husband readys Scientic American Mind: do you have grit?

Multi-focused Careers and Digital Organization (How-To Notes)

If I’ve learned anything from the modern entrepreneur, it is that life need not cease because of work demands. In fact, by embracing a few paradoxes of the modern age, I’ve been escaping the mindset that we must be chained to a desk to be productive.  And so, I’ve been letting go of a long-standing belief that my life would be simpler, more steady, and easily managed with a regular job and set office hours.

It has been one of those odd gaps between the reality of practice, and what has been taught by the preceeding generation of workers: life is chaos without regular, predictable employment, but this is not entirely so. For me–in the fray of having children, being married to someone whose normal work hours have always been erratic in everything but their excessiveness, and a personal life full of projects–freelance and contract work has been my working mainstay for most of my adulthood.  I had always considered myself a doer of odd jobs.  I liked project work as a means to transition between situations, to try new things and to build networks.  It’s taken me almost fifteen years of doing this to recognize self-employment is my normal course of action, and pretty much the only type of work that fits well with the life decisions of raising kids, moving around a lot, and needing the flexibility to do double parenting duty when my husband’s stuck out-of-town and running late.

spider's web

In the past few months my LikedIn account has morphed with me through this series of revelations as I recognize that what seemed like “holes” in my resume could also be the effect of trying to look too closely, and seeing the gaps between the threads of what is otherwise a fairly comprehensive net of connected, continuous work.

What has probably driven my final acceptance toward a multi-focused career has not been LinkedIn, but my other social media accounts: Google +, Facebook and Twitter.  Within these parallel universes of identity-making platforms, I’ve embraced various aspects of my interests and projects by connecting, posting and sharing what is a broad collection of information.  Taking a step back, I can see the academic and literary side of me, the news junkie and social activist, and the professionally curious.
Everything is still a little messy, but generally, if you’re interested in reading and writing, check out the collection of Canadian literary journals and small presses I’ve begun to follow on Twitter.  Seeking out small presses arose from a long search for motherhood writing, stories and poems that represent a varied and authentic spectrum of family experience and reality told from multiple perspectives.  My Twitter collection goes beyond feminist publications, and I’m astonished to see the wealth within Canadian publishing.  Many of these journals I have never encountered in real life, but I will be spending part of my summer tacking them down and checking them out.

 

Facebook is my collection of local news.  I began Facebook with the intention of using it to hold a timeline of interesting articles and sources from the internet, as a means of capturing information I wanted to access again.  Because so many people use Facebook as a kind of social address book, I found myself in Facebook-land with a few friends.  I felt a little odd posting items and spamming friends with varied articles that held no relevance for most of them.  I’ve since become more focused on connecting locally to organizations and news feeds, and becoming more discriminating in my shares.

 

I am also starting to post a lot of “how to” information on Google+, embracing the site as a place to put documents most people I know would find boring.  Usually this is related to social media management or website/blog development, best communications practices, writing and editing for on-line formats.  I am in process now of sorting out the postings into various groups, and I think I might eventually shift a lot of my focus to Google+, so as to take advantage of the different circles and sharing options available.  There are resources I’ve compiled that I think clients would find useful.

Thanks to a post on Ph.D. to Life, I began experimenting with a program called Evernote.  This has made my social network sites much less “messy,” as I am using Evernote in the way I thought I could make Facebook function for me, by capturing items of interest from the internet.  Where as before I was also combining “real life” sources–notebooks, photos, and information from print sources–and trying to keep them in documents within folders saved to Dropbox–in Evernote I can capture information from the internet and also compile live sources of information, all accessible to every computer and device that I use.

Even better, having Evernote has finally put to use the expensive smart phone I got last fall as part of a job requirement.  By using the camera on my phone I can use the document photo option to snap a pic of text, thus saving the time of copying text either by hand or by photocopying.  I have considerably less paper files already, and I find it no less cumbersome to work in multiple windows on my computer’s desk top to access the information than I did shuffling papers across a desk.  Evernote has several other capabilities, including searches, annotations and file sharing.

