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Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Interview with Maureen Mahoney, Director of Online Learning with the National Speakers Association

Welcome to an interview with Maureen Mahoney, a multi-faceted professional who has experience and training in broadcast production, improvisation comedy, and virtual training programs. 

What is your background?

My background is a little all over the place but I have found that my career has really come full circle thanks to the advancements of technology! I graduated from Loyola University New Orleans with a major in Broadcast Production and a minor in History.  Post-graduation and thanks to Hurricane Katrina I was forced to relocate back to my home state of Texas, landing a job in Midland-Odessa as a local TV News Producer. After that experience, found myself in the Insurance industry, working with advisors, helping them build their brand and ran sales and marketing trainings.  After rising through the ranks and a move to Chicago, I found myself in the eLearning industry, building interactive experiences for advisors and running virtual training programs.  Outside of work, I was formally trained in improvised comedy at The Second City & iO Chicago Training Centers performing with my improv group over the last several years around the country.  All of these experiences have been instrumental in my current position as the Director of Online Learning with the National Speakers Association! 

How did you come to be interested in topics of professional and personal well-being?  What are some of the hidden issues that can block people without their being aware of the root cause? (ex. attention deficit disorder, Postpartum depression, dyslexia, etc.) 

This is actually an area I am super passionate about. I was diagnosed with ADHD when I was around 6 or 7 years old.  This was in the late 80’s/early 90’s and there wasn’t a lot of information back then.  Growing up I was always told to take my meds and I would grow out of it.  No one ever explained what ADHD was or what some of the symptoms were that I was experiencing.  I was just told that I was different and that I qualify for special testing privileges.  Once I graduated college, I stopped talking my medication because, “I’m an adult now! I’ve been cured!”

It wasn’t until 8 years ago that I reached a breaking point.  Nothing was working in my life personally or professionally.  At work, it felt like I couldn’t please anyone. I kept getting told I wasn’t working hard enough, I talk too much, I was told not to share personal information about myself, I was told, “You may want to keep the fact that you have ADHD to yourself because your team will look down on you,” I was even told to change the look on my face. Spoiler alert, these are all ADHD symptoms (Maybe not the look on my face!). 

I finally started to see a therapist. I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what it was! It felt like a bit of a failure on my end that I needed a therapist but she said something to me that made sense. “When a business is failing, you hire a consultant to work with you to get things back on track.  How is this different?” As I started building my relationship with my therapist, it was very hard at first.  She would ask me questions that I didn’t like.  She was telling me things about my situation that I thought she was dead wrong about.  I stuck with her though.  One day she suggested I get back on my medication. I was reluctant cause I thought I outgrew ADHD! As soon as I got back on my medication, everything changed. It was this ah-ha moment that I need this to function.  Soon, things started falling into place.

While yes, getting back on my medication was step one, it wasn’t until I started working at the National Speakers Association that I really started to embrace my ADHD.  I was meeting incredibly successful people who speak on ADHD, meeting experts with PhD’s on it.  I realized that I knew absolutely nothing about this disorder, and I have it! 

When it comes to these hidden disorders of ADHD, dyslexia, post-partum, etc., they are so much more common than you think and there are many people who have these challenges and they don’t even know they have it.  Or like me, they’ve been told to hide it, or they know they have it but have found a survival method to live with it.  The reality is we are human, and we need to embrace our differences and our challenges. The future can be an amazing place! These days, there are so much more resources, education, and technology around these things that can dramatically improve your life.

Just like anything else, you just need to do the work. It’s your responsibility to educate yourself. We learned this lesson over the pandemic.  Change doesn’t happen overnight.  It’s a trial-and-error period that I like to call “growing pains.” Some days you are on top of the world and some days feel like a failure.  It’s not a failure, its just a growing pain!  If you can commit to learn or implement one new thing a week to better your life, that’s a pretty big toolbox you built in just one year! 

How can a person turn what they had considered a disadvantage to an advantage? 

