The Marbles Sermon

On June 28th, 2015, I delivered a sermon entitled ‘Marbles’ to Arlington Street Church (Unitarian Universalist, “Gathered in Love and Service for Justice and Peace”, kickin’ it from the new pad by Boston’s Public Gardens since 1861). I believe it was a rainy Sunday, a couple of days after the Supreme Court ruling that same-sex couples could marry nationwide. I share this here because I managed to fit describing an aspect of Agility into a sermon. Also you’ll find some words in all-caps: I’m doin’ this live, so I’ll take all tactics to not mess up, which included printing this out in size 24 font. Take no parishioners prisoners.

My close friends will recognize the first third, a.k.a. ‘the marbles story’.

by Merrill B. Lamont III

When I was 6 years old, there was this freckled red-head named Gemma from Australia, and I asked her to marry me. Here’s the setup.

It’s recess. It’s 1988. Ponytails were flying sideways NOT because it’s windy, but because it’s 1988. Kids surrounded an impromptu arena of 12 slabs of concrete, all in a row. On one end was Gemma. On the other was a girl 3 years older. In the middle was a King-sized Dragon Egg. Passed back and forth between the 2 gladiators… was a God-sized Steelie. Historians and economists will agree: these were two of the most VALUABLE MARBLES on the local market, and they were BOTH up for grabs. All you had to do, was roll your marble, kind of like bowling, and knock the marble in the middle OFF of its crack in the concrete. You walk in with 1 marble, and the first to get to 3 hits, walks away with both. Ladies and gentlemen, for a 6-year-old, THIS was a high-stakes game!

I’ll cut to the chase: THIS was a high-stakes game… that Gemma won. As she walked towards the middle to rightfully claim both her prizes, the other girl, the older girl, the taller girl, the girl… with a larger stride, got to the middle before Gemma could, grabbed both marbles, and walked away, parting through an onslaught of “boo”s. Ladies and gentlemen, for a 6-year-old, THIS was scandal!

And this… made Gemma cry.

And this… made me turn on auto-pilot. I marched up to Gemma, who at this point was by her lunch box positioned where you would line up to be led back inside, and I gave her a hug. And she hugged back. And it felt right. And because I was still on auto-pilot, I did the next logical thing – I asked her to marry me. She said, “No”. I asked, “Why”? She said… a bunch of things that I couldn’t fully make out because she was still crying in a think Australian accent. So I gave her another hug. And she hugged me back. And it felt right.

That’s when I looked up, and across the heat streaming off of the baking concrete, I saw Meher from Pakistan, Sabah from India, and Sangeetha from Bangladesh. They were looking in our direction, and it no longer felt right. In that moment, I realized that I was acting against a societal norm, because I was in Saudi Arabia, and although I was born there, I am not Saudi, so I was not home. NONE of the kids on that playground were home, and one day, we would ALL go home… some of us, to a land where a guy hugging a girl, could feel right.

This shaping of my world view is what I think about when someone mentions ‘marbles’.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m guessing the word ‘marble’, or, in its plural and I would argue its more common form, ‘marbles’, is NOT a word you would encounter on a daily, nay, a weekly basis – no.

But for me, I have marbles prominently displayed on my desk at work. They sit in this bowl, where, drinking from it, is a zebra – all made from the same piece of wood. Imagine the zebra’s head, submerged in the marbles, all next to a sign that reads, “Do not feed the Zebra. Thank you. signed, the management”. I’m describing this in some detail because NOW I want you to imagine somebody walking up to me to talk about something work-related, and without hesitation, running a hand through the marbles. Imagine the clickity-clack sound. That rustling calm in combination with that tactile sensation is one of the TWO purposes that THING is there. Through our day we live in our HEADS… MUCH more than we live in our BODIES, so I offer this opportunity to bring one back into the present, while activating other areas of the brain as we think through something together. The OTHER purpose, of that THING, is to signify that this is a PLAY SAFE ZONE. WE TAKE BEING SILLY… VERY SERIOUSLY. (Sometimes with an attempt at a British accent.)

Lately, ‘marbles’ to me represent how laughing together is to be encouraged in the workplace, for happy teams get more done. My role in all this is the culmination of self-discovery that I can proudly say has been significantly guided by Tricia, my wife. Growing up a skinny kid… with acne… and a funny name, to a skinny adult… with acne… and a funny name, being comfortable in my own skin, literally, has been a challenge. And now because of heightened self-expression, I can relate to the marble. I see a thing that is colorful, playful, smooth. I see… myself?
Aaaaand I have just compared myself to a glass choking hazard. Surely, I have lost… my… say it with me ON 3… 1, 2, MARBLES!

(That was the audience participation piece. Thanks for playing.)