As I’ve noted, Evernote has changed how  I use and value my smart phone.  A cell phone, for me, had represented the evil of inescapable demands, intrusions upon family time, and the general lack of peace and quite that everyone enjoyed back in the pre-digital ages.  I became a cell phone owner when my kids started school.  We were living on our little farm at that time, where there was always lots of outside work to do, and being next to the phone in case of an emergency at school wasn’t an option. The cell phone represented, in this case, freedom.

my family--several years ago--on our farm
my family–several years ago–on our farm

In the same line of thinking, I realized I may as well succumb and connect my email to my phone.  This way I can answer queries as they arise, and when I am expected to be available for work, I no longer need to tie myself to a desk.  After all, summer is here and my kids are out of school.  None of us wants to be stuck in the house watching me watch my email.

Thanks to the suggestions of Mr. A., a Samsung enthusiast I met through work, I’ve learned that with the download of a good security and memory boost app (Clean Master), I am also not tied to my phone’s charger.  The battery life on my device is lasting the day, even with indulging in reading WordPress postings when I have a few spare minutes.  It amazed me to learn that some of my phone’s pre-loaded apps (ones I’ve never used) have been running-at-will in the back ground and sucking up precious memory, speed and energy.

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With the social media apps from Twitter, Facebook, WordPress, and Google+, I also get notifications on my phone.  Unexpectedly, this makes life easier to be lazy, off-line, or simply focused on a project, as I am less likely to miss receiving messages from friends and work colleagues should I not log in to a particular site for a few days.

I’ve also returned to using Google Drive, now more easily accessed from my smart phone (again) through the download of some handy apps.  I can find myself working from as many as three different computers, depending on what I’m doing, so to have my folders accessible in one place is much easier than saving data to a storage device and manually moving it to another computer.  (Dropbox and Google Drive also make having only one old printer much easier for the family to share.  Someone always seems to need work printed.)

For the most part, my cellular device is a hybrid between tablet and phone.  I chose a device with a large screen, which is easy to read, but is still only half the size of a standard tablet.  As I am making plans to do more studies in the fall, I find myself liking the idea of having easy and continuous access to my digital files.

All that remains at this point is to find an email manager and agenda app that checks all the boxes for me.  I have a few options, including The Secret Weapon, that I’ll be checking out this summer.

Does anyone have suggestions for must-have apps, or a software application they can’t live without?  How do you build your portable office?

 

 

One I've never seen before, growing near a tree stump.

Water, Reflecting on Flood, Trauma and Growth

Last week I did some freelance editing for a company that sells water products; the lead-in writing reminds the reader that water is the stuff of life, essential for our survival. After this weekend, I am also reminded that water is transformative.  Most of southern Saskatchewan is in a state of emergency as heavy rains have flooded the region.  A couple of areas were evacuated, and while many people have gone home, others had not as of last night. For some, water will destroy homes, or businesses, but despite this, water remains the stuff of life.

Our spring has been very wet, and the 4 to 10 inches (depending on where you are in the province) of rain that fell mostly on Saturday added to an accumulating surface water.

This duck claimed the permanent puddle that exists in front of our house; she was eventually harassed out of the neighbourhood by other birds.
This duck claimed the permanent puddle that exists in front of our house; she was eventually harassed out of the neighbourhood by other birds.

In 2011 the prairies flooded, and many are still managing the after-math of it, as infrastructure is repaired or rebuilt.

Something which is less mentioned, but which is no less real, is that floods can spark emotional and social turmoil.  Flooding does not impact people in an equal manner, and the disparity that arises can create long-lasting rifts.

In some cases, the natural lay of the land left folks in the low spots losing everything to flood waters.  Understandably, the frustration was difficult for people to manage; on occasion, people blamed others, and sometimes that blaming manifested into more significant issues like paranoia and hostility.

In other instances, some people deliberately drained their property in a manner which affected the natural water courses, or the existing lay of the land, adversely effecting those around them. Their reactions to other people’s challenges to their actions were met with defiance and entitlement.  These individuals shut out compromising solutions which may have created more equitable solutions for the community as a whole.

