The Pull of Conformity, Identity, Ego

I’ve been back for a week and I’ve noticed a struggle in me between continuing to be as I was when I was away and how I’m accustomed to .being now that I’m back in a familiar environment.

Being in a familiar environment, “my” bits of London, means I don’t have to think as much, I know where everything is already, i know how it works, I’m not sitting on the District Line wondering at each station whether I got on the right train as I did when I traveled a few stops on the T in Boston, for example.

But it comes in other ways too.  

I’m questioning why I am back thinking in terms of a 9 to 5 workday, having to get up at a certain time to do just what exactly?  Stopping doing “work” things at another time, why?  When i was away, I had a social pull of getting up to spend time with the people I was staying with, or else I woke at dawn (or before) because I was on a train.  Now I’m home I get to decide, but I don’t consciously make that decision, I fall back into patterns that I’ve established over years and years.

I’ve noticed myself worrying more about silly things like what I’m wearing.  During March, i pretty much wore what was clean.  I took about two weeks worth of clothing and did one load of laundry while I was in Austin.  Did anybody think I was dressing inappropriately?  I don’t know, but nobody mentioned it, if they did.  The only reason for me feeling vaguely embarrassed was the holes in some of my socks.

Which helps me remember that while I was there, I was an alien, i could choose to do whatever I wished because if I broke any etiquette rules, even intentionally, I’d probably be forgiven because I was being English, or quaint, or eccentric.

I spent long hours on trains – I’ve been on a couple of commuter trains and the tube a few times since I’ve been back and I’m straight back into conditioned behaviour.  Not connecting with anyone under any circumstances, getting irritated by anyone making the slightest noise or having a conversation.  Looking out of the window as a way of avoiding what’s going on and escaping into my head rather than as a way of engaging with what I was passing.

The freedom of travel is that we can put aside ego, be surprising to ourselves and others, let go of who we think we are or should be and try out being someone else, maybe that someone is really who we are.  The challenge is to keep that up when all the familiar inputs, people, environment are around us, encouraging us to conform with what we’ve done before.

Originally posted on Please Look After This Englishman

Ukulele as social object

photo: kittygutz

When I was travelling, I got into the habit of taking my ukulele out with me most days (actually this started happening much more during SXSW when Sarah, Dan and Phil encouraged early morning crooning in the car while heading downtown).  Not only did simply having an instrument in my hand prove to be a bridge to unexpected conversations with strangers, I also would whip it out and give people a song or two. People loved it… even English people!  It became an important part of my social currency.

An important thing that Taylor told me in New York was to make sure I kept doing some of the things I’d learned to do on the road, just for practice, just to see what happens.

I would not dream of carrying my uke around everywhere in London and giving people songs. Nope. Never.

God. How. Embarrassing.

So I may have to just start, now I’m home, to see what happens.

 

Originally posted on Please Look After This Englishman

@missrogue on getting real

Tara Hunt talks about the honesty behind the honesty of that TEDx talk:

“I was scared to give it. I’m still scared every time I send it to someone. I’m not talking about my success or all of the awesome things I’ve accomplished in that talk. I’m talking about struggling, failing, not knowing where I’m going, being delusional, stumbling, breaking down and generally being a mess. Sure, I give a little upbeat Apple Ad bit at the end of the talk so I can end it on a hopeful note. It’s the same upbeat talk I give myself at the end of every single day.”

Yesterday I heard someone say “Fear can either stand for ‘Fuck Everything And Run’ or ‘Face Everything And Recover'”  I laughed because I recognise that I’m currently about 80:20 on that – most of the time I will still run.  I’m keen, in public, to make the most of the times I face things, but honesty really gets me further than hiding the fact that I fell short again. 

Confession really is good for the soul, who’da thunk it?  The more I admit to having screwed up… again.  Doh! AND AGAIN and really, still not having a clue, but getting up every morning and trying again to do the right thing today, then the better I feel and the more warmth and love and understanding and close connection I see around me – oh, and that’s what I’m in it for – that’s success.

 

Originally posted on Lloyd’s posterous

@missrogue on getting real

Tara Hunt talks about the honesty behind the honesty of that TEDx talk:

“I was scared to give it. I’m still scared every time I send it to someone. I’m not talking about my success or all of the awesome things I’ve accomplished in that talk. I’m talking about struggling, failing, not knowing where I’m going, being delusional, stumbling, breaking down and generally being a mess. Sure, I give a little upbeat Apple Ad bit at the end of the talk so I can end it on a hopeful note. It’s the same upbeat talk I give myself at the end of every single day.”

Yesterday I heard someone say “Fear can either stand for ‘Fuck Everything And Run’ or ‘Face Everything And Recover'”  I laughed because I recognise that I’m currently about 80:20 on that – most of the time I will still run.  I’m keen, in public, to make the most of the times I face things, but honesty really gets me further than hiding the fact that I fell short again. 

