What story are you writing with your life? Tell me your story.
But first, remember with me Kevin Brooks, a dear friend and mentor who passed away three months shy of his 56th birthday, which would have been today. I first met him at the MIT Media Lab, where his warm smile and engaging intellect welcomed decades of students who passed through during his time there as a doctoral student and then as an alum who worked for lab sponsors. He made it a better place. I got to know him better through a storytelling circle gathered around the late Brother Blue and Ruth Edmonds Hill. Kevin told heartfelt, hilarious stories about the rollercoasters of Santa Cruz and the Jersey Shore, tomato paste, summertime, you name it.
A week ago, I went to what may be the best memorial service I will ever attend. (That’s what happens when your wife and many of your friends are storytellers!) Through the service his family crafted, one last lesson Kevin taught me was that it’s never too early to work on your legacy. That church outside of Harvard Square was packed to the rafters with his family and friends. I think we all felt as if he always had time for each and every one of us, that he lives on through the work we do in the world, and that we were important to him. How could one man be that to so many people? And he pulled this off, no matter how busy he may have been inventing the future of storytelling, raising three kids, or performing (and recording!) dozens of stories — stories that we can now listen to whenever we want him back, if only digitally, ephemerally, and only for a few minutes. That love and those stories are such gifts.
I was particularly moved by the memory shared by another Media Lab alum, Birago Jones. I asked Birago if I could bring to you his story of our friend.
A little over four years ago, I was studying at the MIT Media Lab when I met Kevin, who is an alum.
When I introduced myself, he said “Tell me your story.” I was puzzled by the question, but I hacked my way through discussing my research, my background, my story. When I asked him for advice on how to tell my story better, he said, “Meet me on Wednesday morning 9:30 at the Kendall T-Stop. We’ll have coffee.”
Two weeks later on that Wednesday we met. He shared his experiences, offered constructive criticism, and encouraged me to improve my work. While he was brilliant storyteller, he was an equally compassionate listener. At the end of 40 minutes, he stood up and said, “This was great! I have to go to work now, but I’ll see you next Wednesday—same time.”
He met me every Wednesday for about two years. Each time we met, I had new insights to share, and he more questions, more advice— Kevin always wanted to get the heart of matter quickly, and ignore the superficial.
I never questioned why he wanted to help me, as I did not want to waste a precious moment, not being in the moment. Needless to say, Kevin was gracious with his time.
He later offered me summer research position working with him at Motorola. At Motorola, Kevin pushed me to manifest my crazy ideas into tangible reality. Great ideas are interesting, but really great stories are the ones which are based on what you physically did. That was Kevin’s work ethic, which I have adopted. As I watched how he interacted with co-workers, whether leading or following—he always exemplified the qualities of a gentle man. Even under duress, Kevin had a sunny disposition and empathy for others.
For me, Kevin was a mentor, research advisor, thesis reader and editor, and a dear friend. The appreciation I have for Kevin’s kindness and efforts towards me is boundless. And the stories I shared with Kevin, I will forever cherish.
There are many ways to make an impact in the world. To make time. To make the future. You are doing it. Listen. Listen. Tell me your story, tell your story in all you do, to all you meet. Make it a romp! Make it epic! Make it up as you go along! Fill it with rich detail, humor, insight, and leave us sighing, “Aaaah!” Like Kevin, you will make your life one well lived.