My friend, Doug Havens, is a large guy. I suspected that he was tall by the pictures that I’d seen and by the fact that he frequently refers to himself as “Shrek”. His grand scale was confirmed when he stepped into the RV and proceeded to whack right into the ceiling fan with his face. Just the day before Doug’s visit I had looked up and realized that it had been way too long since I’d cleaned that thing. Whew, dust bullet dodged! Had Doug arrived a day earlier he would have gotten a face full of the greasy gray stuff. When his head met the fan, I immediately got to wondering how many high crannies had been overlooked in my cleaning spree. Fortunately, RVs don’t have a lot of tall areas to collect grunge. I did chuckle to myself though, as I recalled an observation made by AJ’s 6’7″ friend, Larry. When asked what it was like to be so tall, he replied “The tops of peoples’ refrigerators are really nasty!”.
I met Doug on a photography forum, many years ago. He has been a mentor, teacher and friend since the first conversation we had. If it is possible for someone you’ve never seen to be just as you’d expected, but not exactly as you had imagined, then that was the case when I saw Doug. Don’t ask me to explain what this means, because I’m not sure I can. The best that I can come up with is to ask you to envision a grown man (even wiser than his years) having discovered an ageless “kid suit” and slipped it on. His appearance is timeless and youthful, yet his soul is ancient and sage. This combination allows him to do so well what he describes as “Get people to open up to me and tell me their stories.” Something magical happens when Doug sidles up to a stranger and asks them “Where are you from?”. During his visit it occurred to me that people everywhere are human storage tanks full of stories, memories and opinions just waiting for someone to turn on the spigot. Oh, how Doug can twist a spigot!
He is an artist, a designer… a digital virtuoso who uses circuit boards, sensors, plastic and glass to craft an electronic symphony for the senses. People pay him well for his genius, but he is not satisfied with just helping others glam up their content. Doug wants to “change the world…one person at a time”, and I believe that he is well on his way. I could expound upon his talents for hours, if not days; however, I prefer to let his work speak for itself. He has finally created a venue in which to pool his many talents: PeopleStory Network or PSN.
Doug recently found himself in Orlando and was able to steal away a couple of days to come visit us. I got busy trying to round-up some interviews for him, but I needn’t have worried about it so much, because they seemed to fall from the sky all around us. We hopped in his van, drove around, took photographs and struck up conversations with strangers. When the sun went down we sat inside and talked late into the night. Now I understand why Doug is so prolific: He never stops. He is constantly active, creating, observing, learning, teaching and sharing. Too many topics were covered to include in this post, so I will not be able to do him justice without writing a book; instead I will attempt to capture the essence of this remarkable man.
“I’m looking for people who are larger than life, people who extend their sphere of influence.” he stated, in a way that revealed how much thought he had given not only to the desired subjects of his stories, but to people in general. I had often contemplated what it is that makes certain people stand out. The conversation with Doug crystallized this for me. They stand out by “standing out”, outside of themselves. I think of those in my life who have “star quality”, and with this new-found revelation understand why this metaphor works so well for me. Just like an actual star, certain individuals generate energy that expands well beyond their physical presence, they reach out with their actions and ideas and affect the surrounding space. Doug and I also spent some time discussing the personalities that are more like black holes; the people who are so caught up in their tiny worlds and self-serving interests that they suck in energy from the space around them. This was a brief topic though, because Doug is a big proponent of manifesting all things positive.
“Practice what you preach” is a favorite mantra of mine. Doug is the first openly devout Mormon I have met, and many of our conversations revolved around religion, spirituality and goodness in-general. He doesn’t preach, but he actively practices what he believes, and this is a trait that I hold in high esteem. The topic of “agency” came into play many times during his visit. The premise is that (and hopefully I won’t screw this up) even though everyone is a part of God’s grand design, we still have the ability to choose our actions. The “Fate vs. Free will” argument has always intrigued me, and I could tell that Doug was also working to sort through this paradox. As far as I understand his viewpoint, the Mormon belief is that God has set about the framework for human destiny, yet believers retain the ability to change the course of events through their chosen actions, or “agency”. He is interested in the philosophies of other faiths (especially Buddhism), and offered relevant quotes that I wish I could now remember. I can’t tell you how nice it was to have a conversation with a religious person without feeling pressured to abandon my own world view.
Part of Doug’s ability to get stories is his combined tactic of asking good questions and actually listening to the answers. During his visit I marveled at his retention, as he seized and preserved (without taking notes) details and anecdotes that easily escaped me. A talented wordsmith, he adeptly collects and shares his experiences with others, but only after viewing them from all angles to capture the most interesting perspective. In talking with Doug you can almost envision his ability to rotate a thought like a 3D model in his brain.
His multi-angled approach also applies to his photography. Here, Doug is seen at Funky Chicken Farm photographing the geese.
Much of our conversation revolved around his children and his beloved wife and friend LeeAnn. He describes LeeAnn as being someone who was “genetically designed” for him and “just about perfect in every way”. The more he talked, the more I believed this. The impression I get is one of two people with different skills and interests who find the enviable common ground of wanting to improve the world through their own acts of goodness. LeeAnn makes a career of selflessly serving others. “I think she’s trying to give all our money away” he reflected; and where you would expect a man to launch into a tirade about his wife’s irresponsible spending, he smiled fondly and with great pride. She is known to spend days making dozens of loaves of bread, just to give away to those less fortunate. She gives everything that she can, including her time and teaching skills. Doug described his wife as “one of those people who is larger than life”. “She extends her sphere of influence with almost everything she does.” As we spoke, it became clear that Doug is quite generous, himself. He expressed a great sense of satisfaction at being able to assist others in financial need. All of this is done without a sliver of arrogance, but rather a sense of guilt for having such good fortune. “It’s not my money” he explained “Keeping it all wouldn’t be right”.
When Doug was gone, I ruminated over all of the things we had seen, heard and discussed, and a strange feeling came over me. Only as I write this am I able to identify that feeling. It is the one you get after coming home from a funeral. Not the sadness, the other part. It’s that feeling of “I’m alive. I can make a difference. I must do something special with this gift that I have.” Doug left me believing that I could somehow radiate my own influence for the good of the world.
There is only one way that I can describe a person with such talent: Larger than Life.