Fumes update

Thanks to everyone who’s said “Hi!” on twitter or elsewhere in response to Friday’s plea for halp!

I believe that if you ask for what you need then what you get is what you need. So clearly what I truly need is to know that I have the love, respect and goodwill of my family, friends and peers. That love is what’s of primary importance, everything else is secondary and I know it’s on its way – thank you.

In terms of responses beyond (the most welcome) moral support, I’ve had offers of help from a couple of people by DM to sit and work some things out. Since they chose to contact me privately I’m not going to name them here but thanks to them for that extra effort, we haven’t fixed anything but I’m hoping to meet soon.

I’m meeting someone on Friday to work out what to do with a community site for Tuttle to make joint projects like Tuttle2Texas easier.

The other items on my list from Friday still stand – I’m still open to offers. I know that many people in my primary network are facing similar situations but I’m hopeful that the retweeting and keeping talking about it will help me find the right people.

@cataspanglish wrote a thoughtful response to my post, which helped clarify some stuff for me.

I’ve acquired two new regular micropatrons – one is my good friend @paul_clarke and the other prefers to remain anonymous. That brings the gang up to four – click the links in the sidebar to get in at the ground floor!

I’m hoping to get the first bits of art up for sale here in the next day or so. I’m learning fast on paypal buttons and shopping carts.

I’m upbeat and hopeful. Very much living one day at a time. I have enough for today and although my rent for this month is now late and other bills are looming, I’m pressing on and working hard and having fun. I’d hoped to get down to Bude for the Jazz Festival this weekend for some proper R&R but I don’t have the train fare yet.

I’m saying a lot that this is a scary bit of the road which looks impassable and at which point I have, in the past, done a little u-turn, taken a compromise soul-destroying job, abandoned dreams, gone away and hidden, told myself off for being so silly. I’m not doing that this time (at least not today) because I have come to see that I’m likely to keep returning to this place until I find a way through. Doing a u-turn just postpones the difficult steps forward.

Thanks for listening and watching and cheering me on.

Running on fumes

Folks, I need some specific help.

I am doing well at producing stuff, writing, making art, making stuff happen. I am enjoying it and people around me are enjoying and benefiting from what I’m producing.

However, I’m running very low on fuel. In terms of physical energy, I really need a break but more urgently, monetary fuel – the income from my residency at C4CC covers about a third of my monthly spending needs and I haven’t done any other paid work in the last two months. I’m now at the serious point where important bills aren’t getting paid. I believe I need to bring some organisation to selling what I do to create stronger flows of income.

I need someone or some people to help me do the following:

Set up web-based ways of selling my art – I’ve had a couple of commissions, but I’d like to do more and sell prints of smaller works that I’ve done.

Organise and find paying participants for Social Art Field Trips – I’ve had very positive response to the content of these, but they need to be managed and have more energy put into selling them.

Manage the creation of a number of books for self-publishing – repurposing content from tuttle2texas and other projects.

Find and sign-up new MicroPatrons

Create a better web presence for Tuttle to facilitate online community participation in experiences like Tuttle2Texas

I’m trying to do all of these myself at the moment, as well as everything else and I’m open to the idea that that might not be possible at all, let alone when I’m “running on fumes”. So while I can give a great deal of guidance and direction on what needs to be done, I think it’s more about finding willing and able pairs of hands to do it than getting more advice on what else I should be doing.

I am not in a position to pay up front for this help directly but it’s all about generating revenue so would expect to work out with you a way of sharing revenue once it starts flowing and I’m over the current crisis situation.

If you’re not able to help directly with this, perhaps you could consider signing up for my Micropatronage scheme, contributing a small amount each month towards easing the flow. Or maybe you have another idea for me. Open to all.

Backstory: The A-levels

I know you were completely hooked on the Audit Commission Crhonicles (*yawn*) but today was A-level results day here. There was a flurry of chat about it on twitter and I said what results I’d managed 23 years ago: Two Ds and an E. And when someone asked me privately “How did that happen? You’re such a clever guy.” I gave my stock answer, which is that I discovered the joys of beer and girls in my sixth form.

