What is the story?

I’ve been researching how to pull together an infographic and learn how it overlaps with other communication tools. What I found most interesting about the process is that it revolves around finding the “right” story; the story that you want the final piece to tell.

Basically an infographic is data presented in a visual way with context. The real value comes from its ability to make boring numbers and statistics meaningful and relevant by providing content. By telling the story.

So the process goes something like this:

  1. Gather interesting data (preferably from multiple reliable sources)
  2. Research what the data mean
  3. Find the story
  4. Tell the story with images (and minimal content but enough context)

Which, when you think about it, is what it is all about ~ finding the story we want to tell.

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Father’s Day

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When my kids were in school, there was always that awkwardness about whom they would make gifts and cards for on Father’s Day. It is cruel to make children without fathers in their lives make cards and stuff for these men who could care less.  In many cases, I ended up with the honor and the tears. Nothing really emphasized what they missed out on more than a day dedicated to celebrating men who abandoned them.

But what amazes me is that my boys still learned to be good men. And somehow, they learned to treat women with respect. They taught their little sister that men can be caring and supportive. They gave her confidence and love. They are there for her and each other. They taught me that men can be good people. When I watch my oldest son with my granddaughter and how much they love and enjoy being with each other, I am so grateful they have each other and that they are in my life.

Over the years, I’ve come to know a few single dads who have struggled with custody issues and how to be actively involved in their sons and daughters lives. I’ve seen them move or avoid moving to stay close to their children. They make time in their lives to be supportive, kind, caring parents. They want to be involved. They are there 100% even if they can’t be there physically.

So this father’s day I’m grateful that there are real men like this. Men who care and support their kids even when it isn’t easy. Men who do not use their children as pawns in a war with their spouses. Men who teach respect for others, and encourage competence and confidence in their sons and daughters. Men who love their children and show it. Men who are in it for the long haul; not because they have to, but because it is right and they come from a place of love.

Happy Father’s Day to all these guys. You know who you are.

Seeking… ?

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One of the downsides of being a contractor is that periodically the contract ends… and unfortunately I’m all too familiar with this nebulous state of limbo. I knew it was coming. I had a gig as a project manager fall through. I’m doing some piece meal work on the side… and trying to finish my final project for my course: a systemic public policy change strategy toolkit (YIKES)

I’m “evaluating options”. The house market here is suddenly skyrocketing. My kids have “left home” (which doesn’t always mean that they won’t come back, but as time passes and they establish their careers, that is becoming less and less likely). So seriously, what’s keeping me here? A friend asked me that this week and my facetious answer was: “You”. But the real answer is: “fear”. I don’t know what’s on the other side of this opportunity…. unemployment… living in a van on the Baja… some dream job where it isn’t winter 6 months a year… The last time I was in a comparable place I had surgery, got a job, sold my house, bought this house, moved to a new city for the job, uprooted my kids and started the job on the first day of school… all in one month.

What do I really want to do: finish my project, which needs time to develop and complete.

What I should be doing: looking for a “job”, which takes time and effort away from my academic writing. It also entails the type of writing that I find incredibly boring… resumes… reeking of desperation with a catalogue of potentially useful skills if I can figure out what criteria the computer system evaluating it is looking for and cover letters (To Whom it May Concern blah blah blah… give me a chance and a job… Sincerely*…  blah blah blah) *where “Sincerely” = “Pleeeeeeease”

Of course, this situation sets up the perfect conditions for the entrance of my close frienemy — procrastination.

So this time around I decided I would accept that it will take two to three months to find my next step or to have it find me. Instead, I decided to figure out what I want out of this employee/employer/contractor/contractee relationship. And the process is strangely similar to that of writing one of those profiles for online dating:

Who am I? You would think I’d have THAT figured out by now – pretty much what you see is what you get

What do I do? Depends on the opportunity – I’m a generalist, not a specialist … and apparently I’m good at it

What do I like to do? Write… write… write… oh yeah, and research and design and project management (when it goes well) and information architecture and working with computer geeks (because of the totally random conversations on totally random topics – thank God many of them do not like to write) and system and process analysis (if it involves software development and deployment and no coding I’ve probably done it)

Interests? Medicine… biology… oceans… software development & design… graphics & photography … (and to demonstrate I’m well-rounded and flexible I do yoga) …

Favourite place? Coffee shop with friend(s) or in library surrounded by papers and books… or outside playing with my dog

Why should you hire me? Because I am calm under pressure, willing to learn and try new things, plays well with others, shows initiative. Because I’m darn good at what I do, even though I can’t really categorize it as just “technical writing”

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An update: The project is finished. The search goes on….

A Writer’s Journey

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Writing drives me nuts.

