I Remember (Exercise)

This was an exercise done during one of the nonfiction classes I took. We were tasked with recalling something, be it a situation, a person, an event, what have you. We were then asked to break that into two parts. For the first part, each sentence must start with “I remember.”

Here is the “I remember” list:

I remember rain.
I remember hurried footsteps.
I remember hands shoved in pockets.
I remember head bowed.
I remember fumbling for the keys to the building first, the apartment door second.
I remember the screaming wouldn’t stop.
I remember it felt real.
I remember pacing the apartment.
I remember the screaming wouldn’t stop.
I remember opening the patio door.
I remember the sound of the bus passing.
I remember the clank of bottles as the bartender dumped the trash in the big bin.
I remember the screaming wouldn’t stop.
I remember it felt real.
I remember cowering in front of the couch, hands pressed to my ears.
I remember squeezing hard, pressing my ears in hopes they’d collapse.
I remember the screaming wouldn’t stop.
I remember it felt real.
I remember bolting out to the patio, arms raised, catching the rain.
I remember being soaked in minutes.
I remember cars cruising past, wheels splashing water up on the sidewalk.
I remember the screaming wouldn’t stop.
I remember it felt real.
I remember gripping the rotting bannister with both hands, white knuckle ride all the way.
I remember a dog barking from the street.
I remember the bartender and waitress out having a smoke underneath the back awning.
I remember the wood disintegrating in my grip.
I remember the dead potted plants and the decrepit wood shelf in the corner, rotting from years of rain.
I remember the screaming wouldn’t stop.
I remember it felt real.
I remember the soft squishy sensation of the fake flooring on the patio.
I remember the rusty metal holding the decaying wood.
I remember the whole thing moved if you leaned too much.
I remember the screaming wouldn’t stop.
I remember it felt real.
I remember the rain drifting into a mist.
I remember droplets of water beating steady off the gutters.
I remember the bar tender and waitress going back into the bar.
I remember it was Thursday, live music night.
I remember the screaming wouldn’t stop.
I remember it felt real.
I remember that it’s all in my head.

What strikes me most about this list is its physicality, and sensual intake. Rain. Fumbling for keys. Sound of buses, traffic. Rotting banister. Bartender out for a smoke. Squishiness. A dog barking. Physical mixes with the senses, absorbing the situation and the space in which it is happening rather than reacting or fighting against it, but there is a feel to it, too. There’s repetition of screaming and the sense that it is real.

For the second part, each sentence must start with the phrase “I don’t remember.” This is a little tricky at first because by attempting to recall what you don’t remember, you are remembering. You are remembering something, or convincing yourself you are remembering something, or you know it now, in hindsight, but there was no way for you to know it then.

Here is the “I don’t remember” list:

I don’t remember why I went.
I don’t remember why I just sit there.
I don’t remember why I gave answers.
I don’t remember why it seemed so obvious.
I don’t remember why I didn’t notice.
I don’t remember why I went.
I don’t remember being so specific.
I don’t remember giving permission for that.
I don’t remember why I didn’t throw the racquetball.
I don’t remember why I went.
I don’t remember why I shrugged it off.
I don’t remember agreeing.
I don’t remember shrugging as agreement.
I don’t remember that sensation.
I don’t remember that quiet tone.
I don’t remember the loop.
I don’t remember why I went.
I don’t remember why I kept going.
I don’t remember saying anything.
I don’t remember being so cold.
I don’t remember being so patient.
I don’t remember caring.
I don’t remember why I went.
I don’t remember how it all started.
I don’t remember changing it up.
I don’t remember why I went.
I don’t remember some of those conversations.
I don’t remember participating.
I don’t remember agreeing to this.
I don’t remember why I went.
I don’t remember why there is a disconnect.
I don’t remember this space.
I don’t remember what happened.
I don’t remember what was written.
I don’t remember why I went.
I don’t remember why I went back.
I don’t remember it the same.
I don’t remember what changed.
I don’t remember how that happened.
I don’t remember why I went.
I don’t remember much it seems
I don’t remember forgetting.
I don’t remember failure to recall.
I don’t remember why I went.
I don’t remember understanding.
I don’t remember knowing.
I don’t remember why it seems so obvious.
I don’t remember why I went.

There is phrase repetition again, this time it’s I don’t remember why I went. This list is more ethereal, though, not rooted in physical sensation or anything concrete. The only object mentioned is a racquetball. There is transformation in this piece, too, but it is more subtle. More is alluded to rather than stated, which I find curious. Like the reason was unknown to me then, and remains unknown to me now, but there has been a noticeable, tangible progression or shift. I am not the same person at the beginning of this list as I am by the end. It seems to cover a period of time whereas the “I remember” list covers a very specific moment.

It’s an interesting exercise. Curious how the mind works, depending on the prompts it is given. I may have to try this exercise again.

Blinded by Peppiness

There is no shortage of commentary on the "Blurred Lines" case, and its $7.4 million dollar award to the family of Marvin Gaye. Tim Wu does a nice job of outlining the case in The New Yorker, and his reference to Vanilla Ice got me thinking of another case.

