Ryan recommend Pinto to participate here. I met her very briefly as I was leaving their home after Ryan's interview, not knowing Ryan would refer here. So, on this morning she greeted me with a big hug and then we chatted for a little while in the warm spring sunshine before heading inside for the interview. Pinto would have preferred to do the interview in a treehouse in Georgia, but we just couldn’t make it work, so we settled for floor cushions in a sacred room in her home. Pinto’s pretty much a bundle of smiles and warmth and hope and hard work and joy and, as you can imagine, a real treat to talk with. I’m happy to introduce her to you here.
ACT: Who are you and how would describe yourself?
PL: I am, huh. I'm Pinto or Katie - it depends who you talk to. Katie "Pinto" Lebrun. And Pinto's a nickname that kind just embodies the spirit of me that I later learned to embody. I am a nomad at heart who finds joy in challenge and is currently exploring the challenge of creating a home base (laughs).
ACT: Do you associate the Pinto more with the bean or with the Ford?
PL: The horse, technically, but I had a short temper as a kid - from what I've heard - and the Ford Pinto blew up when it got hit from behind. So, I've learned to redirect that energy into being very productive (laughs). But the bean is my tattoo.
ACT: (Laughs) A trifecta of pintos, then. What concerns you or breaks your heart? What makes you sad and affects you personally about life and making your way through it? And then what motivates you to do something about it?
PL: I think the most challenging thing - and I think this is a pretty universal thing in our world at the moment; especially in America; especially in the world where there's social media and everyone hears things from every angle - is that I've experienced a culture that teaches us to not believe in ourselves. That teaches kids that there's only a certain way to do things. That you have to eventually leave your imagination behind. So, the lack of belief in the control we have to actually follow our dreams. And that, for so many people, dreams have to stay dreams. And that's what they are in that reality.
For myself, I remember in college, being like, I'm gonna be a professional mermaid! And people were like, That is not a thing. I now work with professional mermaids (laughs). It's totally a thing! Had I known that was a thing back when I could still hold my breath for two minutes, I might live a different life. And a big change for me was learning how to hula hoop in my mid-20s. 'Cause I could not hula hoop until I was like mid-20s. Never as a kid. And now it's my career.
So, my affirmation this spring has become I am creative activism. The idea of changing these perceptions by being the most out there adult that kids and other adults have seen. Being like, You know what? Dreams aren't actually that scary to follow. And if someone had told me as a kid who was obsessed with horses and there was this book by Marguerite Henry about Chincoteague and Assateague island, off the coast of Virgina - Land of the wild ponies - and I was obsessed with this. A couple years ago, I was paid to hula hoop on the island of the wild ponies. And I was in my 30s. Had someone told ten-year-old me that that was even a possibility, I feel like I would have entered into a lot of projects with a lot more open heart and more creativity.
So, what I'm doing about that is the running around this country and now this city and trying to work with children from the age of 0 to 105. Because we all have that potential to learn through play. Where experience in life can just be a side-effect of smiling and laughing and having fun. And how we can learn our lessons through laughter and joy and that those options are there. Wow, when I try to be authentic I just ramble. I don't remember the first question anymore (laughs).
ACT: Why do you suppose our society has taken the joy and the imagination and the dreaming out of the equation and why do most things in life in the professional world look so stale and stagnant and structured and achievement-based? What does that all mean to you?
PL: I feel like our country, from the top levels, focus on profits. We rate our quality of life on economy. So the biggest ratings, like, Are we being successful as a country? is like GDP and economic growth. But does that actually make any of us happy or creative? Our markers are these business suits and wallets and things that are taken very seriously. And fairies don't really seem to have a role (laughs) in what is put at the top of our country as these so-called role models.
Imagination for me really comes from the environment - going out into the woods, the nature. What we're actually attached to. Walking around barefoot. Paying attention to the trees that you walk by on the way to work, which were here longer. None of that has a role and recently seems to have less of a role. When it should be, in my opinion, higher on the priority list.