Last year I found a few ferns in the yard after we moved in; this spring, the place seems overgrown with them.
Last year I found a few ferns in the yard after we moved in; this spring, the place seems overgrown with them.

For some, three years later, not all relationships or personal well-being have yet recovered from the emotional and mental strain of the flood.

Other people I know have achieved something beyond the trauma of the flood; they are finding a deeper emotional connection to themselves and others around them, and a greater sense of personal purpose in their lives.  I think there is nothing particularly fortunate or lucky about them; their reaction is a consequence of their choices, perhaps led here by life experiences, maybe personality; they resist the siren call of victimhood, let go of grievances and make room in their lives for happiness, gratitude and love. This is difficult work, a constant practice.

The rain this weekend reminded me of all of this, and the importance of recognizing that nothing is stable, that life seems to be about challenging (rather than satisfying) our expectations.  Crappy things happen, and it is in these situations that we find our best opportunities to grow beyond the constraints of ourselves, beyond past hurts, or limiting beliefs.  Stephen Joseph, author of What Doesn’t Kill Us:  The New Psychology of Posttraumatic Growth, summarizes the value of stress and trauma:

The values inculcated early on in life are so deep-seated that people barely realize how important such values are to them.  And on the treadmill of everyday life, although we may feel discomfort that somehow things are not right, we rarely seek the opportunities to challenge the values, beliefs, or priorities by which we live our lives.  These are precisely the values that trauma challenges.

I recognize that many people will face significant work in rebuilding their homes after this weekend.  My intention is not to make light of difficult situations.  Instead, I am reflecting on the way that some of our most painful experiences can become our most valuable.  As we explore these events as they’ve occurred in our own lives, we realize how destructive forces are needed, for their transformative power: this is the stuff of life.

 

peonies in stages

Stages of a Flower, of Learning

peony buds

I had my first encounter with literary poetry when I was a teenager in high school.  I have only two strong lasting impressions of this:  I did not like poetry; I did not like the poems that compare women to flowers, fading beauty, or traps for honey bees.

peony blossom

Much of our learning about literature in public school was singular and simplified. (This might be done differently now.)  The search for the one meaning of a text, like a mythical pot of gold, was a shifting, frustrating, confidence-draining procedure.  Here we have right/wrong, and authorial priority.

peony petals

It took a few years of university study to realize that training our critical reading and listening skills is really about learning to look at something as many things… to hold the door open to complexity, even contradiction, without trying to resolve them.  But university isn’t necessary to learn this; this is a repeating life lesson.

peony

Many years after I completed a degree in English, I found my way to read poetry as I had prose–with complexity–and began to accept, then love the genre.

peony final

I also found that taking a closer look at fading flowers, I discovered them interesting, which is perhaps more valuable than thinking of them as beautiful or ugly.

Real Voice(s) of Motherhood: Call to the Neutral Zone

Parents of my generation haven’t maintained the convention of calling their spouses “Mother” or “Dad.” This was the dominate style of address within families when I was young, and one I heard around town, on television, and read in books. I think this social convention reflected the belief that “good” adults were not sexual (Sylvia Plath’s autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar, explores this with unnerving precision). My parents came of age in a time that saw women’s dress hemlines rise to the knee, their bodices adorned in bows or flowers to invoke the pre-pubescent innocence of children’s clothing. Men adopted nick-names like “Buddy” and wore suits and ties,  desexualized into respectable uniformity. Storks delivered babies. All mothers and fathers were virgins. Now pretenses have been dropped, and I rarely hear families overlay their adult sexuality with “Mother” and “Dad,” the genetically enmeshed labels that invoke inter-generational hierarchies.

Sex is easier to talk about now, but motherhood remains a difficult subject to broach. Public conversations about realistic parenting and authentic experience are less accessible than Facebook memes of perfect babies and vintage childhood nostalgia. Each carries the demand “SHARE if you care,” and explicit mother-love calls to action. Popular media continues to resist straying outside the binaries of “good” mom/”bad” mom; real motherhood remains taboo, or perhaps too complex, for social consumption.

