A thought about small talk

I came across a thoughtful article this morning on the art (and power) of small talk.

As someone who facilitates group discussions, champions meaningful conversations and connections, and spends a great deal of time thinking about creating respectful gatherings, I found that this gentle, humour-filled article gave me space to breathe and think.

In her opinion piece in The New York Times, Maeve Higgins talks about how skipping the small talk can be too intense and reminds me that there is a time and a place for everything: a time for talking about where someone bought their sandals, and a time for digging deep into the family issues that are blocking someone from moving forward.

Here’s to embracing conversation in all its forms!

A recipe for cremation

Barlow Bonsall, Cook @ 1700 to 1800 degrees for 2 to 3 hours

This is the text of a tattoo surrounded by a yellow and orange flame. It belongs to Army veteran and cancer survivor Russell Parsons, who was quoted in NBC News as saying, “It’s a recipe for cremation.”

Barlow Bonsall, the addressee of the tattoo, is the name of the Funeral Home and Crematorium that will carry out the cremation.

This unusual form of will or epitaph ensures that Parsons’s corpse itself will communicate directions for a proper disposal to the crematorium staff. The tattoo doesn’t mention what will happen to his remains after his cremation, rather the words describe the process of cremation that will perish during the cremation process.

Why this piqued my interest:
As part of my MA, I’m doing some research into death rituals and in particular, how helpful Van Gennep’s theory of ‘rites of passage’ is in understanding the evidence for ancient practices surrounding death. Thinking about Parsons’ tattoo made me think about how a living body might be “branded” (tattooed) with a symbol of an individual’s mortality that allows the living to interpret wishes for the handling and disposal of the body after death.

Hokusai says… Don’t be afraid (with thanks to Roger Keyes)

A few years ago, I heard a poem called “Hokusai Says”. It was written by the rather wonderful and inspiring Roger Keyes, art historian, Hokusai scholar, and co-founder of York Zen whilst he was in Venice in 1990. It came to him as was making notes for the “Young Hokusai” paper he was to give at a symposium on Hokusai the following day.

I have a million ideas, thoughts, questions, stories, to-do lists and more in jostling for space, so when I find something that grounds me in a few short minutes, I’m grateful. After hanging on to the poem for a while, I eventually decided that I’d love nothing more than to share this poem with others, so I tentatively reached out to Mr. Keyes through the York Zen ( website to ask for permission to do so.

He kindly gave me permission to not only record the poem but to share it online, which means that today is a celebration of both kindness and gratitude!

Today’s recording

You can listen here:

About Hokusai

Katsushika Hokusai was a Japanese artist, ukiyo-e painter, and printmaker of the Edo period who is best known – in the western world at least – as the artist who created the iconic print, The Great Wave off Kanagawa, which is part of his woodblock print series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji. As an aside, his daughter, Katsushika Ōi was an extraordinary illustrator and artist in her own right, in addition to helping her father with his work, but that’s another story for another time.

Here’s the poem.

“Hokusai Says” by Roger Keyes

Hokusai says look carefully.
He says pay attention, notice.
He says keep looking, stay curious.
Hokusai says there is no end to seeing.

He says look forward to getting old.
He says keep changing,
you just get more who you really are.
He says get stuck, accept it, repeat
yourself as long as it is interesting.

He says keep doing what you love.

He says keep praying.

He says every one of us is a child,
every one of us is ancient
every one of us has a body.
He says every one of us is frightened.
He says every one of us has to find
a way to live with fear.

He says everything is alive —
shells, buildings, people, fish,
mountains, trees, wood is alive.
Water is alive.

Everything has its own life.

Everything lives inside us.

He says live with the world inside you.

He says it doesn’t matter if you draw,
or write books. It doesn’t matter
if you saw wood, or catch fish.
It doesn’t matter if you sit at home
and stare at the ants on your veranda
or the shadows of the trees
and grasses in your garden.
It matters that you care.

It matters that you feel.

It matters that you notice.

It matters that life lives through you.

Contentment is life living through you.
Joy is life living through you.
Satisfaction and strength
is life living through you.

He says don’t be afraid.
Don’t be afraid.

Love, feel, let life take you by the hand.

Let life live through you.

More about the poem

Find out more about this poem and how it came to be over at

If you’ve loved this poem and feel that it’s helped you as it often helped me, share it with someone. When the world feels like it’s about to spin out of control, something like this brings us back to earth.

And that, dear listener, is the end of today’s random act.