Category: Prose

In Celebration of the Imminent Opening of the Greensboro Trader Joe’s: Integrity

First of all…Greensboro is finally getting a Trader Joe’s.

So, we may be a tad excited about this event. It’s like Santa Claus is real, and he’s bringing seasonally appropriate Joe Joe’s cookies for everybody.

I may have listened to the “Inside Trader Joe’s” podcast on my way to school yesterday to re-myelinate those Fearless Flyer neurons.

I am excited!

What I LEARNED by listening to the podcast was that TJ’s has seven core values.

And I thought to myself, “Self, what if an artist were to apply these seven values to his or her life and career?”

So let’s talk about that.

Trader Joe’s version of Drumstick roll, please……()

INTEGRITY: In the way we operate stores and the way we deal with people. Act as if the customer was looking over your shoulder all the time.

You know how your mama told you, “Character is who you are when nobody is looking”?

Whoops, right?

Well, TJ asks their team to pretend that someone is indeed looking.

What if we approached our art and life in the same way?

Even now as I type, I’m looking a lot more professional and focused pretending you’re sitting here scrutinizing my every key stroke.

Cirrus-ly, though.

Integrity speaks of integration. That means what I say, what I believe, and what I value cohere with what I do.

That’s where the somebody’s waaaatchin’ mee-eeeee principle comes in.

We all spot these areas of dis-integration if we’re paying any kind of attention to our behavior–our actions don’t exhibit what we say we want or believe.

Sometimes that means that we actually need to track it back and examine what our values truly are.

We often live on auto-pilot, animated by background software programmed by influencers with whom we never resonated.

That’s why the intonation is off. We’re not in tune.

So if you’re standing in an audition room, and you think your priority is working in the theatre or getting a job, but your real core value is integrity or respect, you won’t be connected to what naturally keeps your fire going.

The real question should be, “How can I integrate my truest values into what I’m doing here today? Into this song, this poem, this dance, this sink full of dishes?”

Let’s take integrity and respect and put them into an audition.

You can enter the room having done the work, learned the sides, made authentic choices rooted in your point of view and your understanding of the author’s intentions.

From there, you can collaborate and offer your heart energetically and generously for the solution to the role you’re playing in that moment.

When you leave the room, you’ve come through for yourself. The outcome is (and has always been) out of your hands.

You feel satisfied that you’ve done excellent work that’s authentic to you and integral to your values. You’ve respected yourself and the table people.

Back to TJ: If you are thinking of how you can best serve your customers in everything you do, how would that change your art? If you think about who it is for, how will that inform what you do?

It’s already highlighting some areas I want to change.

Happy integration, you all! Stay tuned for tomorrow’s value: Product-driven.

***A career coach led me to a great resource that helped me clarify my values. It’s a forced choice matrix that helps things become very clear. Here you go:

And FYI here are my top ten:

1. Faith(17 votes)
2. Peace(16 votes)
3. Gratitude(16 votes)
4. Kindness(15 votes)
5. Significance(13 votes)
6. Trust(13 votes)
7. Wisdom(13 votes)
8. Joy(10 votes)
9. Respect(10 votes)
10. Growth(8 votes)


I tell my students all the time that they have to understand singing through their messy, creative, childy, story-mind before they can understand it with their empirical, ordered, Erlenmeyer flask brain. It’s true in the act of creating that we are using an intelligence that has been devalued by the post-enlightenment culture we live in.

We are praised, win awards, and get good grades for memorizing things, synthesizing the information into theses and supporting paragraphs, and demonstrating our mastery of formulas and facts. That = wickett smaht.

But I’m beginning to trust this/these other type(s) of smart that are not so encouraged when we’re doing the school thing: the hunches, the automatic knowing of something–not sure how it arrived, but just knowing it’s authentic. The land of story and image and symbol.

The symbol of brain himself, Albert Einstein, said those famous words:

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

Imagination. Image, from Latin imago. Then verb-ified to imaginari, “to form a mental picture to oneself.” Old French has it as imaginer, which is “to sculpt, carve, paint, or embellish,” actually bringing the image into the physical realm.