It is music related, from 1990, but didn't deal with copyright infringement. It didn't deal with intellectual property at all. It dealt with product liability, claiming subliminal messaging in the Judas Priest song "Better by You, Better than Me" forced two teenagers, already high, to make a suicide pact, go to a park with a shotgun and follow through. Raymond Belknap succeeded. James Vance did not. Both families sued Judas Priest, and its record label at the time, CBS.

Subliminal messaging bothers me, but not in the typical sense of being tricked into believing/purchasing something I otherwise ignore. Subliminal messaging bothers me because it shifts the focus to looking for something that isn't there instead of paying attention to what is right in front. We cannot get past the chord progression of heavy metal and thus go looking for messages of drugs, suicide and violence nestled inside the lyrics. The lyrics to "Better By You Better Than Me" without the music, read like poetry.

You are introduced to the narrator who is in the middle of something. You get the sense the narrator is struggling, and there are hints of death, hopelessness, in lines like "Tell her now I've got to go/Out in the streets and down the shore/Tell her the world's not much living for," but that can also be interpreted as a warning or a plea as there is the impression that the narrator is somehow handicapped. Or the narrator doesn't know how to communicate what he wants to communicate, and though you might jump to the conclusion of suicide, that is cast into doubt with the line "Guess I'll have to change my way of living/Don't wanna really know the way I feel/Guess I'll learn to fight and kill." That implies the narrator is escaping, by going to war. Granted you can go to war with yourself, but because we don't really know what that means, we have to guess. Like interpreting poetry. It gets complicated, and because nothing is clearly, or blatantly, stated, it's easy to crash down the hallway of subliminal messaging.

The Judas Priest case was thrown out, in the end, because the judge ruled that the so-called subliminal message of "do it" was the result of accidentally mixing up background lyrics. One of the experts in the case, Dr. Timothy Moore, wrote an interesting article about the psychology of subliminal messaging in the case.

We do not pay as much attention to the lyrics of peppy dance tunes, however. The chord progression of pop music makes our feet tap, our head bob and our cheeks break into smiles. We get caught in the euphoria, and turn deaf to blatant references to drugs, suicide and violence.

Take Ricky Martin's "Livin' La Via Loca" for example. That catchy 1999 tune many cite as putting Latin pop on the American musical map. The first few trumpet notes are unmistakable, and the Latin-infused beat makes your feet tap, your hips sway and brings a smile to your face. The lyrics are peppy, too, giving a Latin flare to the femme fatale.

The blatant suicide reference is easy to miss in its peppiness: "She'll take away your pain/like a bullet to your brain."

You can argue Martin is being encouraging if you include the "Come on!"

Look up the lyrics, and let's also examine them.

"She's into superstitions, black cats and voodoo dolls/I feel a premonition that girl's gonna make me fall." Read that, out loud, straight. Poetic, too, no? It is clear, however, that the narrator finds himself in an untenable, perhaps not yet dire, situation. The narrator is explicit in having a bad feeling about what is coming next.

"She's into new sensations/new kicks in the candle light/She's got a new addiction for every day and night." It is clear the narrator is drawn to the siren call, entranced by a "new addiction" all day and all night. There is science behind addiction, and you've read some of it if you've read news articles on forming good habits, breaking bad habits, what successful people do, etc. The payoff in the brain, the chemical reaction induced, is phenomenal. The circuitry in the brain gets rewired for it, much like it does from trauma.

"She'll make you take your clothes off and go dancing in the rain/She'll make you live her crazy life but she'll take away your pain like a bullet to your brain/Come on!" The first line describes a state of euphoria, as happens say, when taking drugs or doing something you wouldn't normally do. You feel a rush, invincible perhaps. Better than you did before. That's the payoff. You want more, so you'll "live her crazy life." Then that line slips in there. Blatant. Clear. "She'll take away your pain like a bullet to your brain." A bullet to the brain is permanent removal of pain, not a temporary state of euphoria.

"She'll push and pull you down/Livin la vida loca/Her lips are devil read and her skin's the color of mocha/She will wear you out/Livin la vida loca/Come on!" Clearly stated. Whiplash. Oscillating between being euphoric and being depressed, until you are pushed and pulled down into depression, worn out, tired.

"Woke up in New York City in a funky cheap hotel/She took my heart and she took my money/She must have slipped me a sleeping pill." Again, clearly stated. The narrator is lost, crushed and broke. When you feel lost, crushed or broke, do you feel happy? Euphoric?

"She never drinks the water and makes you order French champagne/Once you've had a taste of her you'll never be the same/Yeah she'll make you go insane." Payoff. The narrator wants that feeling of euphoria back, only it takes a little more to get there each time. The word for that is addiction. The brain has been rewired. Back to taking your clothes off and dancing in the rain, living her crazy life because she'll take away your pain like a bullet to your brain.

But it's a dance tune. It's peppy. So it's about that one crazy night with that one crazy woman, obviously. A night you got lost in the euphoric ecstasy of fun. Nevermind waking up in a cheap hotel, in New York, alone and broke. Nevermind the single-minded pursuit of finding her again and again to continually repeat the euphoric ecstasy of fun. The removal of pain. Like a bullet to your brain.

But this is a peppy dance tune, not a sad tune.

