CREATIVE HEROES: Raymond Strother

24 03 2016

Ray and my sweetie’s friendship goes back decades. While he was down from his Montana mountains and in Louisiana, I grabbed him for a conversation for my Creative Heroes series. A creative hero is someone who lives a fully creative life and Ray teaches us all how to do that. Ray believes that creativity is about seeing the world differently and breaking the rules to create something unique.

ray art

Ray has lived a big life. He’s gotten the powerful elected. He’s a renowned author. He’s piloted planes. He’s taught at Harvard and is an esteemed professor at the small Louisiana university that kicked him out when he was a student for his political views. He is still married to his high school sweetheart and together they have traveled the world. Their home houses a stunning, eclectic art collection from their life together. His musical tastes go from opera to rap. He is a master woodcrafter and can bake a damn good loaf of bread. He is a true renaissance man.

It took breaking the rules for Ray to break out of the life he was born in the blue collar, oil refinery town of Port Arthur, Texas where neither parent graduated from high school. As a young adult he learned to embrace a new direction when faced with a roadblock. After it was “suggested” by the small town university president that he transfer to the more “liberal” LSU in Baton Rouge, Ray packed up his new bride and moved. Having lost his track scholarship in the process, he knew he could write and became a Journalism major. The seeds of his professional life had been planted.

His life proves that all things one learns are useful. A student job of sorting the printing letterforms gave him an understanding of typography, which evolved into an understanding of design. A teacher taught him the basics of photography and he created a studio in the unused attic of LSU’s journalism building. These learned skills would eventually lead him into writing and directing commercials when he entered the political advertising world.

His understanding of living a working class life drove his life mission of trying to make the world a better place. From Ray’s Wikipedia page, “My father taught me that you had to stand on the picket line … and you had to get involved in politics — because people like us had no other choice. So I became a political consultant. It was a calling like the ministry.”

Knowing himself well enough to know that his personality was not suited to being a politician, he used his creative skill set to help people he believed in get elected. It was Ray’s fearlessness, insatiable curiosity and hard work ethic that propelled him on his own creative journey that eventually led him to being a top political consultant based in Washington DC, the most powerful city in the world.

Creativity is the spark of God
Ray does not believe creativity ever grows out of a committee decision. His creativity grows out of solitude. He isolated himself to write his novels. He fell in love with the rugged majesty of Montana while working on a political campaign there. The locals thought he was crazy when he bought the vertical slope of a mountain. Thinking differently allowed him to create a mountain retreat built on that impossibly steep slope, which he named Heroes Ranch.

Hero's

Hero’s Ranch, the Strother’s Montana mountain retreat

Wise Chair

His decades of experience have turned him into a sought after professor. The university that once kicked him out now has an honored chair for him. It’s called the Wise Chair. Ray believes creativity grows most intensely when youth and passion are combined.

“Creativity is the spark of God,” Ray said. What a blessing that a few teachers saw that spark in Ray’s early life. Today he see’s that spark in his students. He is still helping change the world by turning those sparks into creative fire. He is a creative hero.

Click here to watch an extended video conversation with Ray.

Ray video

Click here to read other CREATIVE HEROES stories

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Listen to Your Mother – New Orleans

22 03 2016

I’ve heard that if a TED Talk married the Vagina Monologues that it’s offspring would be Listen to Your Mother. Listen to Your Mother (LTYM) is a performance about motherhood and LTYM performances will be held in 41 cities across North America around Mother’s Day. Each performance is unique to the city that births it and yet all are related by the same theme. Each cast member reads an essay that they have written. One does not have to be a writer, or a performer, or a woman to be in the cast. The only requirement is that your story be about motherhood. The inaugural New Orleans performance is Mother’s Day weekend. Click here for details.  All past performances can be found on the LYTM website.

LTYM

The Big City
My Dad always referred to New Orleans as the Big City. Baton Rouge is only 80 miles away. I love my hometown, but it’ll always be a country cousin to that big city down river. I remember going there only once in my childhood. I still remember how exotic it felt. There were giant palm trees in the medians of major boulevards downtown. Only the medians were called the neutral ground. There were buildings taller than any in my hometown, wrought iron balconies, and lots of people were out walking the broad sidewalks of those busy city streets. The homes were narrow, and had tiny yards, and were called shotguns. Even inside, the ceilings were higher than what I was used to. People rode streetcars and buses to get to places. It was so different from the small, comfortable world I knew.

As an adult, New Orleans still has the same exotic feel to me. I’ve loved it since that first visit. When I saw someone in a blogging group I’m in was going to produce the first LTYM in my favorite city, I immediately asked her to let me know when it would be because I wanted to attend. When she asked why don’t I audition, I thought about it for a day and said, why not!? I became the first to sign up. Before I knew it, I was reading the story I had written to the producers. And I was chosen for the cast.

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I knew deep down that my story had the right spice for New Orleans. And speaking of spice, every trip to the big city during this adventure has involved experiencing another landmark restaurant. It really is the best foodie city in the world. I could almost live on the bread, coffee and Bloody Marys alone.

Gumbo
I sat and listened to my cast mates stories at the first read through and got a taste of what the performance would become. Like the best gumbo there were the unique elements that gave each story it’s own flavor. Most people say that their mama makes the best gumbo. Together the dozen in the New Orleans cast created an extraordinary gumbo that only stories about motherhood could make. I am trembling with excitement (and a little fear) while I wait for this performance to be served to its audience on Mother’s Day weekend. 

Between the first practice and the performance, I will turn 59. I made a conscious decision when I entered my 50’s to do things that moved me outside my comfort zone. I entered my 50’s by jumping out of a plane and on the eve of my 60’s it feels appropriate that I’m taking center stage. I can now confidently say, “listen to this mother!”

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