Genesis reads that we are made in the image of God. Tomes have been written on that one sentence, of course. But I believe the ability to image-ine is a connective aspect of that image-gifting that touches everything we are.

Even the pedestrian words we say in everyday conversation are born out of imagination; they create our environment. Think back to a moment when you saw an angry altercation between strangers on the street. For me in such situations, the atmosphere changed to stingy, metallic caustic-ness.

Our words are power packets delivered out of our imaging gift. Any object we see in the world lived there first: a building, chair, car, corkscrew–all imaginari before they could be imaginer.

Imagination is a technology. It is good. I originally thought neutral, but no, I believe it is good. But the good then gets twisted. The human imagination that is capable of creating the Sisters of Charity is also capable of creating Auschwitz.

A great power that can find its expression in goodness and beauty or in a twisted, terrible distortion.

One of my favorite authors, Madeleine L’Engle:

“It is … through the world of the imagination which takes us beyond the restrictions of provable fact, that we touch the hem of truth.”

I want to trust this gift more and let it flow through, to be a creator every day, and choose to use the imagination God gave me to charge the atmosphere around me with joy, creativity, inspiration, beauty, and redemption.

With God’s help, I will.

Leroy Means King

Last week I took a different route to school because of the snow.

I came to a stoplight at Martin Luther King Drive and the end of Highway 29 and saw a man standing in the cold wearing old army surplus fatigues and holding one of the too-many cardboard signs I see here in Greensboro. He was about six feet, black, bearded, probably in his fifties. He had smiling eyes.

I don’t remember exactly what the sign said, but I remember “anything helps,” and a big GOD BLESS.

I had no cash or food in the car, but when he looked at me, I waved. Then I rolled down the window, and he walked over.

I said, “I’m sorry, I don’t have any cash or food on me, but I’ll pray for you.”

He smiled and said, “Thank you.”

I asked him his name, and he said, “Leroy.”

I asked if he had a place to stay that night. He was trying to get thirty-five dollars for a motel room, but if he couldn’t he had a friend with a tent. Last week in Greensboro it dipped to single digits at night.

The light changed, and we said goodbye. In my rear-view mirror, I saw a nice woman in a Saturn giving Leroy some cash.

As I drove down Interstate 40 toward Elon, I was thinking about Leroy and praying for him. I thought about my split-second hesitation to roll down my window and talk, the discomfort and guilt/powerlessness I feel when I see someone standing on the road asking for money.

I thought about his name, Leroy. It means “the King.” Le Roi.

And I remembered something C.S. Lewis wrote in The Weight of Glory, that “(t)here are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.”

When Leroy goes to heaven, he will have a mansion built just for him and probably several crowns custom-designed by his Father. I’m citing Jesus’s words about many mansions in the gospel of John, (Ch 14) and I’m making an imaginative leap based on his account (I believe it was the same John) of the words of the living creatures and twenty-four elders around the throne of God (Revelation Ch 5).

There standing with his shabby cardboard sign, someone we in our heated cars pretend not to see, was a man who, to use Lewis’s words again “may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship.”

There on my commute to school in my cozy used Honda, the seed of an idea was planted in my heart, and it made me cry. In fact, it’s been sneak-attacking me the last several days and bringing up the water works.

I have no idea what this seed will grow to become, but the little thing sprouted into a question mark: What is your response to Leroy?

My answer then: “I don’t know.”

But I did get a little download as I drove. There has to be something simple we can all do. Many hands/light work.

Then I started seeing all kinds of crazy-impossible-exciting things happening here in this city that my mind readily dismissed as impossible. But I shifted these images to the dream safety vault before my reasoning could bee-bee more little holes in them.

So for now, what is my response?

I am going to find organizations here in Greensboro who are already addressing this need, have been for years, and see where I can help. I’ll add one pair of hands to the many-er and many-er and be a learner.

I’ll keep you posted.

I bet Leroy knows what his name means.


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