Confession really is good for the soul, who’da thunk it?  The more I admit to having screwed up… again.  Doh! AND AGAIN and really, still not having a clue, but getting up every morning and trying again to do the right thing today, then the better I feel and the more warmth and love and understanding and close connection I see around me – oh, and that’s what I’m in it for – that’s success.

 

Originally posted on Lloyd’s posterous

Stories about policy from opendata (h/t @hadleybeeman @charliebeckett)

A couple of things in my stream this morning about using newly liberated data:

Hadley pointing to Jo Ivens’s piece “Open data: we can’t just rely on developers” for demsoc.org

“I am a policy type who cares about social justice and believes that the voluntary and social enterprise sectors can have a central role in making communities better. Open data is a potentially really important part of this, but not if the only way it can be used it by filtering it through a set of technical experts or developers – that’s too much like what we have today.”

A big hurrah for a “policy type” jumping in and getting involved.  More of these, please!

Charlie pointing to Simon Rogers on the Guardian DataBlog about the Data Journalism Workflow

“Before a dataset results in a data journalism story, there’s a whole process of sifting and finessing and generally sorting the data out. The split is roughly 70% tidying up the data, 30% doing the fun stuff of visualising and presenting it. So, how do we get through that 70%?”

The rest of the piece and the flowchart show that it’s not quite this simple… there’s also the tricky matter of finding the story…

And this is where these things come together in my mind.  My experience in this field is ancient and comes from a time when things were all much simpler, my child.  But I think there’s stuff to learn. 

A formative experience for me was us sitting down as a tem towards the end of the first year of Joint Reviews to work out what to say in an annual report.  We’d got a shedload of evidence, we’d made some sense of statistical returns and we’d collected quantitative and qualitative data as we went althoug, as we were learning as we went, not always consistently.  It was a mess, but one with some level of order and a couple of us had enough of an overview to be able to guide others through it. 

I prepared for the meeting in the way that “developers” are described in Jo’s piece.  I looked for patterns, any patterns, interesting correlations or just consistent messages from the majority of places we’d studied.

Andrew Webster came at it from the other end and changed my way of thinking.  He posited hypotheses, based on “what we’d expect to be happening if things were well run” and then we tried to see what the data told us about those things – it made for some more uncomfortable findings, but much more interesting, engaging stories and I expect, did much more to shift actual practice than anything we could have found looking from my direction.

It’s that kind of thinking that I don’t immediately see in hackdays or govcamp sessions, something that starts with policy or “what we want to happen”, what stories we want to be able to tell and then calls on supporting evidence rather than the other way round.  I hope that I’m wrong, that it’s because I’m not paying close enough attention or that it’s coming soon.  I think we need more of it. 

 

 

Originally posted on Lloyd’s posterous

That Claddagh Farms Mozzarella

Neal and I made this.  Well Neal made it and I ponced around in purple rubber gloves stretching it pathetically and needing a lot of lot of help.  it was great fun.  Then Neal hung it up in his smokehouse (a big wooden chimney next to the barn – yeah a wooden chimney, go figure) and in the morning it was lovely and smoky and cold and ready to be munched.

I thought the decent thing to do was to pass it on to my next host.  So I gave it to Sanford.  However in the morning i had a littlle pang of remorse (or perhaps hunger) and felt the need to grab a slice and taste it so that I could at least tell you honestly what it tasted like.

IT WAS DELICIOUS!

I’ve never been involved in the making of something so delectable. It was creamy and smoky and soft on the inside, you know like real smoked mozzarella you might spend serious money on.  I was sorely tempted to sneak it back out of Sanford’s fridge and take it with me, but I’m a good boy I am.

I don’t know for sure where it is now, but if it had been left in my fridge it would all have gone within a day.

Originally posted on Please Look After This Englishman

Speed & Decisions

On the first day I was in San Francisco I was advised “You need to give people more time to help you”.

One of the key bits of character building in this trip has been letting go of impatience, allowing things to happen in their own time.   Allowing the route to unfold in its own time.  Allowing people to get in touch, or not, when they were able to.  Asking for help and receiving it when it came rather than hassling people for an answer so that I could feel better.

In the decision-making process I tried not to give unrealistic deadlines.  I tried to say “These are the options I see, I’m going to wait a reasonable amount of time (at least 8 hours, though I never articulated it like this) and then I’m going to make a decision with the information I have”

That meant that on occasions I was making decisions with no new information.  At this point I was left wondering “Have I given them enough time?  Will I get anything from waiting any longer?” and then press on with the best information I had at the time.