Jokes aside, ‘marbles’ now represent the type of FATHER I hope to be – Tricia is due mid-July.

When I see children play, I view it as them discovering their world, sometimes by pushing the limits of SOMETHING (…or …someone), answering the question, “What happens if…”. These are essentially experiments, rooted in an innate curiosity. The type of father I want to be is one who fosters that sense of play, for this is a way to LIVE, let alone work. In the tech industry, this is a relatively new paradigm, and gaining traction. Instead of directing lots of time and treasure towards building out a big idea, then putting it out there and hoping it sticks, why not experiment with less time and less treasure, building out a small version of the big idea, and putting THAT out there and see if THAT sticks? This is how you get feedback quickly to see if the rest of your big idea is even worth it. So besides trying new things more often, experimenting like this also means FAILING more often.

THIS is what I want to impart upon my little one. Failing is OK, and it is to be expected, because it means you’re trying – it means you’re experimenting – it means you’re pushing the limits – it means you’re discovering your world – you are playing – you are truly living. What you DO with “failure”, informs your next step towards ALLLLL your big ideas.

So yeah – exemplifying a sense of play as a model for living, and sharing that notion as a father – is what comes to me when I look at a marble now.

Folks, let me come clean: I don’t actually care about marbles. I care about what that word stands for, and specifically, how that has changed through my life so DRASTICALLY. Take my life story, shove it in a box, tilt that box on its edge, then tilt it again, now onto a corner, and NOW slice awkwardly through that to reveal how the meaning of ‘marbles’ has evolved. From shaping a world view, to embracing self-discovery, to raising a kid, THIS is the MEANDERING JOURNEY of a WORD as a SYMBOL.

THIS is PECULIAR, and, folks, it is THIS FASCINATION that I wanted to share with y’all. Whether it is a tale of how you will grow a person you are yet to meet, or how you met yourself, or how you learned to play with others in your local sandbox, I AM ADVOCATING for YOUR random slice of life, and what uniquely colorful little stories will spill out. I am sure they are all… MARBLOUS.

Berry With A Beat

I am now a professional mime.

When the Internet decides to be slow, in turn cutting out the audio component of a meeting I’m in the middle of with my teammates in Romania or India, the HD webcam stays rolling, like an out-of-date analogy, my face lights up, like Garry Kasparov playing chess, and my hands are all over the place, like an Italian stereotype.

I lead teams that are not in the same room, so to mitigate the 3 continents and 10.5 hours between me and, say, Vivek & Mihai, I:

  • tell stories to bring people together, like how I ran into Kevin Spacey at a Starbucks
  • show and tell the random things lying around our conference rooms, like little trinkets like oversized clothes pins and 3D-printed Sesame Street characters
  • intonate exaggeratedly, because our budget doesn’t allow for teams to have studio-grade microphones & speakers to share speech subtleties
  • apologize liberally, because I am often cutting people off since it is not always clear when somebody has finished sharing their thought because of an audio lag
  • pause often, because teammates often start talking for a few seconds before realizing they have yet to unmute themselves
  • insult them flatteringly, like, “oh no no please, the top of your head is so well shaped… please don’t ruin this experience by showing the rest of your face.”
  • explain that what I had just said was a joke, because sarcasm does not always travel across national borders fully intact
  • crack jokes, because it brings people together via laughter

I will sing and dance and still be productive so that people know that when you come to my meetings, you know you will leave with a little more funk, and your day will be a little sweeter. This is my flavour of ScrumMastery; I am a berry with a beat. My goal is for you to leave as a berry with a beat.

Oh, what joy it is to create a berry with a beat.

Analyzing Blog For Tricia

This blog is all about me.

It always has been, and if you gleam something of value from it, then, you’re welcome: this experiment of applying Scrum principles to personal development is a fun and enlightening ride.

I’ve added metadata (which is nerd babble for ‘tags’, which geek babble for ‘adjectives’, which is dork babble for ‘words to describe things’, which is baby babble for ‘metadata’) to these blog posts to see what I can learn and relearn. Before I get to concrete Scrummy analysis, it’s interesting to note that…

This blog isn’t all about me.

Over the course of three years, I’ve inadvertently woven my private life into this public exploration, which we can now see since Tricia has her own WordPress category.

She is first alluded to in Short-Term Press Release, where I slip in that I’m a boyfriend. As a side note, this whole ‘husband’ thing is still kinda whacked – I’ve had way more practice as a ‘boyfriend’, but enough about metadata (which is nerd babble for ‘tags’, which is geek babble for ‘adje…).

She had indeed moved in by Good Enough, where we are “crafting this space”. This is also the first post tagged with ‘genesis story‘, where I talk about how and why this ScrumOfOne idea and blog began.

