Special day

30 September 2008 | 5 Comments

Today is Nicola’s birthday. It’s a special day for me because she was born; and somehow across thousand of miles and more than two dozen years, we made the millions of choices that brought our paths together.

We like to celebrate — almost any reason can be a good one. But today is the best reason I can think of (blows a kiss to Nicola through the internet). It’s not hard to get the party started: She’s talented and smart and loving and kind. She’s brave. She’s in love with the world even when the people in it piss her off. She can still surprise me, confuse the hell out of me, make me laugh, make me feel challenged, make me feel safe.

And she makes me want to give her the moon. Which means I always have to reach for it. I’ll get it for you one of these days, honey: but today I have something else you’ve been wanting, although they won’t be turning up at dinner (one of these days for that, too…)

Happy birthday, Nicola!

And I’m wishing all of you a lovely day. I hope you find something to celebrate, however large or small. Even in these confusing times, there’s a lot worth being glad for.


29 September 2008 | 2 Comments

An odd day. Such scary financial news, very worrying on a global level and right here at home. I’m pretty much one piece of bad news away from unpleasant choices in my future, but that news hasn’t come in yet, and it may yet turn out well, and then it will okay. But there is nothing I can do to affect the course of events. All I can do is wait… I feel not so much stressed right now as stretched, suspended between possibilities that are just a little too far apart for comfort.

And in the meantime, it’s an achingly beautiful day here, made all the more so by being unexpected. Clear and blue and 75 degrees, green leaves and red berries and three exuberant roses (red, white and a lavender one that feels and smells so soft), the birds throwing themselves around the sky with exuberant whistling songs… And tomorrow is a Special Day so I am thinking of a Special Post, and making Special Preparations.

I don’t know what will happen. I just don’t know. I guess we’ll see. I suppose one reason I was compelled to write yesterday about returning to balance is that I am getting a lot of practice right now. I hope that your balancing act is going well, whatever it may be.

Finding the balance

28 September 2008 | Comments Off


i read your book (solitaire, not dangerous space. apparently my city’s library does not possess copies of dangerous space?) a few months ago. and i thought it was amazing. i’m just letting you know that. i really did like it. now i am so scared of crocodiles, like terribly concerned about the prospect of their existence, in my mind and in the world. this is sad, because i have crocodiles painted on my bedroom walls. but i also thought it was one of the best ways to describe the voices in your mind that are always there ready to poison things. i could never figure out what was happening before.

i also really liked the concepts used. the descriptions were really vivid. you know this, i’m sure. it is, after all, your book. i thought it was really nice, by the way, that you had the relationship between snow and jackal without editorializing about the difficulties of samesex relationships, and focusing the relationship on the people, not how difficult coming out may be, or how prejudiced the surrounding culture was. i’m sure that there are probably many books like this in that respect (i hope) but solitaire was the first one i have read.

i’m fifteen. i guess that explains a lot? or maybe nothing at all.

i think i might be using run-on sentences. i’m sorry if this message is not quite clear. i write the way i talk and so….yes.

what i was actually wondering was what kind of degree and career training you would have to go through to become a facilitator or project manager? what things would be a good idea to major in?

okay, thank you even simply for reading this. i really did enjoy your book.

have a good day,


Hi Kelsey,

I’m glad you liked Solitaire. Thanks for taking the time to find me and let me know.

You’ve caught me in a thinking/talking space, so this is a really long response. Hope that’s okay. Sometimes too long can be just as frustrating as too short.

I’m sorry your library doesn’t carry Dangerous Space, although I can understand it — the book is from an independent press, and sometimes either those books don’t come so easily to the attention of libraries, or the libraries choose to spend their budget on books from trade (major) publishers.

My library system has an online order form where I can request that they either buy a specific book, or get it for me on interlibrary loan from another system. Maybe yours will have that service available. If so, the publisher is Aqueduct Press and the publication date is June 2007.

Ah, the crocodiles. Here’s another conversation I had about them, if you’re interested. I’ve never met anyone who didn’t have that voice inside, which I believe is the voice of fear. Not fear of spiders or fear that the cop behind me is about to pull me over for speeding, but the Big Fears that we all carry… I think of them as fears about our own identity. The big insecurities we have about ourselves, the fears that we will be “not good enough” on some level. Some people are terrified of intimacy. Some people are terrified of showing how smart they are. Some people are terrified that they aren’t smart enough. And so on… everyone’s crocodiles are different, because they belong to us, you know? They are tailor-made for us.