Because of the way I’d chosen to travel, I couldn’t always leave things to the last minute.  There are a finite number of seats on a train and Amtrak don’t oversell and let people stand – when faced with a full train in Milwaukee, I kept trying until I got a seat – when I was heading for Washington from Chicago I just took a slightly later, longer journey.

All in all, I became aware that my judgement of how long it should take to make a decision was not nearly as long as it needed to be.  I often felt stressed and worried that if things weren’t going to my schedule, they were going “wrong” but again and again, it all worked out beautifully.

Originally posted on Please Look After This Englishman

PRECISION: Why Merica Adams

Over the weekend I really enjoyed watching @sizemore and some chums making a sci-fi short in 48 hours for the Sci Fi London Film Festival 48 hours competition.  I was even more impressed when I saw what they came up with.

Mike opened up to questions on his blog and I asked about where the name of the girl, Merica Adams came from.  I’m always fascinated by how writers choose character names.

Says Mike:

“Good question. To quote the first episode of Joss Whedon’s ANGEL, “It started with a girl.”

Years and years ago I met a girl in a bar who was called Merica. I was enthralled by the name and the fact that she had a tattoo in an interesting place. Never came across the name since and I’ve been looking for a character to christen Merica from then until now.

Adams was just a good strong name like Flash GORDON or Buck ROGERS, but also a nod to Adam Strange. Perfect combination I think. Her name is never said aloud in the short, but we did have some tank crew voices talking to her in Hungarian that never made the final cut.

Maybe we’ll do a director’s cut and get them back in…”

 

Originally posted on Lloyd’s posterous

What’s the worst that can happen?

One of my most consistent creative blocks is thinking about how what I’m making is going to be received.  I can go round and round in circles in my head for ages worrying about this or that. (Btw it’s one of the reasons I try to write longhand and then type-up rather than type straight in to a machine that’s designed for editing rather than composition.)

This morning I was writing and the thought came “What’s the worst that can happen?” and after I had a couple of little fantasies about my favourite critics’ put-down lines, I wrote “nothing”.  Exactly.  *That’s* the worst that can happen: I hit publish/send/tweet/upload and I get *nothing* back.   I’m much more bothered by silence in the face of publication than having my errors pointed out or by someone’s silly misinterpretation or misunderstanding of what I’m trying to say.

Why? Because I interpret that silence as indifference or hostility.  Hostility so strong that there’s just nothing to say or the fear that I’ve written something so meh that people can’t even be bothered to work out how to type “tut”.  The silence of eyes rolling.

How about a more supportive interpretation?  What am I doing when I’m being quiet (not just online, but all the time)? Often, I’m just being, breathing quietly and being aware of my breath.  Listening, processing but not necessarily reacting immediately.  What if the network were like that?  What if silence could mean acceptance, appreciation, assimilation of ideas?

 

 

Originally posted on Lloyd’s posterous

The Journey Metaphor: @michaeldila on Fuzzy Goals & El Dorado

Michael Dila picks up Tara’s “Unclear Path” and riffs on it, adding in a couple of important points about this journey/traveler metaphor:

“What kind of people would rather take the hard way than the easy way? People who are looking for something, but don’t know what it is. There is a lesson in the historical/mythical place that the Spanish conquistadors called El Dorado: a lost city of the Mayans made of gold and containing untold riches. No one ever found El Dorado and the truth is it can never be found, not because it is a myth, but because those who seek it are more interested in the search.”

So again and again, especially when making decisions about where to go next, the people around me came up with the most direct possible route from where I was today to New York.  It was almost as if we automatically optimise for efficiency.  

And I had to patiently and kindly remind them that if the point of this was simply to get to NYC from San Francisco then I probably would not have ended up in their company having this conversation.  If I could have (and mostly I think that means, if I had been driving a car and I was less of a scaredy-cat) then I’d have made it even more convoluted, I’d have doubled back on myself, I’d have stayed in a different place every single night, I might have ended up leaving the USA altogether and actually heading south for El Dorado.  

Even as it was, options other than the direct appear insane – why would you go from SF to Austin via Seattle and Milwaukee? I could not possibly know the answer to that when I was sitting in Half Moon Bay. But I’m awfully glad that that’s what I did!

 

Let’s say it once again.  The point of this trip was *not* to see whether you can get from San Francisco to New York (of course you can, in many boring ways) it was to see what happens when you set a goal and then allow for the journey to unfold over the period of a month, letting other people in on the decision making. Which leads me to Michael again: 

“There’s something important that … is often missing from many mythological accounts of those who explore and experiment on the frontier: we do not do it alone.”

Please. Read The Whole Thing.

I may go round in circles for a bit with this, pulling out ideas, referencing them back to the trip and then trying to put them in a broader context.  That’s how I’m learning. Hope you are too.

 

 

Originally posted on Please Look After This Englishman