Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The 3 faces of me

Gina Trapani, a fellow tech writer/blogger (and so much more), created a venn diagram much like the one below and suggested others try and do the same. With my annual review coming up soon, this seemed like a perfect way to capture what it is that I do, what excites me, and what shapes the visions I have for the future.

On a side note, I started following Gina back in August last year - was completely hooked after listening to her interview on The Great Work Blog.

(Image a little fuzzy below, so here's a link to image in Google docs.)

Friday, June 10, 2011

I need another spray-painting-a-tarp-moment

Many years ago I had an opportunity to be a summer camp counselor at the best camp in the Bay Area (I am biased) - Camp Kee Tov in Berkeley. In my second year, I convinced the director, Steve Chabon (a legend), to let me bring back the science and nature specialty in Mapilim.

Mapilim is for fifth and sixth graders, and the program highlights are to teach kids a specialty. Most kids coming into Mapilim already know the specialty they want - dance, drama, sports, or arts and crafts. There was an attempt in the past to include a science and nature specialty, but it didn't seem to have enough umph to get kids excited.

I made my case with Steve - science and nature wasn't going to be about taking walks in the woods, building baking soda volcanoes, and hugging trees - it was going to be science versus nature. I had devised an entire role-fantasy game with a science fiction story that starts many years after a nuclear meltdown. Scientists who had gone into hiding resurface generations later once the air quality is safe to find that the planet has changed quite a bit - a lot more water and a lot scarcer land and resources.

The scientists also resurface to discovery that civilization didn't completely die out. There are small colonies of people who live off the land, relying on nature (rather than demolished technology) to survive.The basic premise of the game is that the scientists need resources, the nature people are under the thumb of the scientists who have way more advanced weapons, technology, etc. Each child had to pick which side they would be on, and define their character over a course of four weeks.

Steve, a sucker for story-telling, let me go for it. And realizing that it wasn't going to be easy to convince kids to think about something different, I spent a great deal of time preparing for the 'sell'. The sell is a day on which all the kids have to try all the specialties and pick the one they want. I spent at least a good week preparing my notes for the story, and coming up with illustrated, detailed examples of characters, including my own - the wizard, on the side of nature.

The last item to prepare for the 'sell' was the game board - a large piece of plastic tarp that could fit at least six kids on either side, on which I drew the planet earth and spray painted the land according to the story - lots more water than green. Because of my mad work schedule (I had three jobs), I couldn't start the spray painting until 9 at night.

I had the idea well thought out, the earth stencil prepared ahead of time, so I figured it would take me two hours at the most to spray paint the tarp. Two hours later, a perfect representation of earth before me, I was ready for a cold beer. Just as I was securing the sides so that the tarp could dry, a gust of Berkeley wind blew the tarp across the ground, the earth destroyed, and paint everywhere.

Though I felt the weight of tired on my shoulders, tears welling up in my eyes, something so strong inside myself believed in what I was trying to do and was excited about the possibility of seeing this vision come to life.

I washed over the tarp with a strong hose, cleaned up the paint from all around, and hand-dried the tarp. I started over, redrawing the earth, re-spraying paint, and being a lot more clever about weighting the tarp. 3 AM, I finished the project, exhausted, but feeling good about myself for not giving up.

On the day of the sell, almost every single kid put down nature and science as their first-choice specialty. I had a wait-list. For the entire summer, I put everything I had into making this story come to life, into keeping the children's imaginations alive. It was amazing, exhausting, but amazing.

The following year, I returned as the wizard, and the game, now a legend, continued, wait-listed a second year in a row, but in a much more sensible way. And though I still had to put a lot of time and effort into keeping the game going, I had experience, I knew what I was doing - I could have even more fun with it, having worked out the kinks with some of the more tedious aspects of the specialty.

This week I have been thinking about that game in a metaphoric sense and how much I need another spray-painting-a-tarp moment. I need to feel excited about something that challenges me, something that I know if I put the work in, and persevere through the gusty-wind surprises, willing to start over if needs be, and getting smarter the second time around, I will feel this sense of satisfaction that comes with seeing a vision through to reality.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

On becoming a mom (and for Fiona)

Last night Amelia settled herself to sleep in her big girl bed for the first time. It took a couple of 'super-nanny' carries back to the bed, but her brave self cuddled up with her blankets and dog while I sat very quietly in the corner to help her feel safe.

Until four in the morning, our new neighbors were moving in, walking up and down the side of our house moving all sorts of crazy stuff-- neither Padhraic nor myself slept very much. Amelia was woken up a couple of times and in true big-girl fashion, she snuggled herself back to sleep until 6 AM, when she walked out of the door herself into our room for a snuggle.

We all fell back to sleep for an hour and woke up to a ringing phone - Somhairle in Brisbane. The baby was born - Elise. It was a tough labor, 17 hours, with 7 hours of full-on pitosine (any mom who has had it for any period of time knows how much this hurts). And for the record, 7 hours is a lot longer than I could stand the pain.

Fiona pushed her heart out, refusing to give in to the pain, but the docs finally told her it was a no-go and Miss Elise entered the world via a section. I know Fiona and she is processing this one - wanting so much to be up, to be going, to be participating in the space of motherhood, thinking that her immobility is slowing her down.

And this is very much what motherhood is about - we are constantly working so hard to be the best that we can for our children, and even as we push ourselves more than we ever have, trying to find that perfect balance, we feel tired, down on ourselves most often for things that we cannot control, like what happens in childbirth, like what happens when we try and breastfeed, like what happens when we try and get our body shape back, like what happens when we try and enforce boundaries, but we don't want to be too harsh, because we want to build confidence, and be a loving, kind mom. This is a never-ending list.

Fiona, you may never get a chance to read this one because of the craziness to come over the next month, so I will be sure to tell you in person in a couple of months time. It gets easier. We get more confident. Sometimes we shine and can feel how we have done something right, how are children are growing, and moving, and smiling, and laughing, and talking, and starting to take the world in for themselves, that bit stronger because we are there, always trying our best, and questioning if we could do it better, even in those moments of subtle perfection.

Love you, mama.