But because I’m thinking a lot about extending narratives and backstories, it occurred to me that there was more to the story than that – I mean that is the truth, that’s something that happened then, but it’s not the whole reason that I got two Ds and an E. There’s much more to the truth than that. So I started looking at what it was really about – what I don’t normally want to talk about, what I cover up with the stock answer.

Because lets face it, having a laugh about the joys of beer and girls is much more comfortable than looking at the whole truth.

So here’s some more of the truth.

First off, there’s more to the results – I also got an A in General Studies but I miss that out because it doesn’t fit with the story and because it’s too easy to get into an argument about whether General Studies counts or not and it doesn’t seem to matter whether people did it or not, they’re equally divided about it’s value, mainly on the basis of what grade they or someone they know got. So that gets left out. But it tells you something. It tells you that I do have some natural ability, some curiosity for current affairs and good general knowledge across a range of disciplines. I’m a good generalist. That’s more widely valued these days than it was in 1983 but if you started hiding it back then, it seems a little weak to bring it up now…

What else was going on? I was studying German, French and Latin. Yeah. How did that come about? Well specialisation started earlier then, I think. When you chose your O-level options before the fourth form you narrowed a lot, but also in the school I went to the timetable was less flexible – classes in the third form were based around it. There were 10 classes of about 30 kids each in my year. The “top” two were the ones who did Latin and modern languages. The middle ones were more technical and scientific and the lowest ones completely manual – technical drawing, metal and woodwork for the boys, girlie stuff for the girls. We all did a bit of music and art and RE but clearly being able to do languages was important and Latin was a badge of honour with teachers and disgust with other pupils.

I got a lot more positive attention, far more easily for having a talent for languages than I would have done if I’d had a natural talent for art or making things. So that’s what I chose. I didn’t have to work too hard at all and I got through.

That’s the beginning of the mistake, if you like, trying to take the easy way. But it cut me off from an important bit of me, the space to be creative. My only option was extra-curricular drama (no not knife fights in the park. Hamlet, The Importance of Being Earnest, The Real Inspector Hound.) And I hung on to this, knowing that being creative was something that was really important to me.

So when it came to choosing A-levels, I wasn’t going to do Maths, Physics or Chemistry, I’d jettisoned everything else and because I fell out with the head of English, for the reasons that headstrong and arrogant 16-year-olds fall out with tired, middle-aged men teaching in a Midlands comprehensive, two years of English was a no-no. So I ended up doing a triple-whammy of translation and heavy literature.

Essentially decisions I made at the age of 13 together with the demographics of the time and the inflexibility of the timetable led me to an extremely constrained position five years later.

And I completely lost the will to work at any of it. I didn’t see the point in studying literature and I couldn’t be bothered. And it was a means to an end that I wasn’t interested in either (although I couldn’t admit that either). When it came out that I was applying for drama degrees, I had a long discussion with the headmaster who told me that a career in the arts was a ridiculous waste of the education I’d been given and that I should join an amateur dramatics group while doing a Modern Languages degree. He didn’t know that I already felt I was compromising but didn’t know how to get out of the ridiculous bind I was in.

So I did the only thing I could do to save myself from doing something I didn’t have the heart to do nor had the guts to refuse. I simply didn’t do the work. In particular, I didn’t read very much of the German, French or Latin literature that is (was?) a core part of A-level study in those subjects. So Goethe is still a mystery to me though I remembered “Kennst du das Land wo die Zitronen bluehen” when I went through the Brenner pass last summer. I couldn’t tell you what La Chute was about except a guess that a guy having some existential breakdown in Amsterdam and while Aeneid VI is one of the more engaging books, Pliny and Ovid left me totally cold. And those are the ones that I can remember the titles of. I was never going to get the two Bs and a C that would condemn me to 3 years in Aberystwyth.