I host a lot of retreats. And I specifically aim to hold retreats in places where people have to walk through the woods. I don't like super high-end retreat centers for the type of work I do because I want people to be put back into the elements and back into something less familiar than their city life. Even people who live in the country - you live in the country now and you have all these different conveniences. And you have to pursue success to have these conveniences. Versus going back into like, What do you actually need to live in nature? And then, once people are there, the Earth itself naturally sparks that creativity. So, as our society separates us more and more from the Earth, we are separated (opinions, opinions here) more and more from ourselves.
ACT: What do we mean to each other, individual to individual? What do people mean to you as you engage with them in your daily routines?
PL: I wouldn't be here if it weren't for the people. I came to Bend to visit a couple friends. This is not my climate zone. This is the most challenging climate zone I've ever lived in. It's dry; it's cold; it's beautiful in its own way. But picking a place based on the land and the city, this is not what I would have picked. This is not where I would have seen myself. But then I got to know the people here. I stayed because of the community I was... I feel very privileged to have entered at a time of a lot of community growth and a lot of new programs growing and starting and people coming together. And that's what inspired me to stay.
I work with people - that's what my life is. When I traveled the country I got to see all these different communities. I'd be in a different city every couple days - sometimes multiple cities a day - and I could interact with anywhere from 30 to 500 people in that day. And then I could disappear and not talk to anyone for a week. But in the end, my work and the reason I'm here is to be part of a community, to work within that, and to help us find those connections.
The community I've found here in Bend has been really special in that I've seen a higher rate of people encouraging authenticity in each other. I don't know if that's the region or if it's jus this pocket that ended up here, but coming from Boston and New England and New York where it's you look someone in the eye and they're like, What do you want? Sorry! You have pretty eyes! I don't know. I didn't want anything. Or you ask someone, How are you doing? and they're like, Why? Whereas here, when someone in this community asks How are you? they actually want to know the answer. And I've felt that people are receptive to me when I'm opening up that opportunity like, What do you need? and people feel safe here actually speaking that. So, for me, community is something that is what built home. As I call this home, it wouldn't be that if it weren't for the people and the open interactions between them.
ACT: If we just agree for the sake of this question to say that community, in general, is the collection of all humans, what does it mean to you to be part of that community with so many potentially adverse opinions and opposing agendas and some of the extreme negative stuff - violence and racism and what not? What does it mean to be part of community with the grosser differences?
PL: I think it's part of my responsibility - all of our responsibility as being humans - to listen to all of them. Not to agree, but to listen. To be open and accepting of free conversation between that. And the less we listen and the less we open our hearts to those opposing views, the stronger those differences become and the harder it's gonna be to bring that back together. It's another thing the social media time period we're in right now is making more difficult because it's really easy to surround yourself in a bubble of you. It's really easy for me to surround myself in a bubble of what I believe. And there's these things people do - friend cleanse: if you don't agree with me on this, then don't be my friend. I'm like, Oh, if you don't agree with me on this, be my friend! Tell me why. And if we both listen, we'll both learn something. In the end, we'll probably still disagree, but disagreements don't mean that we can't communicate and don't mean we can't work together. And so that goes for every single side - we all (my opinion) need to learn to be better listeners. I think I'm a pretty good listener, but I always believe I can always be a better one than I am right now.
ACT: Do you have a sense of purpose or a compulsion to live with intention or a responsibility to affect positive change?
PL: Mmhmm. Yes. You asked a yes or no question, but I'm inferring that you want me to elaborate. The responsibility thing is a really interesting thing 'cause, yes, I feel like we all have a responsibility to be a part. I believe that that part can change. And I believe that my part right now is to be a character - play this role, be this role - and I don't like the word of character or play because it is really who I am. I want to hold the energy and hold space that encourages surrender to authentic weirdness. I guess this is definitely something I have pride in. I like that I have an MBA and I have business suits in my closet and I can design websites and I've lived the corporate world and can do all these things and that I will show up, instead of being part of the conference, in total weird outfits and sparkles with a bunch of people who are gonna light stuff on fire and dance (laughs).