I am a glass half full kinda gal. I think you can spin any disadvantage into an advantage with the right mindset. You need to focus on what YOU can control.  There are so many things out of our control especially when we are living in a time where it seems like we keep losing so much of our control! You don’t have control over the weather, but you can control what you wear when you go outside.  You can’t control what’s going on in politics, but you can control how you vote.  There are probably things going on at your organization that seem doom and gloom that you can’t control.  You can control the way that you show up every day and your attitude.  Take a deep breath and be present with yourself in that feeling of disadvantage and ask yourself:

What are the things I cannot control?

What are the things I CAN control?

Out of the things you said that you can control, assess the situation.  Is there a way that you can help? How can you fill a void that needs to be filled? Perhaps you just need to stay out of the situation entirely and take yourself out of it.  There is always some kind of way forward.

Please recommend a book that you have really enjoyed. 

Surprisingly my favorite book that I’ve read lately is, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.” I have found this to be so incredibly relevant in my professional and personal life, especially if you are in a leadership role at your organization. Learning about how Lincoln handled his strong minded cabinet with opposing views, big egos, in a life or death situation is truly remarkable. So many lessons and insights came out of that book for me!

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Interview with Thomas Fink: Poet, Essayist, Literary Critic, and Abstract Painter

Welcome to an interview with Thomas Fink, whose latest collection of poetry, Zeugma, a fascinating title for a rhetorical term that refers to a single word that links disparate ideas ("she broke his glass sculpture and his heart").  It is a great pleasure to have the chance to learn more about his background and some of the ideas that inform his poetics, criticism, and art.  In addition to his artistic and scholarly work, Fink has supported publishers and writing programs such as the Marsh Hawk Press

What is your name and background?

I’m Thomas Fink, a professor of English at City University of New York’s LaGuardia Community College for the past 41 years. I’ve published twelve books of poetry and two books of criticism about contemporary poetry, as well as a recent book on teaching college students to interpret poetry. I “moonlight” as an abstract painter.

Portrait of Thomas Fink by Maya D. Mason

When did you become interested in experimental or avant-garde poetry?

When I graduated from Princeton University in 1976 and was just about to enter the MA and PhD program at Columbia University, a high school friend gave me John Ashbery’s Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror as a present. At first, I found the book infuriating, but eventually, it opened me up to a wide range of avant-garde poetry, and I wrote the third doctoral dissertation (after David Shapiro and Donald Revell) on Ashbery’s work. 

What makes a poem experimental or avant-garde... especially in 2023? 

I’ve given up trying to answer that question! For one thing, if I were to try to apply it to my own poetry-writing process, writer’s block would set in and persist indefinitely. The innovative practices and procedures that have been around since World War II or even before are still viable but can hardly be called avant-garde any longer. Some proponents of what is labeled Conceptual poetry perceive their poetics as a replacement for those earlier practices, which they consider exhausted and not worth “repeating.” I don’t agree. Others believe that particular kinds of politicizing of poetry, whether tied to formal choices or not, are the most authentic, useful avant-garde gestures. Sometimes I find that this approach produces poetry that is both intellectually and aesthetically compelling.   

Please tell us a bit about your collection, Zeugma.  What is the main focus?

I didn’t set out to have a single focus in Zeugma. But in her Foreword, Patricia Carlin finds that the title, which implies the yoking together of disparate things, is enacted in the book itself and hence serves as a focus to represent “the fragmented, unstable, and confusing contemporary scene” (9). It would be hard not to view “Bewilderness,” the opening poem, as a reflection on the pandemic, and individual poems surely have references, sometimes oblique and sometimes not, to extremism in the Republican Party. 


I think everyone will recognize the allusion in the title of “November 7, 2020.” A bunch of poems are written in a hybrid form that I came up with called “Sonnina”; it’s a cross between a sonnet and a sestina. Also, there are continuations of long-running series: “Yinglish Strophes,” which uses an approximation (and often an exaggeration) of Yiddish-inflected English syntax to air topics such as intergenerational differences/connections in a family and perspectives forged by immigration, “Goad,” which actually reflects the theme implied in its title, and “Dusk Bowl Intimacies,” which registers both displacements and quests for individual security. The verse-play, “Who My People Are,” may also reflect some concerns of the three series I’ve mentioned. 

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