Result!

So I spent the next year still in Bromsgrove. Laying about on the dole. No! That’s another stock answer, that covers up what I was really doing. What I really did in the 12 months before I left home in September 1984 was that I became a political activist, learning rhetorical speaking and camaraderie and ways of organising people around passions – how pointless is that if you want a real job? And I spent the rest of my time working as a volunteer at the Swan Theatre in Worcester, effectively as an unpaid Acting ASM learning a bit of my trade as an actor, which of course although relevant to me spending three years at the Guildford School of Acting couldn’t possibly prepare me for doing something useful once I was over 40. Yeah, I didn’t do anything in my lazing-about year.

So there you go. More truth. Is there any more in there? I don’t know at the moment, perhaps there is. What other “cover stories” and “stock answers” are there?

What’s with the lines and boxes and backstory?

Tuttle in boxes and lines

What’s all this about then? Well it’s becoming clear to me that there are two things that I need to do that I’m not doing enough of. First is that I should be writing more publicly about what I’m doing and how. But also that the connections between seemingly different bits need to be articulated too.

Wait. There’s something else we need to sort out first. This isn’t about me. I mean obviously it all is but that’s not because I think what I’m doing or thinking is particularly important or even interesting but because it’s the material that’s closest to hand.

I am interested in how stories get told on the internet and the rest of the world, and how storylines can move between the two. How narratives can carry over from blogs to films to games to comic-strips to conversations down the pub to a picture on the wall. That’s what transmedia storytelling is to me. Many definitions of transmedia include the word “fictional”. I think it’s valuable to operate at a higher level of abstraction and include elements that might be fictional or might be factual or maybe predominantly factual but include elements that are wholly and explicitly subjective interpretations of the “facts”.

And social art field trips like Tuttle2Texas are non-fictional transmedia experiences. And I know that it’s sometimes difficult to explain or understand what they’re for. They’re not *for* anything. They’re not a means to an end. They are deliberately at such a level of abstraction that their primary purpose is to help illustrate how stories (fictional or otherwise) might be co-created and told, because we don’t know that well enough yet – and if we operate only at lower levels of abstraction it’s much harder to learn what works and to transfer that learning between domains of interest.

So what I’m trying to here before my brain explodes is to shift up yet another level and say OK, if you take #tuttle as an element and #tuttle2texas as an element and that consulting work we did last year as an element, how do they all fit together?

Not “How can we find the common thread so that we can present a coherent marketing pitch?” But rather, given that this stuff is as coherent and congruent as anything else, what connections need to be articulated to help you suspend your disbelief? What needs to be explained? How wide and empty can the gutter be? What might I fill the gutter up with to help you across? What backstory is useful that helps you get to the beginning. And what is the beginning? Where do you start? Because when you’re telling this kind of a story, each element may have a beginning, middle and an end, but the great thing about having near infinite capacity to co-create and store stuff is that we can stretch the story out as long as our patience and interest and attention can last.

And if we can work it out at this level (and I’ll only do that by doing it) then perhaps there are valuable lessons that are more generally applicable.

I think.

Backstory: The Audit Commission – Part II

So after I graduated, in the summer of 1996 (see there’s a whole story there about why I was graduating in 1996 at the age of 31…) I went back as a Research Associate, no, do you know what? I don’t think I was a Research *Associate* because that was a defined job for people with more experience and stuff, I think my title was actually Research Assistant. Anyway I went back and settled into doing very similar work as I’d done when a student, except for half as much money again and on a study of public libraries and with the knowledge that I was probably here to stay.

Until I saw an advertisement. I don’t know exactly when it was but it wasn’t long in. There was an internal advertisement for Information Manager for the newly-formed Joint Reviews of Social Services, a team to be jointly managed by the Commission and the Department of Health. A team had already been working for a year on developing a methodology for carrying out wholesale reviews of an Authority’s Social Services function from a service-user’s point of view. The idea was to blend the “professional judgement” of the Department with the “analytical rigour” of the Commission.

