Connect: Spring 2017
Jim Gaynor: the art of connecting
Jim Gaynor has always been an artist at heart. As EY’s Global Verbal Identity Leader, he helped shape highly technical language into a distinctly accessible editorial voice, drawing on his love of language and his skills in publishing. And now, after retiring in 2016, the man who wrote so much for others is honing his own voice, as a poet and a sculptor.
His first book of verse, the recently published Everything Becomes a Poem, won wide praise from both fans of poetry and those who shy away from it. As to what has helped shape him as an artist, he cites Japanese culture, cast-aside objects and even EY’s organizational culture.
“One of the things I always liked at EY was the fact that I worked with people who make a living by paying attention to detail,” Jim says. “And that’s what I do as a poet. I get very interested by some small element where I see it fitting into something larger.”
Jim recalls how David O’Brien, one of his first bosses at EY and current Americas Brand, Marketing and Communications Leader, was particularly interested in the creativity that he brought to the job.
“He always liked to talk to me about how I came up with headlines, because he liked my headlines,” he says. “And so we would sometimes have coffee and talk about writing haiku, which I’ve done for more than 30 years.”
Jim’s affection for friends and family infuses his poems with hints of many such conversations. Among those to whom poems are dedicated are several former EY colleagues — including Kelly Duke McKinley (who designed his book), retired principal Patricia Wiley and Global Corporate Communications Director Daniel Lawrence – as well as Jim’s 2-year-old grandson, Moses, and feisty Shih Tzu mix, Emily Dickinson Gaynor. (“I am totally powerless over my dog, and I am a gooey mess around my grandson.”)
Journalist and critic Peter M. Stevenson says of Jim’s work, "Gaynor writes as wry and grateful survivor, the appreciation for what’s been lost never clouding his love for what remains. Read carefully, and you will discern life lessons woven through Gaynor’s poetry, suggestions on how to inhabit the world without doing too much damage to oneself and others, and what it might mean to live a long and happy life in our addled 21st century. … With this stunning volume, we find ourselves in the hands of a supremely accomplished poet."
“The whole thing is just such a surprise,” Jim says of this latest chapter in his life. “I really didn’t think anything like this was going to happen in this lifetime.”
Finding inspiration in surprising places
But then, joining EY was even more unexpected. Before starting at the firm in 2004, he followed a long and winding path, both personally and professionally. In the 1970s, he taught a course on Emily Dickinson at the Sorbonne in Paris and dabbled in translation before returning to the US and a patchwork career as a writer, commercial painter and licensed massage therapist, among other things.
His EY legacy includes the EY style guide, now in its third edition. And in collaboration with Kelly Duke McKinley, he pioneered the firm’s Creative Services Group’s consultative process.
The lessons that applied at EY – to connect with a broad audience in easily accessible language – are the same that he draws upon as a poet.
“You don’t write just because you want to put it out there,” Jim says. “You want somebody to hear it.” More importantly, you want your readers to understand something they didn’t grasp before.
Paying it forward
The Grief of Small Things Breaking
It is not only
But also the grief
Of small things breaking
We bought the shoes
They went with the suit
The bold striped socks
I wore them
In an office life
Which like the suit
No longer fits
And when we danced
It is not only
But also the grief
Of small things breaking
© James W. Gaynor
Jim’s ability to pick up where he left off as an artist results, in part, from an EY culture that encourages people to bring their whole selves to work.
“I always found EY a very nurturing place for all parts of my being,” Jim says. “I had a great time. I worked with Beth Brooke-Marciniak (EY’s current Global Vice Chair – Public Policy) on her blogs and speeches, and one of the things that I always loved that she would say is, ‘We want you to bring all that you are to work.’”
But after 13 years, it was time to move on. As he writes in “The Grief of Small Things Breaking”: “In an office life / Which / Like the suit / no longer fits …” And with more free time in his days, his artistic life flourished.
Jim finds muses, fans and even students among the New York City community and beyond. He’s on the advisory board of The Creative Center, which teaches art to people dealing with major illness, and he teaches found-object sculpture at the University Settlement, which provides educational and social services to low-income and immigrant families.
“Any not-for-profit that wants a piece of sculpture for an auction gets one,” he says, “and then anything I sell, half of the money goes to either the Creative Center or a scholarship fund at a preschool that I like, because I’m a very big believer in primary education.
Sculpting his own vision
“I’m always looking at things people are throwing away and seeing if I can make it into art,” he says. “So that’s what I do in my sculpture, and I think sometimes that’s also what I do with words. And little things that you wouldn’t think of that can, in fact, become a poem. … Everything is, in a way, a detail.”
His interest in transforming found objects began in early childhood, when he would bring home items that “wanted to be something else.” His mother told him, “You can only have the number of things that want to be something else that fit under the bed.”
“And I’ve kind of kept that as a general approach my whole life,” Jim says. He’s discovered that limits — whether in the form of tight quarters, haiku’s 5-7-5 syllable pattern, or even a corporate verbal brand — sometimes drive the creative spirit to greater heights.
Jim sent some of his poems to Open Thought Vortex (OTVmagazine.com), an online publication that had published some of his essays, and like OTV’s editor, he was surprised by the positive reaction.
“It has just been amazing,” he says. OTV ran Jim’s essay about his dog’s fierce showdown with a rude bicyclist on a New York City sidewalk, and included several of his poems about his canine bodyguard. “It was one of the most popular pieces they’ve ever published,” he recalls.
Now, with a book out, he has a growing legion of fans.
“A lot of them talk about how they find themselves smiling and then also have a sense of tears,” Jim says. “Which is something I learned from my mother, who always said the mask of tragedy has two sides, and you can’t have one without the other.”
Jim is especially humbled by those who don’t typically read poetry but stumbled upon his work and felt compelled to pass it along.
“I hadn’t realized that that level of connecting was happening with my work,” he says.
Jim’s success comes from his embrace of the world, whether that’s in a creative circle or a cubicle. And, in the end, he says finding your voice requires being a student of varying perspectives and disciplines, and being open to inspiration wherever it lurks.
“One of the things I love about the whole Samurai code is that, yes, you’re supposed to be able to slice your opponent into 53 thin pieces, but you should also be able to arrange flowers,” he says. “Everybody is an artist. Now how you express it is totally up to you.”
Jim’s book, Everything Becomes a Poem, is available at most major online and retail book sellers, as well as many independent book stores.
To read the full magazine, download Connect.