The thing about peppiness is that it gives you the energy and clarity to follow through. Things are bleak when depressed. Everything looks hopeless and thoughts of suicide are common. But depression also has physical characteristics. You are tired, lethargic. Getting out of bed is a hassle, let alone loading a shotgun or waiting for the bathtub to fill. The smallest thing requires tremendous energy so it is better, and easier, to stay in bed. But when you pop out, even briefly, have that euphoric feeling, taking action is easier. Normal. Expected. The brain is still fixated on elimination of pain. The pain is still tangible, still close, but now you have the energy to escape and the awareness that you do not want to return to that pain again.

There was a recent article in FastCompany about The Sync Project, which "will scientifically measure how music impacts the body to find ways to treat a range of conditions, including depression, fatigue, insomnia and autism." I'm intrigued by the project, and think it is worthwhile. Music does have influence. Technology lets us quantify that influence, investigate its nuances better understand its impact. It lets us compare songs, too, and I'm interested to see what comes of The Sync Project.

The more I think of things in terms of data points, the more data continually strikes me as a means to stop looking for what isn't there, and instead, be open to what is.

From Poor Judge to Ripples of Confidence to Empty Bucket

Yes, I am a poor judge of my own writing. Laugh, of course, but please contain the eye roll until we examine the evidence.

So, let’s examine the evidence.

Exhibit A: Finding Hybrids in the Legal Industry

Published on January 2, 2015. The day after a holiday.

For most of the third quarter last year, I found myself thinking about the echo chamber of law, and legal technology. Everyone was (and still is) talking about change and automation and the death of the billable hour (coming soon), and the legal profession (later). I felt like I was back in my sophomore journalism class where everyone was bemoaning the death of the newspaper. More than 10 years later, people are still bemoaning the death of the newspaper, yet I see newsprint at the corner on my way to the “L,” at the Metra station and scattered around desks at the office.

It struck me that people are talking past each other, and pointing to the same examples of “change agents,” that handful of people who get the notoriety for speaking more than doing. Sort of like they’re setting themselves up for another career by proclaiming the doom of their current profession. The phrase for that is fear mongering, but to me, there was something more. While most of the industry, from law school up to BigLaw, is running around hysterical, I went looking for the cooler heads. Somewhere in the legal profession, there are practicing lawyers working to improve something instead of agreeing with the hysteria. Somewhere, there must be people addressing change in the profession from the inside out.

I found them: lawyer-entrepreneur hybrids.

Given past history that my observations are often ahead of the curve (social media being used in eDiscovery, and big data for the solo and small law firm, all the rage now, spring to mind), I expected the post to land softly, and mostly be ignored. It doesn’t trumpet the demise of the profession, it doesn’t call for change. It simply demonstrates lawyers leveraging technology to their benefit, and to the benefit of others.

Was that an eye roll? OK. That is deserved. PinHawk picked it up, and featured it in its newsletter the following week. Today’s General Counsel had it on its home page for roughly a week. Social media shares, emails came in praising the post, asking to repost on whatever blog or publication they ran. Other startups reached out, wanting to talk about what they’re doing, too.

I confess I remain stumped as to its popularity, other than it highlights doers, examples of law students, and lawyers at big and small firms, finding or creating solutions. That last part of the Home Depot commercial, “More Doing,” runs through my head. I want to find the doers, and they often operate beneath the chatter, just outside the limelight.

Like me.

Exhibit 2: In-Depth: Social Media

This was an experiment in longer form, instructional-type content. The thinking behind In Depth pieces is to provide (wait for it) in depth knowledge on a particular subject. The low hanging fruit included cloud computing, and social media. I didn’t mind the cloud computing one so much; it was easy and quick for me to write. Social media, though, man. The more I try (and continually fail) to separate myself from the “social media” guru/expert/[insert latest ridiculous adjective] label, the deeper it sinks its prongs. I created a Twitter account out of curiosity after overhearing some classmates in my IP Digital class talking about this site that only lets you post in 140 characters or less. That registered as a challenge to me. What can be said distilled into 140 characters? Super Flash Fiction.

My Twitter presence took off because I was laid off, and had ample time on my hands. I found it a useful vehicle of communication, information sharing and a way to gain knowledge. I made a point to follow people who had different opinions than myself, interests not my own, and inadvertently found my niche in legal technology. It played a key role in landing me my first post-lay off full time job. But then I became “that” person, the guru/expert/[insert latest ridiculous adjective]. I was pigeon-holed. Trapped. I have more to offer than social media prowess, and it was clear my employer at the time didn’t see me as more than a social media monkey. For awhile, it was hard to see myself as anything else, and I hated it.

I wanted out.

The out came from an unexpected source, but it saw my social media prowess as one of many tools, not the only tool. That made a difference, and helped change my perception of myself and social media use. Still, the In Depth piece was a struggle. The simplicity of social media is mind-numbingly obvious, to me, and when I sat down to write the peice, the copy came out punchy, and somewhat humorous, like I was poking fun at myself for doing what I despise: pointing out the obvious.

Writing it turned out to be good prep work for the MBA digital and social media marketing class I taught last fall, and am teaching the online version in a couple of weeks. I have to pause at what I think is obvious, and think of my mother. She will Facebook or text or call me for tech trouble-shooting help, after she has exhausted other options. Her brain works differently, and I have learned that sometimes stating the obvious is the answer. Sometimes we miss the obvious because it is obvious, and need someone else to point it out. I thought of that while writing the In Depth Social Media piece, thinking in terms of basics, regardless of how ridiculous it seemed to point out the obvious. Still, I didn’t think much would come of the post. There are so many on setting up and managing social media, mine is a drop in the bucket now.