The project director was Andrew Webster who went on to become Director of Social Services at Lambeth and Surrey. I asked people in the pub about Andrew and the project and what I should do. And got a whole-hearted shove in the right direction. I felt terrible about jumping ship so quickly, but the job really did have my name written all over it. It was to design and manage information systems to collect data both from national statistical collections and from individual reviews and provide data analysis support to the professional social workers and auditors who formed the review teams.

I got the job and started work on the team in a little office in Grosvenor Gardens, next door to the Peanut Council of America and other luminaries.

Just before I started, my (now ex-) wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. The kids were 3 and 5 and although I’d just got a dream job iI faced losing my partner and bringing the children up on my own. I took as much time off as I could while she had her surgery and recuperated. She, we now know, lived long enoughh to become my ex-wife 10 years later and continues to thrive cancer free. At that time, however, I had no idea how this was going to turn out. My reaction was to throw myself into work. In the time up until Christmas, I worked on an analysis tool for the team to be able to get a statistical picture of an authority’s performance before a review started.

I pulled it altogether in a spreadsheet containing a database of the core performance indicators that the team had identified as important. For most of these indicators we had three years of data. the Commission had, at the time, defined “families” of authorities for profiling, putting similar authorities (based largely on demography) into groups.

My tool presented the data for a particular authority in the context of its family group and a particular indicator in the form of a boxplot for three years. You could see quickly, once you understood the format, what trend an indicator might be following in relation to other similar authorities. You could also see where an authority fell within the middle half or above or below the quartiles for its family and statistically where they were outliers (this really needs an illustration doesn’t it?). The central team loved it, got it straight away. It took a bit longer for some of the other reviewers to catch up.

Backstory: The Audit Commission – Part I

Interestingly, as I’m thinking about what you say and what you don’t and considering how to flesh out the story of me online, this weekend it was announced that the Audit Commission is to be abolished.

The Audit Commission was a big part of my working life. Did you know that? Probably not, there might be fleeting references to it, but to an extent, when I left in 2002 I drew a line under it as an experience and moved on. So as an interesting exercise in backstory writing (ie creating panels before the first panel – and of course a gutter between) what did I do there?

I arrived at the Commission’s Vincent Square headquarters on 1 August 1994. It was coincidentally the day that Commission staff were all moving back into VSQ after refurbishment, so it was a more laid back introduction than I’d expected and everyone else had a little air of being new themselves. I was there as a placement student for a year as part of my degree in Computing & IT at Surrey University.

My role as a student was to provide data analysis support to study teams in the directorate of Local Government Studies. I found myself allocated to a number of studies, but primarily a team just starting to look at the education of children under five. In the course of the year I got more and more excited by the prospect of understanding public services by collecting data and going out and talking to people.

The classic commission study contained a comprehensive and thorough narrative exploring the area of interest coupled with facts and analyses to support the argument. In addition there was usually an audit tool of some sort which would allow local auditors to carry out a value for money audit in the services affected.

So much of my time was spent following the study team around, carrying bags and getting to understand what they were doing and seeing where I could spot things that could be measured and interesting stories that might be told based on thbe data. It wasn’t up to me to come up with the stories, more to spot interesting avenues of investigation and then, if the study team agreed then to look further.

A running joke was that study teams always found there to be “significant variation between councils’ performance in X” for a number of Xs. Spotting variation was only the beginning. Explaining why variation occurred and what managers could do to improve their performance was much more important.

Not much was expected of us as students, but I loved bringing large sets of data together and seeing what you could tell from it. So I set about recording all of the data we were collecting, right down to attendance patterns in nursery schools into one big database that I could play around with.

The key output of this was a spreadsheet that allowed an auditor to compare the data they collected in an individual educational setting, or across a local authority, with national averages. My innovation was to present this data in the form of a “cost tree” for cost per child per hour.

