an ability to see just how complicated and intricate a person he is and to embrace a bit of uncertainty in his life.

A year later, and I again find myself in the Barry’s driveway; this time, however, it’s the end of the summer and Carl is loading the final boxes full of college and dorm materials in the now 11-year-old van.


Well, Carl, I see you’re packed and ready for college. I guess this means you made some decisions finally?


Carl Barry:

Yeah, for right now I have. I’m gonna study music. The cello, and I even got a scholarship to do so!


Reporter:

What do you mean, ‘for right now?’


Carl Barry:

Well, I guess if I’ve learned anything now, it’s that nothing is certain or permanent. I’m happy with the decision I made, but if all of that changes tomorrow, well I think I’ll find a way to be happy with that as well.


Reporter:

And there you have it—ultimately, beyond preparing them for college, for jobs, and families, and everything else the future holds, what we most want for our kids is an ability to find happiness; to embrace whatever situation arises and to find beauty in the process. Be it in a symphony hall, a courtroom, or even a classroom, I think Carl is now finally ready to commit to one thing—his uncertain, yet promising future.


Song: The Back of My Mind


The future's gonna come some day

And won't it be nice

Clouds are gonna go away

And every thing's gonna be alright


Chorus:

In the back of my mind

There is a place

I only think of you

In the back of my mind

There is a place

I only think of you


Storms may wreak their havoc now

Darkening the skies for a time

But to the sun it'll soon give way

Leaving us, to enjoy the sunshine


I'll be with you again someday

And won't it be nice

All that's wrong in this whole world

Will in that moment be right

Cause I've been waiting

Like I've been for life to catch up with me

But all along this dark highway

You face, my mind, did see


Well, that’s it from us this week, radio world! From HTWP and NBR thanks for joining us and we’ll see you next week!


Acknowledgements

Special thanks go to Kim and John for the beautiful voice work they provided for both stories in the podcast and to Julie for her technology expertise and advice.