I’m recovering from writing an assignment/paper for the past month and a bit. Submitted it on Saturday after a cursory review. I felt too exhausted and dragged out to push myself any further. And as I’ve been recuperating, I’ve been thinking about this strange process of writing.

As I worked through this paper, I realized how my approach has evolved through my Master’s program. When I first started this program, I read each paper slowly and laboriously, afraid to miss the one nugget that would bring everything into sharp focus, the witty quote that would summarize the whole point and wrap everything up all nice and clean. So far for this course, I’ve read the four required texts (most of them “quick reads”), “The End of Growth” (Jeff Rubin) and started “The Price of Inequality” (Joseph Stiglitz),  and more papers than I can remember. (BTW: Before this course, I had never read an economics book!) At one point this time around, I was reading a paper, with my dog pretending she was a lap dog on my lap, the cat on my chest, and I thought “I only have two more papers to read tonight”. My world has expanded.

This time the process and my engagement with it was messier. It didn’t even start off with the topic I thought it should/would. As much as I tried to steer it, it seemed to have a mind of its own. It ended up being a way for me to process my father’s death, and ultimately all of ours, but this came at an emotional cost.

I wrote in jags between procrastination, writer’s block and just plain feeling that it was too big, too broad a topic, too vast a canvas. Cursing it. Who was I to bring up this issue? To roll it around and poke at it? To wonder, “why can’t anyone see this is going to be a crisis?” I’d try to whack it down into more manageable pieces, and discovered I still had to build a framework around the story and the context.

Some of what I discovered made me feel sick to my stomach and I’d have to get up and walk around. Some of it made me angry because of the way we handle (or not handle) difficult conversations in our society. But it kept coming back. I felt like I was wrestling with it, like it was some kind of gummy octopus that kept clinging to me with its greedy little suckers. It became an odd kind of companion for a while, pointing out things with a skinny, wrinkled witches’ finger that I didn’t previously notice or want to see, slowly creating another lens through which to view my world.

I read like crazy but it took writing it down and parsing it to slowly come up with content. Three quarters of the way through, I still didn’t have the structure or the story. I kept panicking. But of course, it didn’t care. Kept on reading. More writing, most of it incoherent. More walking around thinking I should be writing. Walking around thinking about thinking about writing and telling myself “just do it already”. Walking around thinking about not being able to think. I talked to myself… a lot.

And then the deadline came. I hit Submit. It was done. It was gone.

I reread it the next day. Found a missing reference and an orphan one. A redundant sentence. A typo. But it was done. And now it no longer needed me to give it a voice.

I didn’t realize how much I put into this relationship until it was over. It left me feeling raw. The first day after I felt like I’d been in a race and collapsed in the sprint to the finish line. The next day after that I walked around in the foggy stupor that follows the consumption of too much sugar and caffeine, and too little sleep, seeing everything slightly out-of-focus through the new lens. Today I felt lonely for its presence, as much as I had ever felt it was a burden.

I think I miss it.

Reflections – Smoke & Mirrors

It seems appropriate in a way to start the new year off with configuring a new computer and contemplating what I want to do with the new year. Usually these lists start off with resolutions and things I want to change: get into better shape, lose weight, be more personable, walk my dog more, get my finances back under control, etc. In general, become an upgraded, updated 3.0 version of myself; one with fewer flaws and more perfection. Sometimes I think I just totally want to change everything.

I think the thing that most needs to change is how I think about all these things. I need to ask more and deeper questions such as:

  • Why do I want to change?
  • Where do I want to channel my energy?
  • How am I going to shift my perspective from inward to outward?

After reading The Element, my biggest challenge is what do I want to be about? I’ve spent years with an identity as someone’s mom: Shawn’s mom, Ryan’s mom, Bri’s mom… but who am I really? The premise behind The Element is that everyone has a milieu where they can discover and express their true, highest self. Where they can use their talents openly and optimally.

My first assignment is to write about what my element is by remembering those times when I felt I was my best, truest self. For me, it’s always been nature. Getting out into nature by hiking, backpacking, cross country skiing. Getting so far away I can only see trees and water. And taking pictures to capture this “nature”, take a piece of it home to remind me of where I’ve been.

So my challenge for this coming year is to not become someone else; it is to find and become my best self.