But here’s the thing. Crocodiles are part of being human. We all carry them with us. Don’t be fooled by the people who seem like they’ve never had an insecure thought in their lives — they are either covering like mad (because they are afraid if people find out their insecurities, they will use them as weapons), or they are not yet self-aware enough to know that the crocodiles are there. That’s not about age, it’s about maturity. You know it at fifteen, but some people don’t know it at eighty-five. Not being aware doesn’t mean that we don’t have fears — it just means that we will never be able to see how they affect us, and we won’t be able to do as much to help ourselves.

Quieting those crocodile voices is a life-long process. Sometimes you shut them up for a while, and sometimes they come back and bite hard. I don’t think they ever go away completely.

There’s an idea I came across when I was learning about conflict resolution (as part of facilitation stuff, more about that later). The idea is that conflict makes us feel off-balance inside, and people avoid having conflict because we don’t like that feeling — which only means that we repress our disagreement or anger and it builds up and gets worse.

Peole are always looking for ways to not have these feelings. We think that if we feel knocked off-balance by someone’s anger or disagreement, it means we are weak. But that’s not how it works. The real trick is not to keep our balance — it’s to keep finding our balance again and again and again. All through life. Whether we are arguing about who’s turn it is to do the dishes, or listening to the crocodile tell us we will never be good enough writers to sell a book. It’s all about finding our way back to our own center, in small everyday ways and in big life-changing ones.

I have actually been thinking about this a lot lately. There are things happening for me right now that make me feel off-balance, and I’m coming back to center over and over. It’s a skill. It gets easier with practice, and I’m good at it. But even so, I still have to go through it. Being good at it only means that the curve is shorter.

I’m glad Jackal and Snow’s relationship in Solitaire works for you. I think it’s good and important that there are books about coming out, about dealing with cultural disapproval, yadda yadda, but I get tired of reading them. Revealing oneself to others is not the only part of being bisexual or gay or trans or polyamorous or BDSM or queer in any other way. There are all the other human experiences — falling in love, being loved back, not being loved back, discovering sex and finding people to have it with, negotiating relationships through our differences, making a long-term commitment, losing a lover…. All of it. We all have those experiences, regardless of our sexual or gender identity or class or race or religion. We’re all human beings.

There are definitely other books out there that show people just being human without the cultural hetero-normative baggage. You can try books by Nicola Griffith (here’s her website and her blog). I am biased because she’s my partner, but honestly, there is no better writer. She’s an awesome storyteller.

You can also look for Mary Renault’s books about Alexander the Great (seriously, really good stuff): Fire From Heaven, The Persian Boy, Funeral Games. Or anything by Renault. Melissa Scott writes queer science fiction (try Trouble and Her Friends). Emma Bull’s Bone Dance is a great book about identity in all kinds of ways (here are more of my thoughts about it). Tripping to Somewhere by Kristopher Reisz is about teenage lesbian/bisexual girls searching for the Witches’ Carnival — there’s a lot of angst about love, but not a lot about sexual expression.

Hmm. That’s just off the top of my head, on only one cup of tea. More caffeine would probably bring more titles to mind.

Okay, I went and made another cup of tea, and thought of some more. Elizabeth Lynn’s Watchtower series (start with Watchtower). Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint, and The Privilege of the Sword. Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness.

On to facilitation and project management. I learned these things over a period of time in my 20’s and 30’s, mostly by teaching myself, watching other people, and reading. I did go to a couple of workshops — these sorts of things can be pretty interesting or really lame, and it’s hard to know which ahead of time.

In terms of majors, there are no “facilitation” majors that I’m aware of. Here are the things I think might have some relevance: psychology, organizational development (this is often a grad-level course of stufy, but not always), communication. I majored in theatre, which I’ve actually found quite useful in facilitating (grin). There are generally electives you can take in project management (you’ll sometimes find them in the engineering school or in the business school). You can major in business if it interests you, although honestly I don’t imagine you’ll get much in the way of communication, effective management, facilitation, etc. there. That’s one of the big problems with business education, in my opinion.

Facilitators have to understand about how communication works. Any books, online articles, workshops or electives that deal with topics like active listening, interpersonal communication or interpersonal dynamics, conflict management, negotiation, ladder of assumption, etc. might be interesting. Although personally I would stay away from pop-culture books like “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.” Anything gender-based, anything that claims that men and women are separate creatures, is not useful right now. Focus on the things that are common to all of us as humans.