As I attempt to deliberately engage in realistic portrays of family life in my own writing I often feel I am walking in forbidden territory. In this swamp of ideas and clichés, personal emotions and social pressure, I am more likely to experience writer’s block here than within any other topic. I am not alone. In “A Kind of Housecoat: Poetry and Motherhood,” poet Clare Pollard has explored some of the difficulty of giving voice to the experiences of motherhood.

As a topic it seems to me to touch on, well, everything important really.  And yet, bizarrely, poetry about parenthood is still seen to be somehow minor, petty, ‘domestic’.  I have heard very well respected male poets observe that they don’t really care for ‘motherhood’ poems (try imagining them saying the same for love poems or war poems and see how odd it sounds).

She observes that women write motherhood poetry with apology, knowing that their work is likely to be met with disdain, or dismissed as a marginal topic of interest to only new moms. “The problem is not so much with poems about motherhood as with the perception of mothers in general,” Pollard writes. In both literary circles and conversations within the larger culture, the complexities of motherhood are too easily dismissed, rendered invisible.

Critical backlash in motherhood literature frequently marginalizes or effaces the artistic voice of the poet. Such acts can be humiliating and exhausting for those who bear the backlash. Responses like these also resonate deeply with other writers, who react by refraining from participating in the discussion. In silence, we fail to render a significant and universal experience. Without the complex nuances and deeper considerations demanded of serious literature, motherhood within the public discourse remains an empty rhetoric, portrayed in a trivial and unsophisticated manner.

Pollard considers the inconsistencies and easy dismissal that arises, such as they do for writers like Plath and Suzanne Moore, when written engagement with motherhood refuses to be informed by the writer’s private experiences. Writing becomes a public act of distancing, invoking a hostile separation from motherhood which then extends itself to a rejection of other women and of the self.

These are important topics, of course, and important poems, but there is a sense that writing from the perspective of an ordinarily lucky, happy mother is somehow icky – the equivalent of showing baby photos or bragging about your kids’ IQ.  That mothers are smug and motherhood a kind of superficial narcissism, where you lose sense of anything important beyond your darling son (or DS, in mumsnet speak).

In Pollard’s words above we find the resonance of our fear, recognizing that to inhabit the category of ‘mother’ as though it were a self-contained identity would be to inhabit the child as well. In the closeness of relationships, one comes dangerously near to effacing the difference between self and other, too easily damaging the emerging or existing identities of both child and adult. Even more problems arise when we assume we can evaluate parenting as successes and failures, invoking the oppositions of inclusion or exclusion from the Good Mothers Club (subtly masked as community organizations and parental school associations).

Timothy Beneke stated in his 1997 book, Proving Manhood: Reflections on Men and Sexism, that men encounter their own dis-ease with ‘motherhood’ which constitutes itself in the rigours of achieving masculine identity. He writes, “If sex could be denuded of the need to prove manhood, men would let out a loud but secret sigh that would change the weather.” Beneke argues that a binary of good (desexualized) and bad (sexualized) mothers is at the core of male violence against women, the root of rape, sexism and homophobia: “It is no accident that those men who most romanticize and sentimentalize motherhood are also quickest to devalue the role of mothering and its legitimacy as work.” He writes:

The splitting of women into Madonna and whores is a way of separating one’s own lust from affection; and it is a form of sexist oppression that seeks to repress the lust of women one loves or might love. It appears that the men who are most afraid of their own lust must repress the lust of women they love or respect. One can point to a certain circle: men bound out of a fear of women and women’s sexuality; that bonding necessitates the separation of sex and affection—if they go together then affection between men becomes sexually threatening; the separation of sex and affection makes men more sexist. Such a circle shows sexual repression and sexism supporting each other.

Pollard, in 2012, writes the mother binary as ‘yummy/slummy,’ a dichotomy that brings to mind the yoga-going, breastfeeding holistic mommy pitted against the tabloid wreckage of careless celebrity motherhood. The sexual neutering of good mothers is less obvious within the symbols of the new Earth Mother imagery (compared to the more overt Virgin Mary), but she in none-the-less castrated from herself. The public image of good mothers is currently buried beneath the accumulation of gym wear, fair trade lattes, organic cotton and paraben-free plastics; on the surface a socially accepted “yummy mummy” is a woman cut off from all but the commercially available representations of mothering care.  These representations are carefully marketed to her with shame and guilt, accompanied by nasty price tags.