Drop in a bucket produces ripples. Ripples of confidence that remind me what sits at the root of my being: storytelling. Most of the time, that relates to helping others craft their stories, helping them flesh out the finer details, or honing in on a specific aspect because it is the heart of the story. I confess I take pride in doing that, and love it when a post resonates. I may have done a small thing in storytelling, but it has an impact. Sometimes, like with Docketfish, I talk to the doers and write the story for them. I stop short of calling myself a perfectionist (though one day someone will write a post explaining the ways in which I am, indeed, a perfectionist), preferring to say I’m particular. Writing the stories of others in the legal profession makes me nervous. I’m not a lawyer, so the day-to-day aspects of law are foreign to me and I don’t consider myself the best to articulate how a particular application makes a difference. My curiosity gets the best of me, however, and it doesn’t take long before the journalist in me takes over and the piece writes itself.

A few more drops in the bucket, and the ripples spread.

Which brings me to

Exhibit 3: Non-Work Related Writing

I took a number of nonfiction writing classes last year that produced personal essays, some of which you can read. At the time, I considered it flexing a different set of writing muscles, forcing the focus on me rather than industry. I wonder if I may have gotten ahead of myself, weaving some of those essays into a piece resembling a memoir that was submitted to StoryStudio’s Memoir in a Year class. I had no expectations, and, honestly, submitted for the simple reason of doing.

Now I find myself in a curious situation. Whereas my professional writing bucket fills itself, my personal writing bucket is empty. There aren’t ripples, only a “thud.” The “thud” is the piece resembling a memoir. The sound still reverberates, loudly, as if contained within the bucket. It’s deafening (which I initially wrote as defeating), and I find myself at a standstill. With what do I fill the bucket? Or, perhaps more important, do I fill the bucket?

Seeing as the Memoir in a Year class lasts until June, and I must submit a section to be workshopped in May, the answer is “yes” to fill the bucket. That leaves: fill it with what?

The answer, I will wager, lies in doing. The doing is personal, introspective. That keen sense of observation, so well developed for industry, now needs to turn on itself. The auto-response is resistance. I wonder, though, if my search for a challenge this year has presented itself. If this, turning my keen sense of observation inward to produce a tangible piece of, for lack of a better word, self preservation and survival, is the challenge I am to tackle now.

The Year that Made Me a Drafter

I was that student that didn’t bother with drafts. I just wrote the final paper.

I’m a thinker, and structure my writing as I go about my day. During school, I structured as I did research. I moved parts around in my head, setting up the best arguments, supporting evidence or observations, discarding what is irrelevant or unhelpful. If it was still an interesting nugget, I’d file it away for future reference. By the time I sat down to write a paper, it was an act of transcribing. I completed writing research papers in about three hours, took a break to do something else, maybe gave it to a classmate or roommate for a fresh look, did some editing and that was that.

It was simple, unless I ran into those teachers with stone rubrics that required outlines and first drafts. Explaining my process fell on deaf ears, and if I did not turn in an outline and a first draft, a C was the best grade I got.

I adjusted.

I stuck to my process, on a condensed time table. I wrote the final paper, and then an outline instead of editing. When it was approved, I’d go back to my final paper, remove chunks, add some grammatical errors and hand it in as a first draft. All the rubrics in stone were met, and I did not get another C.

This held true for creative writing in school, too. I had plot lines and characters developed in my head, and when it was time to write something for critique, it remained a matter of transcribing. Revising incorporated feedback from my classmates, when there was any, but there was always something from the professor so the final story submitted for a grade always incorporated those changes. They usually weren’t drastic, a few sentences of explanation, another dialogue scene, all worked out in my head before I sat down to revise and hand in.

One can argue I am overdue for a shakeup. I will argue I have been in search of a challenge.

I found it, last year, in the form of drafting.

What sticks out is that the classes I took at both StoryStudio Chicago and the University of Chicago’s Graham School were nonfiction in nature, and fell in the realm of the personal narrative. I wasn’t writing some company’s story. I wasn’t writing observations about the legal tech space. I wasn’t writing about anything external, and at arms length. I was writing about myself, my experiences, and recalling details I didn’t want to recall. Because I had to write about myself, my experiences, often dark, my brain kept trying to shift gears so I didn’t think about it. Not enough of me had the confidence that I would be able to shift out of that gear again if I followed my normal writing routine of thinking through it all and then dictating through fingers to a final product. Thinking turned into arguments, and little writing got done.

Every morning, then, before I left for work, I sat at the counter in my apartment, and wrote. I eventually found it helpful to have some direction, a specific viewpoint say, or writing down all the sensory details of a particular event. It provided a focus, an argument already made and I only had to supply supporting evidence. I’d write until I had to leave for work, and in the evening, between getting home and going to volleyball, basketball or soccer, I’d write some more. When I got home from sports, I’d read through and edit.

I was often surprised as what my fingers transcribed, and surprised at my ability to show instead of tell. The less I thought about it, the easier it became to show it, and from the writing of “show, not tell,” came understanding. Sometimes I chucked whole pieces and started over. Sometimes I expanded sections. Sometimes I rewrote sections. Sometimes I cut down 5200 words to 1000, the limit for a class, and surprised I had that much to say.