A figure for cost per anything is usually one big number divided by some other big number, so in this case the total cost of provision divided by the number of child hours provided. Now this might vary for a wide range of reasons but by laying out the factors that go to make up the costs and those that might vary in the calculation of the total number of child hours (a policy decision, for example, to limit the number of hours 3-year-olds might get) it was much easier to see where differences arose.

It was very simple in the end but effective. It gave people something to think about, something to discuss and help them put a local picture into a national context. As well as helping the study team understand the dynamics of costs and differences between the costs of types of setting, it would help auditors to show councils where they might make improvements.

I went back to university for my final year, but was very pleased when the people in the study team lobbied for me to be recruited following graduation. But that’s a story for another day.

OK – what does this tell you about me? How does it help explain what happens next? Does it explain anything at all? Or is the gulf between this and what you know of me today too wide for you to suspend your disbelief that they’re the same people (*I* struggle..!). Do you want to give up, or carry on? Have I jumped too far from yesterdays post for you to understand what I’m trying to do here?

Keeping out of the gutters

I was struck by a piece by Scott Walker a few weeks ago on the use of the gutter in comic-strips and relating it to transmedia storytelling. I identified with it immediately because I know that the space you leave between the things you articulate are hugely fertile places – our minds are great at filling in the gap between A and B. Storytellers have exploited this by setting the audience up with a series of scenes that lead you to a certain conclusion and then revealing something that was left out that turns the plot around completely. In great detective novels for example the truth becomes clear when we find out exactly what happened between B and C rather than what we’d taken for granted and therefore Y to Z makes perfect sense.

I’ve applied this to Tuttle. When we started I made up some simple boundary conditions that I wanted to hold and I reinforced them over time: minimal structure; no-one grabs attention; regular meetings; as free at the point of access as possible; it isn’t for everyone but it is for anyone, etc. and theen I let you all make up the “rules” or ways to behave that make sense to you. I think this is the best way to make co-creation work.

And with Tuttle it still works: it leads to conversation that draws out and articulates what we can agree on – just such a conversation happened this week about moving Friday mornings to another location, out of which came the insight that maybe Tuttle needs a social space to feel comfortable in. We’ll keep this conversation going. It isn’t finished – that’s because the gutters are fractal – everytime you fill the gap between A and B with X you actually create two new narrower ones A-X and X-B and so we continue on.

So my favourite advice to people thinking about co-creation is “Pay as much attention to the gaps you leave as to the structure you build”

But this brings to light an error in how I’ve unconsciously applied this to everything I do, particularly in the narrative I create about myself when marketing the things I do. I realise that it’s not obvious how Tuttle arose out of my previous work, nor how Tuttle the meetup relates either to Tuttle Consulting nor to Tuttle2Texas – it’s clear perhaps that I’m involved, but how are they Tuttle things – and what’s all this art stuff about?

So there’s more to say on each of those than fits in a Monday morning blogging session. However, I offer the following observations relating to keeping wide gutters between things:

  1. Some (maybe lots of) people just give up trying to work it out, it’s too hard – this means they give up on the story altogether.
  2. People make up the stuff based on their own experience and that can have positive and negative consequences for someone trying to maintain a narrative.
  3. People vary in their ability to give up a bridging idea that they’ve constructed, but most hold on pretty tight.

PS I recognise that I might not have completely recovered from this – ie I’m leaving holes that might be too big for you to traverse right now. Sorry, one blog post at a time :)

PPS there may be some more clues in my soon-to-be-launched newsletter – sign up here

Empire Avenue

I’m playing a new game called Empire Avenue it’s a very interesting way to look at the combination of social web activity and market sentiment about you as an “influencer” Early days, but there’s enough complexity in there to make it quite fascinating. It’s open to all and as with all these things getting in early is an advantage.

I need to leave a code here EAVB_TKMMDBRQZW to help verify that this is my blog. If you’re playing the game, it would help if you could endorse this for me to finish the verification.