The best book I know about communication is Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen. This would be a great place to start. Your library should have this or be able to get interlibrary loan for you.

Wikepedia on facilitation and what facilitators do. Just a place to start getting an overview. There are links to books that you could request from the library if you were interested.

But many of those books will be pretty in-depth, so I also recommend you look for some basic books on facilitation skills. I actually suggest starting with your library for this — there are so many books out there on the subject, and no one book is necessarily better as an introduction. They’ll all give you a good overview. Same with project management. It may take a few tries to find something that gives you the big picture as well as some of the basic details.

Project management is a very dry thing to read about and study, but it can be a lot of fun to do. You need to truly enjoy managing details, organizing information, solving problems, and working with other people to find those solutions (that’s a big part of where the facilitation comes in, as well as in keeping the entire project moving forward). Facilitators and PMs don’t do the actual work of the project themselves — that’s what the experts in the group are for. The facilitator/PM is the person who organizes the process, keeps everyone headed toward the goals and deadlines, and has the big picture of the overall activity. So it’s like having a dual focus — on the one hand, you are the Big Picture person that everyone trusts to manage the overall process, and on the other hand you are constantly down in the weeds with all the minute details. That “balance” thing again… And having facilitation skills — communicating clearly, knowing how to have effective conflict (so it doesn’t get personal), making sure you get all the input you need, having good systems for making decisions, etc. — really helps when you are trying to keep everyone marching forward to a plan, because when a person or the project itself loses balance, you can help describe what’s happening and help people find the way to get back to center.

The best thing to do is to find a real live human being to sit down with and talk to about their work. You’ll find all different approaches to project management (some of it all based on schedules and checklists, some of it much more focused on “people management”) and different styles of facilitation (some of it focused on business meetings and activities, some on more personal coaching and interventions, etc.) If your parents have friends or business contacts that might do this work, that’s a place to start. Or if there are any teachers you think have good communication/classroom management skills, ask them for ideas about people to talk to.

Is any of this helpful? If not, or if you still want to talk about it, just say so. I will be happy to focus on whatever you think would be useful.

As for being fifteen, I think age has both everything and nothing to do with anything, if that even makes sense. We are where we are in life. We know what we know. We have the experiences that we have. That’s partly due to how long we’ve been on the planet, but also due to what we do with the experience we have so far. How we use our experiences and thoughts and feelings, our hopes and fears, our sense of joy, whether we are open or closed to the world and other people, all of that stuff. It all goes into making our “self.”

You’re in a stretch of time right now where your brain is madly hard-wiring all kinds of connections. You’re building yourself in very real ways. That self will keep changing and growing, but the actual biochemical and physical changes are pretty massive in one’s teen years and into the 20’s… I always felt like I was standing in the eye of a hurricane, and then bam! I would tumble out of my safe place and get swept up in the storm, and then have to find my balance again (see, it’s all connected…). I still get swept away sometimes (grin) but for different reasons now. And now, it’s more of a choice.

I hope you have a good day too. Write back anytime.

You can start your own conversation now or anytime — just use the “Want to talk?” link on the sidebar or email me.

But fireflies are good too

28 September 2008 | 8 Comments

I’ve had this a long time. I cut it out of the paper when it was first published about a hundred years ago, and have been carrying it around with me ever since.

When I laugh at this, I am laughing with affection at myself and my tendency to… well, to get millennial. But it doesn’t always have to be about the hurtling 537-million-year-old starlight, you know? Fireflies are good too.

Have a lovely Sunday.

Bloom County "Millennia Man"

Bloom County "Millennia Man"

click to see full size


27 September 2008 | 4 Comments

I like mashups. That’s one reason why I respond so strongly to Karina’s story vids for “Touching Fire” and “Strings” — I love love love all the ways there are to respond to art by recombining it. And the first exposure I ever had to this idea, apart from collage, was when I discovered the mashup scene.

I have about a million things to do, so I won’t go on about how cool mashup can be when it’s done well, or how interesting it is to hear what people choose to put together. It’s a talent to hear a thing and know that it will work with something else this way.

Anyway, these are some that I like. I hope you’ll like them too.

“Boulevard of Broken Songs” (Green Day/Oasis/Travis/Eminem/Aerosmith). Mashup by Dean Gray (there’s a naughty word in the intro that makes this NSFW).