One piece took 22 drafts.

22 drafts.

For someone who doesn’t do drafts, well, yeah, I don’t know what to make of that yet.

In a way, it doesn’t matter. And in the end, it has been beneficial. I draft for work now, though I still think first and dictate later more than I draft. Even this post, though has gone through a few drafts.

It all strikes me as a better melding of my “Write well. Edit better” mantra, and applying it to me.

Teaching Digital and Social Media

Teaching a class on digital and social media, let alone a graduate level class, was not on my to-do list. The more I try to distance myself from social media, it seems, the more its claws dig deep, puncturing skin, muscles and tissue fibers so all that is left is submission.

I am not the submissive type. I often fail to yield, resulting in collisions of various types. I was reminded of this over the weekend during back-to-back soccer games. I play the ball, not the feet or the person, but the laws of physics and objects in motion apply to anything that is moving. When it is a 6’2 guy, and me, collisions result. At least I have practice taking charges, and will be better prepared for basketball season.

Anyway. I am not the submissive type, and the last six weeks I have found myself standing at the front of a classroom, teaching students older than myself, the generalities and finer points of social media.

Wait. Check that.

Digital and social media is so fluid, by the time we have class something has changed, be it a new network (Ello, anyone?), updates to privacy policies or an addition to an existing network (SnapCash). Sometimes it’s an obvious game-changer, sometimes you have to wait and see, at which point the quarter may have ended and you’ve learned….what, exactly?

Teaching this graduate class, then, forced me to re-evaluate digital and social media. I had to approach it from a different, broader perspective, beyond the legal and legal technology spheres. If I am to prepare them to market using digital and social media, what can I share that goes beyond choosing platforms or networks?

It came down to one thing: storytelling.

Regardless of the network, the goal is to tell a story. That positions digital and social media as a vehicle, not a destination. A social network may close, become less popular or whatever, and new ones pop-up often, but the story you tell remains. The trick is to adjust the story to reach your audience on whatever network, or networks, they inhabit.

I think of one of the first things I learned in my beginning drum set course in college: adjust the drum kit to you, not yourself to the drum kit. It also applies to social and digital media: adjust the story to the network, not the network to the story. For example, if your story is generally text-heavy, extolling the virtues of widgets and explaining how they function in various settings, that is perfect for blogging. If you find your audience is moving to Pinterest, and paying less attention to your blog, then adjust the story to be more image-friendly. Instead of describing how widgets function in various settings, use images or video of widgets in action. Pin them in a series, providing, in a way, a visual illustration of widgets functioning in the wild. The story is the same: widgets functioning in various settings, and it has been adjusted to fit the network.

The end of class, everyone gave a presentation. They had picked a business, evaluated its current social media use and that of competitors, and offered suggestions on how to improve and what to expect within 60-90 days. It was pretty fantastic to see what they did. Some used their own companies, and had implemented some changes throughout class that showed results. That was cool.

The presentations also demonstrated a gigantic hole. There are few companies that are leveraging digital and social media successfully. Most are on networks simply to say they are on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and the rest. In discussions, it also became clear that executives don’t grasp the business uses of social media. Working with lawyers, that didn’t surprise me, but I can identify with the frustration of my students charged with being an #armyofone. Establishing a company on social media is no easy feat, and maintaining it takes more work than most realize. Toss a blog (or two) into the mix and most struggle if not give up.

I gave them the benefit of my experience, if they go the blog route, suggesting they start with low hanging fruit, like this post on social media. I’m still shocked at its popularity, and 173 shares on LinkedIn. No topic is too simple, or exhausted, apparently.

A couple laid out plans for a blog, or the re-vitalization of a current blog as a way to augment social media efforts. There is a wealth of information at some of these places, stories to tell, and they were all excited at the prospect of being able to tell those stories. There was an enthusiasm around digital and social media I hadn’t experienced since my first Social Media Club Chicago meetup, years ago, pre-Vancouver move. It’s infectious.

Next challenge: teaching the same class, but online only.

The Concept of Knowing

"How do you know all this stuff?"

The question always give me pause. The "stuff" depends on the group inquiring. Most recently, it was one of my grad students during class. I was in the middle of showing how the commenting system Livefyre works, and the class gave a collective repetition of the question.

Explaining how I know about Livefyre is easy: I use it. I follow the company, and its developments, checking it open positions now and then to see where they might be headed. That lead to a discussion on competitive research, and how looking at what competitors are hiring for can tell you what they're planning. Are they hiring a new sales team to focus on a particular area of the country, or particular market segment? What does your research tell you about your product or company in relation to that segment? Are they hiring developers of a particular programming language? More marketing staff? Segmented marketing staff? Bigger push into social media?

Company websites offer a wealth of information about themselves, not just the products or services offered. Most look at public documents, press releases, and for public companies, filings. That tells you what they've done. The Careers page, or its equivalent, tells you where they are planning on going.

There was a collective "wow" as they scribbled notes or typed furiously on keyboards. I didn't think much of it at the time, and moved on, but the question of knowing remained unanswered. I pondered on the train ride home that night, pausing to consider that these grad students, by the nature of me standing in the front of the room, consider me an expert.

