Free Falling


I stopped writing songs over 30 years ago when I realized that:

a) The songs were all starting to sound the same and

b) They were all depressing

I still play them when I’m being a Debbie Downer; sometimes as loud and as long as I can until I think my fingers are starting to bleed. Or softly, when tears brush my guitar like in the Taylor Swift song. I usually wait until everyone has left the house so I can let the rage and tears flow, without either embarrassing myself. That’s the thing about writing and music. They touch part of my soul and emotions that are usually hidden; closeted away where no one can see; wrapped up so tightly in a tiny box that I can forget they are there.

I kind of view this blog the same way: as soon as all the posts start sounding the same and they are all depressing, it is time to call it a day. Who wants to read the same, sad depressing stuff? About being broken, pessimistic, feeling unraveled and unhinged, floating between jobs, not anchored by time and space.

But I also feel that if I don’t go through this tunnel again, if I hold back on the sad and depressing crap vomited up by my subconscious, how am I going to get past it? I just don’t think I want to inflict it on anyone else.

I’m going to go play my guitar.

And maybe write another song…

The Gig Economy

Media attention finally seems to be recognizing the social and economic effects of unequal distribution of wealth. As this plays out, we need to address one of the trends fueling this inequality: the “gig economy”. Maybe I’m just biased because I come from the generation following the Baby Boomers. Each recession since the early 1980s I’ve been outsourced, downsized, right-sized, laid off, let go or otherwise made redundant. I’ve worked 18 of the potential 30 years I could have been since I entered the workforce. The rest of the time was spent getting an education, raising a family, preparing for and changing careers to adjust to changing market demands, and being unemployed. This doesn’t include the years of being underemployed or working at temp agencies as a receptionist. Basically doing everything that wasn’t illegal or immoral so I could survive and raise my kids. For me, it’s always been about survival. Until my kids started leaving home, I’d taken one vacation as an adult.

I don’t know why I’ve been unable to secure permanent, secure employment. I blame myself and my love of working in high tech. Maybe I’m a poor employee. Maybe I have a bad attitude. Maybe I’m not competent. At the same time, the things I’ve been able to accomplish during the periods where I am employed demonstrate that I’m an intelligent, hard-working, competent, balanced person who contributes my experience and expertise willingly.

To articulate that this reality both frightens me and makes me angry as I watch others prepare for retirement after working straight through these years is an understatement. The chilling reality is that I am not the only one who has been affected by these repeated economic crises. Statistics show that this generation is the most in debt and least likely to completely retire so far. They also show that the majority of workers are “precariously employed”, another euphemism for “contract” workers, aka “consultants”. What this means are a significant number of people hustling for their next “gig” or “contract”, which means even more competition. That at a certain point, these opportunities will dry up.

Contractors are the  peasant workers of the 2010s. Employers have several benefits from this arrangements from by being able to hire and blamelessly fire highly motivated workers willing to trade their services (skills and talents) for cash to significant financial benefits. They do not need to provide benefits in the form of medical or pension plans. They do not need to provide notice. They do not need to bear the human cost. Because ultimately it is about greed. The bottom line is more important than ensuring other people can have a reasonable quality of life or any kind of quality of life. This isn’t their problem.

Instead we will be society’s burden when we cannot work or find employment any more.

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.

A Leap of Faith

When I started this blog I was so sure that I would follow it up regularly. I know the importance of being consistent and regular with updates with thoughts and stuff. Believe me when I say I know the importance of deadlines and commitment (which I do my best to avoid – another story).

But you know what happens…

Life happens…

I’ve made several false starts since my last post. The inner critic kicks in with his companion, the perfectionist editor. The concern of course is the vulnerability that writing in public reveals. It concludes with questions and doubts. Is this too dark? Is this acceptable? What will other people think? Why? Why? Why? I click “Save as Draft”, thinking I’ll take another day, another week, another month to consider whether I want to expose that piece to the public.

And like a turtle I pull myself in and sit on it a “little” longer… maybe for a lot longer…

Identity crisis…

Ultimately I’m struggling to figure out: what do I want this blog to be about? It began life as a school assignment for one of my Masters’ courses. I tried to maintain it through other courses but they didn’t seem as conducive to the kind of reflection and introspection I practice with this blog.

I woke up last weekend with the thought: “I’m tired of being [just] a technical writer”. Maybe it was my daughter mentioning that I’ve been a tech writer for her whole life. Maybe it was the flight back from a yoga retreat a couple of weeks ago where I drafted a complete business plan for a totally different, completely unrelated venture. Maybe it is the numerous people who have commented that I need to find a new job/gig/contract/thing; that I’m wasting my talent(s) where I am.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise my blog is reflecting this uncertainty.

So, after being a temp employee for the past several months, I took a leap of faith and renewed my business license. I don’t want to be just a technical writer: I am a writer.

Father’s Day



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”


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.
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.