Monthly Archives: January 2018

Culture, Beauty, and Pain

Culture informs our craft more than I often consider.  If I hope to reach my audience on a personal level, their experiences in our culture inform how they relate to everything I do.  My place in society is crucial too.  How do I relate to others?  All this matters.  Even if culture is not overt in our site, or not featured in the stories we tell, its power is present.

There’s a whole lot of beauty in the cultural fabric we share.  Food, art, acts of compassion, people uniting to overcome adversity…the list goes on.  And in the subject matter we interpret, there’s also plenty of beauty to be found.  Beauty is great.  It is a powerful motivator and its presence is key to physical and mental health for us humans.  It is easy to work with and celebrating what’s beautiful should permeate our work.  The sticky thing about beauty though; if everything was beautiful, beauty would cease to exist.

It’s easier for me (and most of the masses) to experience beauty than pain, but pain is a powerful player in our culture.  If our interpretation is going to achieve Freeman Tilden’s fifth principle—presenting a whole rather than a part and addressing the whole person—pain should be considered.  What got me thinking about this was a workshop I took recently.

The training dealt with diversity, equity, and inclusion, which are all wide-ranging topics I will not attempt to tackle in a few paragraphs.  They are also frequently politicized and I won’t get into that but there were a few ideas presented about approaching difficult subjects that I think are applicable to our profession:

  • Setting intention toward learning is more effective than seeking perfection
  • Failing in the name of learning is natural
  • Discomfort is different from injury
  • Nurturing and nourishing creates connections
  • Intentions are important but not a substitute for considering impact

I hope this is thought provoking.  I look forward to thought provocation at the NAI regional conference in less than a month!  I hope to see you there.  Cheers, Eli

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Keeping It Fresh

Let me start with a short story from 2001 that appeared in Reader’s Digest.  When Dale opens a can, she always turns it upside down to open it from the bottom. One day her young son asked her why. “I don’t really know,” she said. “My mom always did it that way.” She decided to call her mom and ask.

“When we brought the cans up from the cellar, the tops were always dusty,” her mother explained. “I couldn’t be bothered to clean them, so I turned them upside down and opened the bottom.”

Recently, I attended a meeting with fellow academics who teach and study interpretation.  One item of discussion was how we could serve the interpretation community through research.  Research can have the connotation of being stuffy and not relevant.  I think it is very important to understand why we do what we do.  The world is very dynamic and things change.  We can’t always do things the way we have always done them.  Research can help.

What questions do you have?

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Registration for the upcoming regional workshop closes Feb 1st!

by Rhana Paris

My bad . . . . I didn’t look over the registration packet as well as I should have! If you are operating under the notion that you have until February 23rd to register for our Sunny Southeast Regional Interpreters Workshop (RIW), be advised that the correct deadline is February 1st!

Our next RIW will be on the Outer Banks of North Carolina from February 27-March 2 at the gold LEED certified Coastal Studies Institute (CSI) in Wanchese, NC. The organizing committee has put together quite a slate of activities for you to learn from and enjoy!

Check it out:

  • We are offering three pre-workshop sessions on Monday and Tuesday.
  • The actual RIW starts at the NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island on Tuesday evening for after hours views of our exhibits, heavy hors d’oeuvres, music from our house band and an opening address from Dave Hallac, the superintendent of the NPS Outer Banks Group.
  • On Wednesday, we meet at CSI for concurrent sessions and a keynote from Darrell Collins, retired NPS interpreter and expert on the Wrigth Brothers. We’ll have silent auction during the day and live auction at night to raise money for scholarships.
  • Thursday is for field trips to lighthouses, hunt clubs, antebellum homes and natural landscapes.
  • We reconvene at CSI Friday morning for another round of concurrent sessions before sending you on your way!

Perky at the aquariumSo sign up today, pack your water bottle/coffee cup/old name tag holder, bring an item or two to auction, and plan to have a great time networking with fellow Sunny Southeasterners! Perky is ready–are you?

Questions? Contact Rhana Paris at 252-475-2344 or

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Le Lo Lai


Credit Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo for The New York Times

Le Lo Lai: “kind of lyrical “scat” exclaimed by the traditional jíbaro [Puerto Rican mountain people] singer,  “la-le-lo-lai” o “lai-le-lo-lai” o “ay-le-lo-lelo-le,” heard between stanzas (cuartetas) of the sung décima, also exists among the ancient Spanish workers on the small farms of Castille, Murcia and Almería. And it may have even originated from an even older place, from the Moorish lands; because they actually sound like certain ancient sung exclamations of North Africa.” (Credit: The Puerto Rico Quatro Project

For the past three and a half months, the island of Puerto Rico has been trapped in a sustained nightmare, where the world you know and love has become at times not only unrecognizable but perilous in more ways than can be either counted or countered. Over one hundred days after being grazed by Hurricane Irma and obliterated by Hurricane María, most of the population is still without dependable electricity or safe running water. I’m not going to include numbers because they are constantly changing. Depending on who you ask, either 32 or over 1000 people were killed as the result of the hurricane. We have a greater awareness of what’s going on on the island in the mainland US because internet and cell phone coverage are barely available, so word of mouth, radio, and the local news when tv is available is how most people are getting news on what’s happening on other parts of the island. There are still people searching for word of their family members. Schools are remaining unopened, some permanently as the population drops with a mass exodus to the mainland. People who have never left the island, who expected to live their entire lives there, are finding themselves struggling to adapt to tenuously created new lives in Florida, Massachusetts, Iowa. They are cold this winter.