I will refute I am expert in anything, but it is implicit in the student-teacher relationship. I may not have called any of my teachers experts, but I often thought of them that way.

Yes. I'm stalling.

The concept of knowing.

How do I know all this stuff?

The simple answer: I read.

I've learned that is not a sufficient answer because it prompts a second question: what do I read?

The simple answer: anything I can get my hands on.

The pattern of answering questions with simple answers leads to a circle of repetition, an annoyance. I've tried deflecting, dismissing as there are plenty of people who know more than I do, and that, honestly, anyone can learn this "stuff," but that method is also ineffective. People call up examples and, without intervention, we have ourselves an argument.

The better answer to "How do I know all this stuff?" is Curiosity.

I'm curious, and it gets the better of me. Asking questions generally resulted in blank stares, so I sought answers myself. Libraries. Bookstores. Now, the Internet is included in the mix. I read blogs, books, articles, published research and, occasionally, unpublished research. Most searches start with the Internet and SSRN, but I've always found wandering around bookstores soothing, and it is rare I leave with less than three books. The Internet and Amazon have simply made it easier for me to consume knowledge at an alarming rate. I will finish a book, download and start a new one before I get up to my parents house for a visit.

Satisfying my curiosity, then, is an established process. A process, it turns out, I have done all of my life. It is normal to me, so when that question is posed, it gives me pause. I am forced to think through my normal process.

There's an additional pause as the reaction to my explanation is unknown, but past data suggests it will fall somewhere on the scale of a polite "interesting" to the more brash "fucking weirdo." That scale seems to be a relic of grade school and high school, though, as when I explain my process, I end up fielding more questions or, oddly, they ask for my advice.

Compliments and the Rule of Three

Know the Theory of Threes? Or the Rule of Three? That things tend to happen in threes, whatever they may be. Birth. Death. Weddings, though I will argue weddings happen in sixes, not threes.

Compliments, it turns out, also follow the Rule of Three. It didn’t quite click as I’m still learning how to handle them. The first was in the elevator at the end of the day on a Monday. I had stayed late, having the Memoir in a Year class at StoryStudio and wanting to limit the number of times I went out in the cold. The Division Director happened to be leaving at the same time, along with someone from another Division. They were talking as the elevator doors opened, and I quietly followed behind. The Director turned to me in greeting, which I returned, and then she introduced me to the other person in the elevator with two sentences of praise of the work I’ve done. The elevator seemed to pause, like I needed a moment to let that sink in.

This praising/complimenting thing has happened with enough consistency now that my brain has developed an auto-response of smiling and saying “thank you.” The decision tree has enough branches that when the other party comments on the praise, the result is the same: smiling and saying “thank you.” It’s polite, doesn’t require extraneous words and demonstrates acknowledgement and appreciation of the kind words. There is the returning of a smile and change in discussion or the parting of ways. Unless I’m held captive at a dinner table, or the third party is curious and asks questions on process. I answer these easily, without thinking, I’ve noticed, and have gradually learned to employ the smile and “thank you” response when they respond in amazement at the process behind the work.

I don’t find it amazing. Like writing well and editing better, it is simply something I do. I just happen to do it well, too, but know there are others who also do it well, if not better. I still bristle when people mention my social media prowess as there are others who do it better.

The second instance came in the more familiar form of email.

Though Outlook has made me despise email to a point that not even using Gmail makes me hate it less, there is an inherent distance with email. I can read at my leisure, and choose when, or if, to respond.

Thursday morning, three days after the elevator compliment, starts with an email from my boss to the Division Director with my name as the subject line. Residual code still resides in my brain, resulting in the first reaction being one of panic. The “accidental” firing by email remains a trigger, though now I recognize the auto-response, pause, sift through what has occurred and notice that there is no data to suggest I’ve done something wrong.

In a nutshell, the email pointed out the “robust” content pipeline I’ve built (though I will claim it is still under development), the quality of the content, and that I’ve almost doubled blog traffic (to which I silently curse that it falls short of a true double). I concede on content quality for two reasons: more people have commented on its quality than not, and, for once, my exacting standards are useful instead of a burden.

There was this little nugget though, that got me thinking:

She does all of this very quietly and without handholding, which is a big deal and says a lot.

Very quietly and without handholding.

I draw a blank on a more apt, succinct description of myself.

Which brings me to the third thing: Law Technology Today being nominated to the ABA Journal’s Blawg100 list under the Legal Tech category. An incredible honor. The proliferation of legal blogs is past the line of ridiculous, so to be included on the list is a feat. Granted, this is not the first time a blog I run has made the list, but it is the first time there has been an outpouring of congratulations, internally and externally. Congratulations = compliments. My brain is not yet wired to handle such an onslaught of accolades, but it is learning.

Making the list is one thing. Winning the popularity contest is another. There is ample evidence that I’m not a winner when it comes to popularity contests. The phrase “popularity contest” causes my brain to retreat, and run through its litany of dismissals (see paragraph that starts with “I don’t find it amazing”).

There is a process to combat this, I simply have to find it.

Acting over Expectation Results in a Fluke. Maybe.

StoryStudio has these "In a Year" classes, and I have been selected to be part of its Memoir in a Year class.