Ode to an Old Dog – Part Deux

Since Jasper died, I’ve had more time for reflection and appreciation. I am missing him more instead of less. Rosie and Percy (cat) have started picking on each other like little kids trying to get their mom’s attention. They were a lot calmer when he was here. I can’t look at pictures of Shelties. Instead, I see my beautiful little dog with his tail like a flag streaming behind him, strutting around the backyard. He brought so much beauty with him. I remember the joy in his eyes each time he saw me. I remember picking him up from the breeders after Christmas (I didn’t think it was a good idea to get him just before Christmas). As soon as I sat down to sign all the paperwork, he jumped up beside me and put his paw in my lap as if to say: “Mine”. He stayed beside me as much as he could after that. The breeder said that he’d seemed depressed since I’d left and now he wasn’t, even though I just saw him once. I remember him playing soccer by herding the ball. (That was his favorite game). His favorite color was red (that was the color of little stuffies he would retrieve… had to be red, ignored the rest). He was so smart he skipped a level of obedience, but hated being in a show ring. He was my dog. He didn’t chew anything. He had a squeaky little bark because the breeder had had to get all her dogs debarked (imagine a neighbor listening to the sound of 20 some Shelties barking and you know why). He slept beside me where ever he could, even when he spent most of his time sleeping and dreaming old dog dreams.

In retrospect, I wish I’d let him sleep in my room. I wish I’d petted him more, groomed him more (still have a bag full of his undercoat just in case I find someone who can spin it into wool for me), played with him more, loved him more. In return, he gave his little dog heart to me and in his quiet way wiggled himself into mine.
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I miss you little guy, a little more every day.
Rest in Peace, Jasper

Jasper and Rosie in the sun

Jasper and Rosie catching some rays

Of Knowledge & Wisdom

We’re learning about knowledge management now. In some ways, this is familiar territory. I went to the Gilbane Conference on Content Management in 2004 and even today many of the same issues and topics are still kicking around.

We’re starting with epistemology and how people acquire knowledge. As I’ve discovered, wisdom is an even more abstract concept.

I keep thinking that the whole knowledge vs wisdom thing can be summarized in the Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can, and
Wisdom to know the difference.

Knowledge is knowing something, possibly on many different levels. Even intuitively, but as this points out, you might know that something isn’t good for you but ignore what you know; whereas with wisdom you honour the higher part of yourself and make the best decision and take the best action you can after weighing everything you “know”.

Wisdom is in knowing the difference and knowing yourself.

Of Trees, Herons and Eagles

(From the end of May – can’t believe I’ve left this fallow so long)

We’ve been blessed with incredible weather and awesome displays of serendipity and the best that nature can offer on the West Coast. It started with seeing three eagles as our plane landed and just keeps getting better. A trip to Hornby Island to see more eagles. A lady was passing by with an eagle feather. We asked to touch it and she gave it to us.

Later we were walking along and saw river otters playing on an islet/rock. I put the eagle feather down and a few hundred feet later found another one. I’ve never held eagle feathers before.

As we continued around the path we saw some huge grey pinniped swimming along the coast. Not sure what it was – could have been a sea lion but the color was wrong. I’m imagining a female elephant seal… but maybe that’s just wishful thinking.

We saw a lot of eagles and an osprey and something called a towhee. Took so many pictures it took us four hours to complete a 5 k hike… best way to spend a day.

This morning we watched herons fishing while we ate breakfast. Remind me again of why I live in Edmonton?

ADHD & Analysis Paralysis

The contention of the Jodi Dean article today was that we are reaching some kind of cognitive, saturation point with what we can process and focus on long enough to parse. This is summed up in this quote:

“Describing a key contradiction of communicative capitalism, Franco Berardi writes, ‘If you want to survive you have to be competitive and if you want to be competitive you must be connected, receive and process continuously an immense and growing mass of data,’ and hence under constant soul-destroying pressure to keep up, stay alert, and remain motivated.”

I’ve really been feeling this a lot the past few days. What to do, where to focus, what to read or view, where to spend my time, what needs to be done for tomorrow, what can wait. In other words, “The hurriered I go, the behinder I get.” I recognize my limits for multi-tasking and I want to spend more time thinking about what we are talking about or viewing. I think I’ve reached the saturation point where I dream about this stuff, not well and definitely not coherently. I feel paralyzed and afraid that I don’t understand it. I avoid FaceBook because I know once I go there, I’m gone for a couple of hours.

These things I know and recognize. I recognize I have limits; however, in the world of work, there is always more to do, more to process, more to assimilate. How do you keep up? How do you choose where to devote your finite amount of time and energy? When do you unplug, recharge, and re-energize?

Iris

Iris

What is the “truth”?

How do you know what to believe as the truth? How do you know what is valid and truthful from what is false or misleading when consuming information from a world wild web?

We rely on others/gatekeepers to interpret and filter information from misinformation. How do you know whether and where they may be biased? These are some of the questions raised in class yesterday.

Know where I can find a good bulls##t sniffer? In the meantime, I’m going to be more discriminating and diversify the sources I use to keep “informed” in my ignorance.