As a bicultural interpreter with a Puerto Rican mother, I have found myself in the position of explaining the island’s unique history and relationship with the United States. Now, more than ever, people have questions. Who are they? Are they really US citizens? What rights do they have? How do they relate to the rest of us Americans? It’s a strange thing, both hopeful and painful, to interpret Puerto Rico every where I go. The cashiers at REI and Cabela’s, asking about my purchases of water purifiers and solar chargers, my landlord in North Carolina as he repairs the back deck, dozens and dozens of attendants at the NAI national conference this year in Spokane. It’s a strain, but a welcome one. Because the number one question I’ve received has been, “How can I help?” Even when Puerto Rico is being abandoned by the services that are meant to relieve all American citizens, individuals and groups are not turning their backs. I wish I had easy answers for them, but the best I can do right now is direct them toward trustworthy organizations to donate to, or, if they want to assist in my family’s work in helping people grow vegetables at home, as most stores are still without refrigeration and fresh produce is hard to either come by or keep from spoiling, I give them the address to send packets of seeds and supplies. In the Sunny Southeast NAI community, we are attempting to figure out how to create a support network to help the interpreter sites of Puerto Rico get back on their feet, a network that will hopefully continue on as a resource for other areas if and when they are hit by catastrophe or need in the future.

One of the best gifts we can share as interpreters, though, is our voice. Sharing the truth about Puerto Rico, climate change, political and social history and how it impacts our world today, the importance of art and expression in the development of resilience in a population, the journey of our environment as it recovers from increasingly intense stresses, many of which came about from human actions. Helping people to learn beyond A + B = C, to grasp what it means to make even seemingly insignificant choices that can help push us toward a better future as a whole, and to find both sobering perspective and great joy in those relationships…those are powerful gifts. If you’ve ever been to Puerto Rico, you know that although it is a small island, it is not a quiet one. A great musical voice comes through in our songs, stories, dances…even in our wildlife. The coquí, a tiny tree frog which is our national symbol, has a mating call as loud as a lawnmower at 90 decibels. (This is good, as the lovelorn frogs, owls, and endangered Puerto Rican parrots are competing with the sound of generators day and night.)In honor of Three Kings Day – a holiday celebrated in Puerto Rico and throughout the world on January 6, where children leave shoeboxes of grass under their beds for the camels of the wise men on their way to Bethlehem to eat, a day that the people of the island are insisting on celebrating together in spite of the massive loss and strain in their lives – I wish you all the strength of your compassion and your voice.


“Gold, frankincense and myrrh? No, that was before! Now we bring you water, gas, and light…three gifts of incalculable value!”

To participate in the Jane Goodall Roots & Shoots PR garden project: seeds (zones 11b-13b), water purification tablets, and seedling peat disks can be sent to Nelly & Rick Asselta, PO Box 1332, Maunabo, PR, 00707

For a list of charities vetted by the Center for Puerto Rican Studies:

To learn more about how one art museum helped their city handle the aftermath of Hurricane María through art programs:

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A New Year Brings New Hope–and Old Stories

As someone who develops interpretive materials on a regular basis and does periodic presentations to groups from under 10 people to over 100, I struggle with exactly what to present. (Sort of like I struggle to come up with something to say today, January 2, 2018.)

I’m torn, really, between a desire to develop something new, exciting and innovative each time I develop an interpretive package. I struggle to tell a new, compelling story each time I offer a presentation to a new group.

But the common thread exists–and it exists for a reason. There should be continuity between the things you create. With most architects, there is a similarity to their designs. With writers, one book is certainly different than the next, but the style, the flow, the way characters are developed, all those things bear a similar feel.

Just so with interpretation–be it design, writing, or story-telling. We are individuals and our individual way of telling the story is what gives us the power to make a connection, to make a difference, in the lives of those who listen, who read, who see.

The fine line–and I’m not sure it is that fine–is understanding when to use the best, most developed material you have for your story and when to sit down and develop new content. If most of the people who see or hear your material are regulars, that clearly means mostly new content. But, even then, people hear only part of what you say and they forget much of that.

The more challenging choices come when you provide content to new people on a regular basis. Do you use the same content day after day? Do you come up with new content?

One of the best presentations I’ve ever attended had a spontaneity like no other. It was a slideshow (back in the day when people used actual 35mm slides) through a projector. The presenter showed slide after slide and gave amazingly researched, effective commentary for each image. It was extraordinary.

In the middle of this clearly practiced presentation, he interjected a slide of his young son in a field of pumpkins to show the importance of open spaces and of unique places. He talked about visiting that field with his son earlier that fall. The spontaneity of that moment seemed to lift the more fact-filled parts of the presentation to new heights.

Everyone clapped profusely at the end and left the workshop with a newfound sense of purpose. It really is one of the best presentations I’ve seen, marked by several moments of what felt like perfectly spontaneous moments.

Flash forward about 3 years. The same speaker came and presented to a new group at a workshop. The workshop is the same each year, but with different attendees. He started off the presentation exactly as he did the last time. Of course, that makes sense, as it was a finely tuned presentation. Then came the slide of his son in the pumpkin patch. And so did the same “spontaneous” story about family and the importance of open spaces and unique places. That moment of spontaneity I had reveled in 3 years earlier was exactly the same “spontaneous” moment this time. It, like every other part of his presentation, was carefully calibrated to move his story along.

I tell this story because, honestly, there was no reason for the presenter to change the story. It was a new group of attendees. The presentation had the same impact–everyone left talking about how wonderful the presentation was. Everyone left inspired.

I tell the story to illustrate something I struggle with. Even in this new year, with all the fresh new ideas it brings, sometimes it is better to tell the story as before. If you have developed a wonderful interpretive story of “your” place, feel proud to share it again and again. The more you share it, the stronger it becomes. Polish is often better than spontaneous.

So, in this new year, take time to look over your interpretive stories. Refresh them if they need it, but don’t feel obligated to change your story just to make it new. The story’s the thing.

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