Truth be told, I'm still shocked.

It being a memoir class, I chose a piece that started from a different StoryStudio course, 4 Ways to a True Story. The premise of that class was to pick an event, and write about it in 4 different ways, like in minute detail, with a strong sense of place, from the perspective someone else at the even (if not directly involved), that kind of thing. Remembering my public snubbing in four different ways, one of which required inhabiting the mind of a former boss, was challenging and enlightening. Somewhere in the back of my head, it has been repeated that the stark contrast between the horrible treatment at work v. the joy and acceptance outside of work was necessary. The four essays brought some clarity, illuminated subtleties I missed in the moment and introduced some new patterns. I continued to work on them, molding them into a more cohesive piece, 10 pages of which I submitted.

I submitted to complete the act of submitting something to somewhere. Read anything written by a writer about "process" and there is always discussion about submitting work and being able to wallpaper cathedrals with the rejection letters. A debate raged in my head, the piece wasn't ready, not good enough, no one will get it, etc. etc. Argument made with evidence that most judges would throw out or consider inadmissible. There was no logical reason not to submit either, which left fear in the driver's seat. That doesn't work.

Emotions lie, data does not. Except I don't have data points for this, which means I must start collecting. First point: submit. Done.

I will swear it is a fluke. I will react appropriately in public while privately demanding the full story from whomever is in charge. For reasons I don't know, of 20 submissions from which 12 were chosen, I was selected.

A fluke. The result of an act. An act to create a new data set to analyze with in the context of what I have absorbed and understand to be the process.

I can picture people trying to reach through the computer screen to strangle me, pulling out their hair in frustration and firing off an email saying "told you so!" or at least it will be read that way. They were more congratulatory and encouraging.

I don't know what this means. I don't know what will happen. I only have two data points: submission, and selection. Not much to tell from two, so will see what happens in the coming months.

The Self Profile

I’m taking a class, Writing the Other: The Power of the Profile, through the University of Chicago’s Graham School of Continuing Studies. Fiction and nonfiction classes at the Graham School are workshops, or what you’d expect if you were getting an MFA. I’ve taken a couple other classes at the Graham School and they’ve been OK. I’ve viewed it more as a way to expose my work to a different audience, and earlier this week certainly proved the point.

It being only the second week of class, and being first for workshop, is a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing as there is little of writing the profile that has been discussed so far, so I’m not constrained by rules. I get to make it up, and revise once the rules are taught. It’s a curse though, for me, as I don’t have a profile ready to review nor an idea of one. I took an exercise from class, listing 10 knowns and 10 unknowns of a person, and turned it on myself, reasoning that if I cannot ask and answer hard questions myself, I cannot expect to do the same to someone else.

We had a limit of 2-3 pages, double-spaced. This is the result:

Looking at me, you notice I am plain. Ordinary. I keep my hair short, the highlights are recent and I wear a ring, a watch and a necklace. My clothes are unassuming but dark in color. Depending on the light, the clothes will look navy, black or brown. If you are of the discerning kind, you notice I have a widow’s peak, my ring is my high school class ring and the necklace is my birth stone. If you know stones, you know the month I was born. The watch is simple, elegant and draws little attention like the rest of what you see. Your eye may linger over my left wrist, recognizing the object but taking a moment to realize it is a FitBit.

A FitBit is what is called wearable technology. It is composed of four parts: the tracker, the wristband, the wireless sync dongle and a charging cable. The tracker, a small gadget no bigger than your thumb, carries sensors and circuits beneath its exterior. It fits within the wristband, which attaches to your wrist like a watch. As long as the tracker is charged, it monitors a number of data points, including movement, speed, duration, even when you are asleep, restless or awake. The data collected is transmitted through wireless technology to a special application and website where you can view the data points in graphical form, from charts to images to badges for accomplishments. Over time, as data accumulates, you can spot trends. The more data you record, in a notebook for example, on what happened that day, and match it up against the data from FitBit, the more complete picture you receive of your life.

Looking at me, you do not know I collect and sift data points of my life, looking for patterns that reveal poor choices, and thus need to be adjusted, debugged and reprogrammed for improvement. Patterns that lead to success, and thus must be reverse engineered to learn its secrets in order to be accurately replicated.

Looking at me, you do not know I track thought patterns, too. The pathways of commentary that run through my brain, carving logic and reason from emotion. Thought patterns that produce a series of choices, a series of choices that in the moment are neither poor nor accomplished, but none-the-less dictate an outcome. Tracking thought patterns begins to produce sets of patterns, coupled with the scenario at the time and factoring in all but the mundane, these patterns can be destructive, or beneficial.

Looking at me, you do not know you are part of replication, a real experiment that is testing and adjusting data sets in order to understand these patterns, patterns that defy logic, reason and emotion.

The feedback was useful, entertaining and amusing. They all liked the piece. The first paragraph drew everyone in, got them curious so they kept reading. A few commented on the progression of detail, the word choice (“discerning type”) and how they got a vivid picture of the narrator. The second paragraph was a bit technical for some, while others drew comparisons to wider themes, pointing out that a FitBit, to be useful, must be charged. Everyone suggested including examples of “patterns that reveal poor choices,” and even before we work-shopped my piece, people were referring to things as “data points.” The ending they found enjoyably jarring.

