Friday, September 18, 2015

Creative Mornings Charleston talks empathy, birthdays, and how to crack the client code

In their shoes

Posted by Connelly Hardaway on Fri, Sep 18, 2015 at 10:33 AM

We love Creative Mornings Charleston (CMCHS) — we wouldn't go to the breakfast lecture series every month if we didn't see some value in speakers sharing their lives and work with the Charleston creative community. This morning Bret Lott, College of Charleston professor and prolific author — 14 books, y'all — spoke on the topic of empathy.

click to enlarge CMCHS grows every month, with over 120 attendees at this morning's talk. - CONNELLY HARDAWAY
  • Connelly Hardaway
  • CMCHS grows every month, with over 120 attendees at this morning's talk.

Before he began we took our seats and found a smallish yellow book on each chair. The tome? Crack the Client Code, How to Discover the Hidden Wealth in Each Client.  Listen, that title has nothing to do with empathy. We get it, we really do, but CMCHS, we're callin' you out. We want a pamphlet on Lott on our seats, not some marketing ploy.

But we digress. Bret Lott has been teaching creative writing at CofC since 1986. As a writer, Lott says that he has to deal with empathy every day; you can't create characters without imagining what another person's life may be like. Lott broke down sympathy and empathy for us: sympathy is regretting someone's hardship while empathy is seeing the world through the eyes of the struggling person.

It ain't easy.

Empathy is a timely topic for Charleston. For months we've been speaking about, writing about, and talking about how we can come together as a community after the tragedy of the Emanuel Nine. In the Q&A session following Lott's talk a woman asked, "How do we use empathy?" She meant in the real world, not in a novel. Lott said, "You've gotta get out there and interact." 

(Sometimes, maybe, people need a little more direction than that.)

Lott's talk focused mainly on how he got into the mindset of his grandma and was able to create a female character for his Oprah book club-selected novel Jewel. He says that people always ask him how he can speak so well from a woman's perspective. "I think of her as a human being," says Lott.

Lott told us about an activity he uses with new creative writing students. He asks them to go to a Waffle House after midnight and to write down everything they hear. "Within that language resides real life," he says. 

Lott acknowledges that fiction writing is a "nasty little job." It's ironic, of course, that someone practicing empathy must also use the people he's writing about. Each person you meet is a potential character. Isn't empathy, when practiced as a means to an end, self-serving after all? 

It's questions like this that keep us coming back to CMCHS. That and meeting people like the gal we sat next to — a young mother who also works on documentaries, including her favorite project, where she interviewed Big Foot believers in Missouri. You can't put a price on human connection, and for that, Creative Mornings, we are grateful. Also, happy first birthday. Here's our party hat.  (And no we won't selfie hashtag it to win tickets to a conference, but we appreciate the thought).

click to enlarge Happy damn birthday. - CONNELLY HARDAWAY
  • Connelly Hardaway
  • Happy damn birthday.


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