Re-Presentation

I used this title for a unit I once designed on hybrid learning. We (as instructors/artists/writers) gather information, and knowledge, and patterns, and meta information about how we validate the information, and knowledge, and patterns. Then we turn it back out into the world, re-presenting (representing. Or if you’re all post-structural, (re)presenting.) “This is the world as I see it.”

In academia I learned to work with portrayals that look a lot like this:

Picasso's painting, Guernica

Guernica – Pablo Picasso 1937

They are complex, and messy. We’re expected to hold contradictions in tension, maintaining both/and while we consider further.

Now I am (technically) in business school, that has come with learning different ways to (re)present the world.

When I go out to pitch a project to a new audience, I have to make choices. The world I see has a lot of spiky bits. And blobby bits. And blurry bits. Bits with “Here There be Dragons” written over them in heavy black marker. But a “pitch” has to be clear, precise, simple… to communicate not “this is the world as I see it, and there’s some extremely fuzzy bits over here, and these spiky parts we probably want to avoid, unless you’ve got a better idea” but in some sense declare, “This is the world as it is.”

As you might suspect, this leaves me uncomfortable.

The more I’ve thought about it, though, and the more I’ve worked on actually doing, the more I have come to appreciate the difference in what we are doing. It is more like presenting a line drawing, a thing distilled to its essence.

Picasso's painting Don Quixote

Don Quixote – Pablo Picasso, 1955

 

(I note in my musings that this is late work by the artist. I leave that for consideration by the reader.)

And so, I refer to the recipe (15 seconds on this, 25 seconds on this, leave this out completely, always finish with this), count the words (130 words per minute), practice and trim, practice and trim, and then rehearse it so that I don’t sound like I’m reading. I have 17  practice recordings of my last three-minute presentation.

This, from a woman who used to teach a three hour class from a single page of notes.

 

Begin Again

Yesterday I went skiing. The last time I went skiing I was in my early 20’s, and everything was different. My life, what I was going to be doing, who I was, my body. It was all different.

Yesterday, I strapped on the skis, and presented myself at the foot of the bunny hill. Rode the simple magic carpet to the top with my 11 year old daughter who had promised to help me before she went off to the chair lift and the real hill. Tested out this snow plow thing, went down the hill in a state of alarm, and made it to the bottom in one piece. Phew.

I decided that I would stay on the bunny hill until my experience was one where the thrill-to-terror ratio was low “enough”. That is to say, that I thought I might be able to get down the bigger hill without killing myself. When you are a beginner(ish), a parallel ski down the bunny hill can feel like quite the accomplishment. Even if you just watched your child tuck and do a straight bomb down with no turns.

As I came down the bunny hill 6 or 7 times, getting marginally more proficient on each run, I considered that, like the river, you never come down the same slope twice. “Oh,” I found, “This is starting to feel familiar.” But it was never, of course, the same. Each run, even if you are skiing beside the toddlers, is something new. (They have a much smaller distance to fall, I feel compelled to point out.)

Beginning Again

I haven’t been writing much. I haven’t been doing much yoga. I haven’t been meditating often. My plants look somewhat neglected.

I have, however, been doing other things for which I am beginner(ish). For the last 15 years, I hadn’t been coding, or learning new programming languages, or taking courses that had exams. Grappling with startup culture while holding onto the value I bring as a “woman of a certain age” has been its own challenge. This fall, I spent time feeling my way back into those things while trying to stay connected to my house and home. Yesterday I went to the planning meeting for the next term at UIT (best meeting ever, guys.) I have never been so excited to get back to school, and I’ve always been a keen student. So all in all, I give myself a passing grade on that particular challenge.

Term 1: Balance. OK. Not great, but OK.

On New Year’s Day I also laid out my yoga mat, tidied my meditation space, and pulled out my morning pages journal. Begin, they say, as you mean to go on.

So I took pen in hand, and laid words on a page. “Oh. This feels familiar.” And I placed my hands and feet on the mat, bent and stretched, apologized to the points in my body I have lost touch with. It felt familiar, but oh, so new. This hand has never been exactly in this place. This arm, see how it rotates. Feel the joint as if you have never felt it before. Because you haven’t.

Each day brings something new… a new storm, a new fire in the woodstove, a new blank page. A new challenge, a new day, a new moment.

What a blessing to be able to begin again.

Code is Easy. Money is Hard.

Another autumn, another new blog. This time it was a requirement for a school program.

So far, it has been focused on the problems of learning a new programming environment, language, blogging platform, and how all the pieces fit together from a technical perspective. But that is not the point of the program, and I would be sadly mistaken to think that because things are going well on that front, I’ve got it licked.

This is a startup immersion intensive. The goal is not for us to be competent developers, it is for us to become tech startup founders. This is an entirely different problem, and it hits my terror points pretty hard.

A long time ago, I alluded to a post I wasn’t writing. Then I didn’t write it. Then I didn’t write anything for a long, long time. And what I wasn’t writing about was…

can I whisper this? (… money)

We haven’t gotten to the business part yet, except in an “Intro to Canadian Business” course at the university, but I can see it on the horizon. I’ve already identified it as my most likely point of failure, on account of… it’s been a consistent point of failure in my previous attempts to start any kind of business, no matter how small. Money, to put it bluntly, freaks me out.