It was interesting to hear who assumed it was me, and who tried to adhere to workshop protocol and think of it as “The Narrator.” There were some unexpected, deep comments about the narrator, and how the voice of the piece is cold. Robotic. Mechanical. Someone suggested that was deliberate because it is satire.

Truth be told, I have no idea. The morning it was due, I had 20 minutes to write something before my day started. I wrote it, sent it and went on with my day, and the week.

During workshop, it dawned on me that I conveyed more than ran through my head. One comment in particular stated that the narrator has a strong core of emotions that she/he is trying to figure out, and measuring is a way to deal. Collecting and measuring “makes them step back, and be able to parse their life.” That brings back the comment of the narrator’s voice being cold, robotic, mechanical.

I find that fascinating. There is a switch in my brain that flips when I write first drafts, it seems, because they all come out cold, robotic and mechanical, yet rich with detail. That detail gets refined through subsequent drafts, emotion is introduced at some point which adds another layer to the piece, an additional layer of richness sometimes. The end result, so far, has turned into decent pieces. Decent pieces by my standards, but to others it is good enough to be one of 12, selected from 20, for a Memoir in a Year class.

One other thing the U of C workshop demonstrated, or perhaps illuminated again as it was revealed in the 4 Ways StoryStudio class: I get technical. At StoryStudio, it was the use and references to If This Then That (IFTTT), a really cool automation tool by the way, that also served as a metaphor for the thought processes and actions of a particular character. My first drafts of big data articles often came back with similar feedback, but once I broke it down and added examples, like Pop-Tarts, it clicked with people. A subsequent draft fleshed out IFTTT, and made the connection between it and recipes tighter, and thus more compelling. In first drafts I seem to operate on an assumption level, or think the particular details of a piece of technology are irrelevant. The self-profile being a first draft, I see now, is a twist on that pattern. There is now too much detail on the FitBit, giving it a larger role from the beginning, and while they get the concept and its thematic relationship, the description is too technical. I’d wager too wordy as well.

Something to keep in mind during these classes.

WRITE CLUB, “Literature as Blood Sport,” at The Hideout

Tucked away around the industrial section of Elston Street and the north branch of the Chicago River, across the street from the complex that houses Chicago’s Department of Fleet Management, is The Hideout. Given its location it is not a stretch of the imagination to think of it as a place up to no good. It’s About Page bills The Hideout as “the last hold-out of the rebel club,” and given its storied list of performers, musical, literary and otherwise, it fits. Keep in mind the place has been around since 1934, so you can guess at the old (Oscar Wilde) as well as the more recent (Jack White, Phantom Planet).

Entering The Hideout is like entering many local bars in Chicago: dark, noisy with music and the shouted chatter of conversation. I’ve come to expect this of everywhere I go in Chicago, a constant reminder of its 2.7 million people v. the 578,000 of Vancouver, BC. Unlike most others, though, the bar at The Hideout is merely a teaser. Behind drapes you don’t notice until someone walks out, lies the performance.

Chairs are set up in rows, high tables along the sides beneath various large fish, and a stage at the front, elevated to such an extent I expect anyone getting up there must half-bow. Tonight, with some fellow StoryStudio classmates, I’ve come to see WRITE CLUB.

Literature as Bloodsport, as it bills itself. Three bouts, each seven minutes long, pits two writers against each other with opposing themes. Last night’s theme’s were:

  • Metric v. Imperial
  • Teach v. Learn
  • Art v. Science

What people can pack into seven minutes amazes me. What people pack into seven minutes and still hold the attention of the audience astounds me. Keep in mind these are not professional performers but, for lack of a better term, regular people. Regular people with regular jobs making impassioned pleas in favor of one topic or the other. The creativity in the performances as palpable, the organization of each as varied as the performers themselves yet the audience remained engaged, alert and rapt. Wyl Villacres, for example, who argued in favor of teaching, and teaching how to win a Write Club bout, structured his piece in such a way that the audience was laughing in hysterics, sitting in rapt, contemplative silence as the piece turned more serious only to close with a turn of phrase complete with “drop the mic” hilarity.

Someone reading this will think “Hey, that sounds like The Moth.” You are correct in the sense that The Moth, like WRITE CLUB, is live lit. That is all that they have in common.

While The Moth can be heard in person, or on the radio without much distinction, WRITE CLUB must be experienced. Part of what makes the experience is the interplay between the two WRITE CLUB founders: Ian Belknap and Lindsay Muscato. Even me, the non-reactionary rule breaker who doesn’t partake in audience participation, had difficulty not participating. The energy between the two threads itself through the audience, binding them in preparation for the night’s performances.

The performances were fantastic, and hilarious. People consider me witty and sarcastic, and as the number of people who refer to me that way is greater than the number of people who don’t, I’ve started to think of myself also as witty and sarcastic. The performances last night at Write Club demonstrate that my wit and sarcasm pales in comparison, so now I have an aspiration.

WRITE CLUB is a monthly affair, held every third Tuesday at The Hideout. $10 at the door and portion of the proceeds go to charity. The charity is chosen by the audience, who chooses a winner from each bout.

Yes, you read that correctly. The audience chooses, and a portion of the proceeds go to charities. There is a subtly in how that all works, so show up Tuesday, October 21, 2014.

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