She added ‘fiance’ to her metadata (which is nerd babble for…) as per Engagement. The Boston Marathon bombings and the aftermath are also loosely documented here.

Together, we moved into a new place in Cambridge as per Hello Again, Genesis. Echoes of moving into the Boston pad as a single guy are heard.

She added ‘wife’ to her metadata (which is…) as per ScrumOfTwo, which expands on my Life Is Like A Burrito (.com!) bit.

Et voila! Thus, we find one sub-story based on perspective (right, sweetheart?), which is in itself based on, and just another word for, one more time, metadata (…).

Quirktastic or Corporate Bingo

Ever read a passage from an article on a lazy Sunday afternoon while sipping a cappuccino, and say, “Man, I totally gotta lift that and make that the basis of my next blog post?”

Nope, me neither.

I also remember watching my dad speak to everyone in the town square on the Fourth of July. He was up in this little white gazebo, and he was talking about the state of the city. He used the word “ain’t” at least a dozen times, so afterward I gave him the gift of feedback. He looked me straight in the eye and said, “Are you really trying to help me get better or are you embarrassed?”

I said, “Honestly, a little bit of both.”

He said: “Son, this is who I am. And look out there. This is who they are. And if they can see me be imperfect and be the mayor, then one of them will aspire to be the mayor, too. People prefer their leaders with flaws because it makes these positions more attainable for the rest of us.

Here, Brad Smith, CEO of Intuit, in an interview by Adam Bryant for yesterday’s ‘Corner Office’ column of the SundayBusiness section of The New York Times, talks about his parents. In the process, he talks about the benefits of appearing human when in a position of leadership. Sure, the mayorship appears more attainable, and I would argue that is because the mayor appears more relatable.

Ever listen to a public relations message or a corporate pep talk and it is littered with stuffy-sounding jargon? “At the end of the day”, “Productize”, “Quality Initiative”, “Deliverable”, “Going Forward”, “Opportunity For Improvement”, some buzzphrases sound self-aggrandizing, some of these come off as adding no value, some do both, and man do these really grind my gears. They are very effective at being incredibly impersonal. Don’t use them.

Be relatable.

Hell, I’m trying, but that’s because I’m really a robot.

A handsome, charming, Spanish, sword-fighting robot. Don’t tell my wife.

I Am A Millionaire (And So Can You!)

Folks, it happened. I am a millionaire. After 10,000 hours, I’m popping tags like the silly can holders.

Or at least… I live like a millionaire. On the daily, I swan dive into a multi-storey vault of Dogecoin a la Scrooge McDuck. Luckily, such riches have afforded me the necessary thick skin and equally necessary metallic Beyonce bouyancy to not get all cut up by or drown in said vault of said coin. (I got 99 problems, but tetanus ain’t one. (Hit me!))

So after my morning swim, after shimmying the moon dust off my shoulders, I get on with my day. And my days are pretty ordinary, except for the ‘living like a millionaire’ part. My vast wealth of cryptocurrency stays in that vault because I don’t need it to live like a millionaire. I already know how without all that.

“What?” you say, “Are you gettin’ all cheesy on me?” Naw, Pepper Jack, this is something that recently hit me like a tonne of feathers with a brick in the middle.

Fill in this sentence for yourself:

I live like a millionaire when I…

Here, let me help you out – this is just some of what’s on my list. I live like a millionaire when I:

  • play Candy Crush when I go to the bathroom.
  • beatbox in the shower.
  • rack my brain around Chinese Checkers.
  • commandeer a public piano.
  • crack a bad joke.
  • watch and hear my wife’s reaction to said bad joke.
  • walk around holding my wife’s hand.
  • say ‘wife’ whenever I can ’cause it still sounds foreign.
  • blare ‘And You and I’ by Yes before getting married.
  • jam to ‘Burn’ by Ellie Goulding as I walk out of work.
  • bask in ‘Express Yourself’ by Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band just about any other time of day.
  • whistle my theme song.
  • sit at my throne desk.
  • hang out at a cafe.
  • drink a cappuccino.
  • go on a date with a buddy.
  • make up a silly story.
  • tell the story behind my watch.
  • tell the story behind my pen.
  • tell the story behind my wedding band.
  • tell the story behind the number four on clocks.
  • tell the story of how I work for Taco Bell as a motivational speaker.
  • tell this joke: Did you hear about the Scottish cross-dresser? He wore pants.
  • watch and hear your reaction to that joke.

Sure, if I had some loose Hamiltons I’d build a community music studio and start a hovercraft polo league, but I’d also continue to do the above already awesome things. And of course, how I live like a millionaire will differ from how you live like a millionaire.

How do you live like a millionaire?

How can you live like a millionaire right now?