“Papa Was A Clock” (Temptations/Coldplay). Mashup by Mark Vidler.

“Callin’ on Sunday” (Lyrics Born/U2). Mashup by Party Ben.

“Put on the Superfreak” (The Police/Rick James). Mashup by Leebuzz (and I’m not sending you to his site because I just got trapped there by a really annoying ad, and I like you too much to do that to you!).

Want more? Get your groove on at Mashuptown.


Friday pint

26 September 2008 | Comments Off

Every Friday I transfer posts here from the Virtual Pint archives.

It’s shaping up to be a typical autumn Friday in Seattle — a little rain, a little sun, a few clouds, some gray sky. Here, then, a sampling of posts about a little bit of everything.

Enjoy your weekend, whatever the weather.

The wordlessness

25 September 2008 | 4 Comments

Nothing I have to say today is more important or exciting than this:

Art is the need to reach out and touch the wordlessness and then to share it. – Nicola Griffith, talking about something wonderful

An artist goes the wordlessness within her and brings back whatever she finds, in whatever form is hers. Words, music, movie, paint, sculpture, dance… We translate the wordlessness as best we can and give it away.

But what happens when someone takes that art and dives with it into their own wordless place? What happens when people respond to art by making art of their own, and then give it back?

Something wonderful
. A great mad gift. Thank you, Karina.

Hug someone

24 September 2008 | 5 Comments

Another in the occasional Being Human series of posts.

I’m very late to the party on this one. It’s been going on for years. The video has been seen 30 million times on YouTube. The guy who started this (and if his real name is Juan Mann, I will eat my computer) has been on Oprah and had lots of attention. Some will think this devalues the underlying notion. But I don’t think so.

I believe in the power of these moments. We call them “random kindness” because we’re still a little afraid sometimes to say “love” in the same sentence with “stranger.” We don’t have all the words we need for all the different kinds of love there are. But this is the love that simply acknowledges and celebrates that we are human and that we are all in this together. I’ve been thinking about that this week. And this seems to fit right in (thank you, Jennifer, for turning me on to it).

Read the story of how free hugs got started over at MySpace, and find out more history here.

I hope you hug someone today, and I hope they hug you back. It doesn’t have to be a stranger. It will feel just as good if it’s someone you know.

Dolly Parton

23 September 2008 | 5 Comments

I am not a country music fan in particular, although I’ve always like a few crossover songs/artists like Bonnie Raitt and “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” from the Charlie Daniels Band (although I prefer the devil’s music, quelle surprise).

And I’ve got a fondness for Dolly Parton: not so much for the music as the woman herself, who strikes me as both accessible and very classy.

For me, classy isn’t about “sophistication,” it’s about grace. The grace to be comfortable and help others be comfortable in whatever circumstances one finds oneself. Help is a key word — people with class step up and do something when something must be done. And they make other people feel not just “better” (as in, well, okay, I don’t feel embarrassed anymore), but actively good. Classy people never laugh at you — they laugh with you, or at themselves, or at the wackiness of the world. They reframe their little corner of the world so that we all fit into it.

Here’s Dolly being classy.

And now I must go be busy. Enjoy your day.

Busy with a smile

22 September 2008 | 2 Comments

This is a sketch by Pascal Campion. I think it’s great, and more to the point, right now I think it’s me — running running running with a smile.

Sketch by Pascal Campion
Sketch by Pascal Campion

In the last week, I suddenly find myself in a busy place. Getting things done. Having fun. But right now I need to be three of me. I need more brains, more arms, more time and less need for sleep. I am so behind on responding to comments here that I am sure many of you think I am just a figment of your imagination. I hope you will bear with me — I do want to talk to you, I do, I do. And if we’re talking about talking, I owe so many people email that I’m worried there aren’t enough pixels in the universe. If you are one of those people, I grovel through the internet and beg your continued patience.

This is what happens when I become very focused (as I am right now on putting the final touches on my business website). Focus is a sly little word: it sounds so serene, when really it just means that I fall down a rabbit hole, blink at the end of the day when Nicola forcibly removes me from my keyboard, and realize that while I was away my To Do List mysteriously got longer. How fucking serene is that?

Ah well. I’m working my way through the list, and I will catch up on the comments and the email and All Will Be Well. But right now, I think I’ll just go have a beer. And smile.

(Thanks, Pascal, for permission to use your sketch here. Hey everyone, go check out Pascal’s site.)

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