I’ve done end runs around this. I’ve set up my financial systems so that the bills get paid automatically, so that I only have to touch them occasionally. But every time that something needs to be adjusted, or something as simple as a cheque needs to be be cashed, I delay and avoid. This applies as much (or maybe more) to money I have as to money I owe. I’m pretty good at making sure that everything is paid. But I suck at things like monitoring investments, or even reading the reports. I’m sort of… um… embarrassed to need it. Certainly embarrassed to want any more than the bare necessities. It’s a stand-in for resources and access to resources, and in a world in which the distribution of resources is so blatantly unequal, I’m embarrassed about taking more than my fair share.

This is my starting point… and it’s more than mere embarrassment. I have deep shame around this issue. It’s not personal shame; it’s the shame of a class. When I have so much, how can I ask for more? And this is where I have found myself for years. Isn’t this (whatever it is) good enough?

So let us assume that I’ve considered that perspective. Given it a good thrashing about, shall we say? Gone at it from a million directions, found that with the perspective of myself as an individual, it’s got a good point. Certainly what I have now is good enough. My roof has been replaced, and the windows don’t leak. Barring unforeseen disaster, we shall be able to keep the cars on the road, everybody fed, and the house heated through the winter. The income is higher than the outgo. And I can even go visit my friends from time to time.

Life is good.

But my perspective may be wrong.

Warning: Rocks Ahead

Now, bear with me, because for this next section we must tread perilously close to trickle-down economics and the divine right of rulers, and I don’t want us to trip and fall upon those particular rocks. But let me propose (and I’ve been thinking about this a while) that it’s not about me.

This summer, one of my friends said to me, “We need people like you to have money and power.” It was part of a larger conversation, but the gist of it was that when those of us who are educated, skilled and dedicated to The Good Work (in whatever guise) don’t learn how to gather sufficient resources, The Work goes undone. Or it is done in snatched “spare” minutes. Or it is done with construction and tissue paper and then stacked up against billion dollar marketing budgets. It may be done joyfully, exuberantly and with a sense of beauty and community. But it is also done on the backs of unpaid interns, overworked staff members, and overextended volunteers. And in the face of the enormity of the resources arrayed in support of the status quo, our work for change frequently looks and feels absurd.

I’ve been hearing this, and ideas like it, for years. But this time it was said in sacred space, in an open truth-speaking community, and I heard it: This is not about you. It is not about your ego. It is not about you claiming resources. It is about using what you know to gather the resources to get this work done. It is about joining a community of people who want permaculture and social justice and environmental responsibility to be the foundation upon which their society is built, not fringe extras.

And right now, with so much of the planet in private hands, that means money. It means getting past your (my) squeamishness. It means taking responsibility for a larger piece of the world, possibly for a piece of the world larger than you can currently envision. This is my current challenge, much larger than deploying a chat server.

So, I’ve also been taking courses on getting good with money, on a deeper level than “being able to move it around and keep your household afloat”. A couple of years ago, I took Heart of Money from Mark Silver. This got me a fair distance along, but I needed to take several passes at it. Prior to that I took Tara Sophia Mohr’s Playing Big program, which was where I first realized that I could not become successful at anything else as long at the money thing was holding me back. I’m currently taking an (even more challenging) program that links money, sexuality, and power, but we’ll leave those thorny questions for another day.

The most concrete exercise I’ve done recently was part of the first session of Alexis Neely’s Money Map to Freedom course. (Accelerated version!) What I’m liking here is that she points out that what you think you need and what you actually need might be far apart – and that you should be aiming for the life you (really, really, really REALLY) want, not the one you think you’re supposed to want. In my case, I’m pretty happy with the size and style of my house. I don’t want a fancier car or a big sailboat. I want more time for gardening in the summer, more time for work in the winter, regular trips to visit friends and family and one cool vacation per year. I don’t really need to be a millionaire for any of that. In fact, I’ve pretty much got that. This was validating.

But her question isn’t “What do you need to live on?” It is “What resources do you need to be of service?”

That is more daunting. It demands a certain amount of… arrogance? Self-confidence, at the least. “My work (over here) is too valuable for me to be spending my time on administrative tasks. I need (eventually) to earn enough to be able to hire an assistant.” I can hire a housekeeper. (They will almost certainly do a better job than me.) I can’t hire somebody to be my startup founder. That’s my job.

I ran a very first pass at “what does a budget look like with employees”, and the number at the bottom was staggering. Outsourcing design, hiring some dev, a single full-time (not very well paid) employee, office space, phone, internet, real marketing, conference travel, appropriate current technology, taxes, health insurance, legal fees, accounting services, plus still being able to keep my house and family in the manner to which we have become accustomed (that is, with a not-leaking roof, heat in the winter, a car that runs, regular trips to the grocery store and occasional trips to visit friends and family). I went back up the list, double checked my assumptions. Some of them were high, but not insanely so. I suspect some of them were much too low.

$42,000 per month. $504,000 per year.

I hyperventilated. My shoulder spasmed. And then I said: Right. That’s my task then. I’ve got to be able to deal with that number before I try to talk to anybody about money. Because you can’t go into an investor meeting and say, “We’re… um… projecting, 6. Um. Million. Dollars (uptick in voice) in revenue?”

(This came about from the exercises in Alexis Neely’s accelerated Money Map to Freedom, which she is currently running over 2 weeks for free. The full program is 6 months long and costs $4000, but the nuts and bolts are here: http://www.moneymap.tv/accelerated/)