I like that when I go into a library I'm carrying a hundred hula hoops with me. I like that there's little pockets around this country that know me as the Hula Hoop Girl. There was one small town I was in and a woman came up to me after the performance and said, I can tell you're not from around here 'cause people haven't worn flowers in their hair since the '70s and I ain't never seen pants like that. But she was smiling. She liked it. She liked seeing that. And this small town of kids got to see a professional adult woman, traveling by herself, making a living dancing and playing games. And seeing that as completely possible. That that's actually my job. And what that means for me is I have to be as authentically weird and out there - no matter what situation I'm in - and be that person who now goes to business meetings in mermaid leggings and hair extensions because I have a kids' program afterwards and not apologize for it anymore.
ACT: What is the source of those three words in particular that I used: the "sense" of purpose or the "compulsion" or the "responsibility"? What does that mean to you? Where do you suppose it comes from?
PL: Probably going back to being part of that larger community. If you make a recipe - if you make a soup - and it calls for salt and you just put the salt on the table, but you never put it in the soup, it doesn't fulfill its purpose. It wouldn't exist in that recipe if it wasn't supposed to be immersed and a part of every single bite. So, the responsibility is if I'm going to be a part of this soup that is this community on Earth, then there's a role I'm supposed to play.
The compulsion - as humans I think we find joy in having purpose. There's been times in my life where I was a complete workaholic - a general manager for one business and an assistant manager for another - working a hundred hours a week! 'Cause I had all this purpose. But none of it was fulfilling what I deep down could do. It was just the training... my brain was able to do. But not something that I myself embodied in a way that the person next to me didn't.
ACT: Is it someone's role to be terrible? Or to be mean? Or to be violent?
PL: It could be. I think everything teaches us a lesson. I mean, that's a really interesting way to look at it. I feel like it doesn't necessarily need to be that way, but at this point in time people fall into that role because of the people that were in that role before them who did that to them. And until we are listening and supporting and helping people find the other way - 'cause there's two ways to react to everything - and a lot of people haven't been given (opinions) the opportunity to learn the alternative. In my life those people have taught me a lot and I couldn't do the work I now do without having had those people play that role in my life. This is a chicken and the egg question because if there weren't people playing that role I wouldn't need to do some of the work I am doing (laughs). But all of it will exist as a container in one way or another.
ACT: I would have been shocked if you had the definitive answer on the question. It's open for debate I think (laughs).
PL: I'll write a song about it and we'll see what the song says (laughs).
ACT: Do you want to ask me anything?
PL: You told me a little about your research in coming here and you didn't actually talk much about the people - as far as you moving to Bend. You talked about the map; you talked about these different looks; since being here, what have the people of Bend taught you about why you're here or why you want to be here?
ACT: That's a cool question. A couple of weeks after moving here, I was in that smitten phase. And coming from New England, also living all over the world and all over the United States, I had a fair amount of exposure to lots of different ways - community ways and cultural ways. But I was impressed here with the heads up and eyes forward and friendly hellos and help-your-neighbors-dig-out-of-the-snow kind of stuff. So, a couple weeks into that feeling I wrote a letter to Bend to The Source (click here, scroll down) and thanked everybody for being so wonderful, in short. And while I'm sure that there's a fair amount of benefit to that, I believe two things now: one, it was premature and that's due to the experiences I've had since then. Not that that doesn't exist. There's probably an above average amount of that still happening - acknowledging each other, just taking that extra moment to just look at someone. It still is happening. But it's not happening like I thought that it was. And so the second part of that, I guess, is now I think it's becoming my role or I'm taking it on to make sure that that doesn't die here.