The fifteen years separating Beneke and Pollard’s writing suggest that the hopes of the feminist movement have turned on itself. Recalling Dorothy Dinnerstein’s call for the death of “the romanticized mother of motherhood and apple pie, pure and innocent and loving,” Beneke adds to the collective hope that women entering the workforce will put an end to the idealized mother. The workplace, however, has not offered escape from gender constructs, but rather, demanded women to invest more heavily in them.

The good woman/mother now wears her “big-girl panties,” and she collapses her sexuality with tasteful efforts to remain youthful. With the financial means to purchase the status of “yummy mummy,” women’s lives have become more vulnerable to the pressures of commercial branding.  Now, a woman’s successful procurement of said products reads as a kind of short hand for her intelligence, work ethic, creativity, networks and social connections, and general worthiness.  Rather than being freed of her constraints, the working woman has so much more to lose; the stakes of her successful womanhood are so much higher, her accomplishments (or lack of) much more visible.

Meanwhile, violence against women has not diminished, suggesting that the complex relationship between men and women has not changed. Beneke had written that the apple-pie mother “may only have existed in our fantasies, and her image is born of guilt at our rage toward her, but to move on, we must let go of her.” In this, he may be right, but evacuating the home space has not killed the romanticized mother. Women remain struggling to negotiate real acceptance of themselves both personally and culturally.

We cannot escape the reality of our bodies. We are physical beings, with identifiable characteristics that can be delineated by categories. How those categories are created, named and perceived, however, are social constructions. In the 1996 edition of the Oxford English Dictionary the word motherhood is more than “the condition or fact of being a mother;” it has added expectations, “protective, withholding the worst aspects.” Fathers are not given the same parameters. Fatherhood is merely listed, without its own definition, under the entry for father, a word defined first by the biological function as “a man in relation to a child or children born from his fertilization of an ovum.” The final half of definitions under the word father overlap with religious doctrine, and it is here (only) that fatherhood becomes imbued with emotional expectations, mainly to be respected authority figures. Perhaps if we could give equal neutrality to our primary engagement with motherhood as we do the biology of fatherhood, we could recreate the construct without ascribing obligations and moral judgments.

Of course, creating openness in the motherhood space, like building a demilitarized zone in a war, takes work. It requires an effort to enter the zone without weapons, to maintain respect. In ideological spaces, this calls for a willingness to push beyond fear and writer’s block, and to begin speaking, to keep speaking, and to encourage others to join us so we can expand the neutral space, which will in turn shrink the war.

Pollard confronts her anxiety of breaking the motherhood barrier: “I have been writing a few tentative poems about motherhood recently, but I can’t shake this feeling that female poets have to be careful; that a single wrong note can make people hate them.” To help her, she hunts for poems “about mortality and responsibility and religion and being thrown, as a feminist, against the limits and instincts of your own animal body.”

There is hope that a poem, a blog, or a book can become a space for women and men to be real with their voices. In this space we stop calling our wives “Mother” and do not use the word “Father” to speak to our husbands. We recognize that biology offers us neutrality within our relationships—that politics exist outside of this—and neutrality is something much needed.

We begin, I think, with the willingness to see each participant in our shared space as a whole person. Traditional family structures don’t encourage members to see themselves as life forms separate and differentiated from the collective. We need to change this. We especially need to do this with regard to children. Both men and women need to reconfigure the way in which we value and include children.  I am not suggesting we consider the young as adults, but that we simply see them as complete beings.  In this way, we shed the “superficial narcissism;” seeing the other as a whole person renders us less likely to impose ourselves upon the other. We are less likely to efface those we profess to love.  And we are less likely to amputate away pieces of our own selves.

viola

Nature Break: Violets from the Garden

I have been powering through a lot of research lately, so getting out to the garden seems a necessary restorative these days. Most of the vegetables are up, except the beans which I had to re-sow.

