• Michael Kennedy

Three Life Lessons of a Visual Storyteller



I wasn't a good student, average at best. But if I liked my teachers I tended to do better in their classes. Of all the classes I took, and I took many, it was classes on creative writing I most enjoyed. With a few strokes of a pen, I was master of my universe. And, like Richard Bach said, "The great thing about writing is, if you don't like the world, we'll create a different one."


My world was constantly changing, not because I didn't like it, but because I moved around a lot as a child. I had the good fortune of being tutored on a remote Bahamian island, living in South Florida, Virginia, New York, Massachusetts and now, I call California my home.


As a child, I had an unusual urge to express images and thoughts, which I did through photography and Journals. I suppose that's when the visual storyteller in me was born.


Favorite Teachers

My favorite teachers were the passionate ones, whether they were teaching English or Statistics. They were the ones who actually cared about their subject and they gave a damn about us too. They didn't just want us to learn the lesson of the day, they wanted us to love to learn - to have a hunger for knowledge and creativity. These teachers recognized every student had the potential of being an asset to their community, nation, and world.


Now, I'm a high school English teacher in Lake Tahoe, doing my part to be like the teachers I most respected decades ago.



Recently, I was challenged by my students to share some of the more important lessons I've learned through visual storytelling. "Keep out the fluff though," they said. "Cut to the chase."



"I'll do my best," I said. So here goes. These are the three most important lessons that stuck with me over time.


Lesson 1: Read More

The first lesson my favorite teachers reminded me was that great thinkers like Emerson, Miller, Einstein, Twain and Blake, began by knowing what others think. Great thinkers read, listen, study, and experience life more than others. Reading good literature gives us a foundation for making better decisions and leads to more independent thinking.


But! This isn't an excuse for living in our books. You can't hear the ocean if you're inside the shell.



Lesson 2: Notice More

The second lesson my favorite teachers taught me was to get out more, notice more. When I step away from my books, I enjoy the environment around me. Here in Olympic Valley, CA, it's impossible for me to not get out and experience such natural beauty. One look at Tram Face and its reflection in Squaw Creek sends shivers up my spine. In a very Henry Miller way, Olympic Valley is much like Big Sur, where the "landscape in which the masculine and feminine elements are perfectly blended."


Try not feeling a sense of oneness with nature from any of these magnificent places. It’s like sneezing with your eyes open. Can’t do it.


Listen to the stream pulsating with melting snow. The sound is intoxicating. Slip through the trees and you can feel the warmth of Paradise. Watch a sunrise over Lake Tahoe and try not feeling the shivers of gratitude. If this isn’t next level, what is?



My wife, Nicola, and I get out a lot and try noticing more. We look for shivers. From sunrises on Lake Tahoe, to the jagged edge of heaven known as Big Sur, we study the texture of the sky and things of beauty below begging for our attention.



And we're grateful for these experiences.



We understand and agree with Henry Miller's view of California: "this is the face of the world as the Creator intended it to look. How wonderful is the earth and the creatures which inhabit it! This is Heaven enough. Why ask for more?"



Lesson 3: Find Inward Peace

The third lesson my favorite teachers taught me was about true success; not the kind that comes from reputation, wealth, or material things, but instead, the kind that comes from inward contentment. Success isn't having a great career, home or car, although these things are all nice to have. It's more about finding inward peace and calm in the nature around us, away from the grind of daily life, away from the politics, and other nonsense. This is the connection missing in much of our busy worlds. Success is where we have a sense of oneness with ourself and nature; a sense of inward peace and calm.


Of all the lessons I learned from my favorite teachers, these are the three which stuck most: Read more, notice more, and understand the true meaning of success.


There's a certain je ne sais quoi, a magic in words and nature we simply can't explain, and if we could, it would cease to be magic. To me, there's a certain wisdom in the refrain, "Take a hike..." or "Go fly a kite." There's an incredible world out there, inexplicably beautiful, simple, and magnificent things craving our attention if we just get out and notice more.


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