I'm torn on the project, right, because sometimes I dream of what it might look like to go live in Middle America where community sense is quite strong and people know that they depend on one another and outside influence is a bit more limited. And to be part of this feeling where everything is kind of 'Ra! Ra! Ra!' and 'We're really proud of our community and we really care about each other and this project is so nice!' It would be nice to be part of that flood. I think it would feel really nice to get some support and recognition in that kind of way. But it's also probably the case that a place like Bend needs the project more than that place. So, this is part of my internal struggle lately (laughs) - lately being the last two years - of doing this project and it actually seeming to fall on deaf ears week after week after week. I guess while that frustrate me I really find that to be the affirmation to keep doing it. Does that answer your question?
PL: A little bit. It sent my brain on a whole bunch of other... over there and over there.
ACT: I guess I'll just say a little bit more for my own sake. There's a bunch of lovely people here in Bend. And there's a bunch of lovely people in every town anywhere in the world. While that's true about Bend, there's also a pretty obvious influence of success and wealth that can be distracting - more so than in other places. And I don't have tons of examples of how that pursuit leads to better relationships. That's what I mean.
PL: I can hear that.
ACT: Do you have anything to say in closing?
PL: This was way more mellow than I anticipated it to be. I was like, Whoa, I got really serious. I don't spend much of my time being serious. And so that was just interesting to me. 'Cause I spend a lot of my time focusing on the like... I like to give people hugs. Whenever I meet people, I usually say, Do you hug? And I've been told - and actually thanked for it - that I hold hugs longer than people anticipate. But when someone's uncomfortable or you can kind of feel that... there like Yes, I hug but you can still feel that they're like, Do I hug? I like to just start laughing while hugging them and laughter often times relaxes all of it. And so that's the way I see myself being all the time. I'm that person who hugs strangers and giggles in their ear. So, it's an interesting experience to sit down and be like, Oh yeah, here's all the serious stuff I think about, too. And I didn't anticipate that coming up. I'm used to talking about the rainbows and the butterflies.
A couple days ago I facilitated ecstatic dance and my theme was rainbow medicine and people were like, We're coming in for all these rainbows and butterflies today and it's gonna be this bright, happy dance. And I'm like, No, dude. We're gonna go through a thunderstorm 'cause that's where the rainbows come from. It only comes with a bunch of rain. And so I did have some intense moments and it went through darkness. And that was the beauty of it. You go through that and then it's after that light shines through all of it that you come out as a rainbow. Specifically a lot of drops of water, so a lot of people going through their stuff, coming out together, creating that rainbow. And so even though I just created a presentation about the darkness in it, too, I still catch myself surprised. The reason we're working on laughter, the reason I'm working on all this, is because that's part of our journey.
ACT: I call people like you 'bright-siders'. And I don't know that people often understand what I mean, but when I'm talking to someone else about optimistic and happy rainbow folks, I call them bright-siders. I've even had some failed romantic relationships with them because I am NOT a bright-sider. It would be the last... of a hundred words, it wouldn't be one on my list. And that's actually something I really enjoy about doing A Community Thread is that I end up having good conversations with people in a lot of different ways. And they tend to go in a particular direction because it's my project and I built the questions, but I still can learn a lot. And now have some endearing thoughts about bright-siders.
PL: That's a totally fine term to use. I've been called - in a couple different communities I've gone through - the last true believer. When everyone else is jaded and giving up on this entire thing and I'm like, Why? But it still has all this potential. You gotta have that last true believer. To the tail end, Yeah, I see the realism in it, but we got this. So can I ask you another question? You're not a bright-sider. Are you a realist or a pessimist? Where do you fall?
ACT: I consider myself a realist. People have wanted to call me a pessimist, but I think those people are wrong. I'm almost constantly disappointed and I think you can’t be disappointed if you're a pessimist. I expect great things to happen and when they don't I take it hard. That's not pessimism.
PL: No, totally realism. That was a big journey I went on - learning to have expectations without emotional attachment to expectations. Whereas there's this whole yoga thing, Remove all attachments and remove expectations, I'm like, No, no, have your expectations, just don't get emotion... expectation without attachment, love without attachment - all those things - still a journey I'm on, but it's been an interesting thing to think about.