In a little corner of the yard the former owners had built a raised planting bed. I added a few new herbs, and transplanted rogue shallots and garlic from the main garden.  Oregano and viola plants were already established.

three faces in a row
Viola, sometimes called violets: the tiny pansies.

 

Viola flowers can be used as a garnish.  Some years ago I eliminated most of the artificial food colouring from our family diet.  We had begun to connect our youngest daughter’s headaches and stomach aches to eating artificial colouring, especially red dye combinations in medications and processed foods.  (And yes, I know the research to support this observation is still considered inconclusive… but when you have a sick kid, you do what you can.)

We had to stop with the fancifully decorated birthday cakes, too.  Flower petals, like violas, make a nice substitute.

Anti-Failure Culture: Limits and Challenges

While fortifying against failure and avoiding mistakes may seem like admirable goals, [Ed] Catmull argues that they are ultimately misguided. He cites the example of the Golden Fleece Awards, which in 1975 began spotlighting government-funded projects that were epic wastes of money. While such scrutiny might have its place and no doubt comes from a place of seeking betterment, Catmull argues that “failure was being used as a weapon, rather than as an agent of learning” — the awards had a chilling effect, rendering researchers and government agencies so terrified of being “awarded” that they began taking fewer risks and innovating less.

–Maria Popova, “Pixar Cofounder Ed Catmull on Failure and Why Fostering a Fearless Culture Is the Key to Groundbreaking Creative Work

 If we as leaders can talk about our mistakes and our part in them, then we make it safe for others. You don’t run from it or pretend it doesn’t exist. That is why I make a point of being open about our meltdowns inside Pixar, because I believe they teach us something important: Being open about problems is the first step toward learning from them… We must think of the cost of failure as an investment in the future.

Pixar cofounder Ed Catmull and journalist Amy Wallace, Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration (see link above for more information)

Siberian Crab Apple

Rose-coloured Visions: Spring Flowers

I’ve been waiting for the pink-blossomed Siberian crab to show it’s stuff. Here she is.

The mauve-pink Bergenia cordifolia has been blooming for about a week now. I snapped this when the flowers were fresher than they are now, but kept it for rose-coloured reflection. the common name for this plant, elephant ears, derives from its large and leathery-tough leaves.

Bergenia (Elephant Ears) leaves of Bergenia

Spend Time in the Trenches: Leadership

The temptation with any career is to move up the ladder as quickly as possible. Within development and humanitarian work, this often means moving from field-based positions to those in the office or in increasingly large cities far from the actual work. This problem, identified long ago by participatory development scholar Robert Chambers, often leads to detached and out of touch managers and leaders.

– William G. Moseley in “Graduation Advice for Aspiring Humanitarians

black and white with red

Joy

To capture a beautiful, sunny morning, I am sharing tulips and music. (Please click on any photo for a better view.)

Shot in black and white, with red.
1. Shot in black and white, with red.
The large world of a small spider.
2. The large world of a small spider.
Beauty of pollen.
3. Beauty of pollen–is this what inspires us to value gold?

I am continuously fascinated with digital recreation, transforming literal realism into creative play.  This is not something I do with any skill, but every once in a while, by accident, something interesting happens (largely thanks to my camera-for-dummies).

The orange tulips in normal colour.
4. The orange tulips in normal colour.
Playing with the possibilities, a painted effect.
5. Playing with the possibilities, a painted effect.
Faded, like an oldie from the 1970s.
6. Faded, like an oldie from the 1970s.

(Please let me know if you have a favourite.)

Now that you’ve seen the sunshine, here’s the best I can do to help you feel it.

I was introduced to this song (thanks Brittany G.), on a chilly day at the beginning of April.  “Escaping Gravity” reminded me of sunshine, something we saw very little of this spring here in Saskatchewan.  Perfect for a downer day requiring a psychic realignment.

From Synesthesia, Asif Illyas performs, “Escaping Gravity.”  More can be found at Asif’s really cool website.

stories and photos from the southern Saskatchewan prairie

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