Friday, December 2, 2011

The Real Fog

I’ve been struggling this year with some issues that feel awfully vague.

  • I’ve been having trouble getting myself to sit down and do my freelance indexing work. Am I lazy or unmotivated?

  • I’m sleepy all the time. Even when I’ve only been awake a couple of hours, I want to close my eyes again. What is wrong with me? How can I get more engaged with the world around me?

  • I feel as if I’m in a fog. Am I depressed?

  • Some of these experiences, no doubt, are part of my grief journey. But this has been going on since long before I knew my father was dying.

Then one day I suddenly noticed that the page in front of me was blurry. Even though it had only been six months since I’d been to the eye doctor, I decided to go get checked out.

I have cataracts.

I have cataracts. The lenses of my eyes are cloudy. This changes everything. Everything!

  • I’ve been having trouble getting myself to sit down and do my freelance indexing work. I’m not lazy, I’m not hating the work. It’s just hard to concentrate on words and sentences when you can’t see them clearly.

  • I feel sleepy all the time. I want to close my eyes. Um, yeah. For one thing, it’s physically tiring continually trying to see through a haze. And for another, it’s hard to tell the difference between “sleepy” and “my eyes want to close."

  • The reason I cranked out my neck is that I was squinching around trying to see the text I was working on.

  • I feel as if I’m in a fog. It’s not depression. It’s a real fog!!!

The fog is real.

The reason so much of this is coming out in italics is that I am amazed at how consistently I have interpreted physical symptoms as psychological problems. Amazed! The fog is real!!! And yet I keep doing it.

The first thing that happened after I found out was that within a few days my eyes seemed to be worse. I called the doctor to ask whether this is a common psychological reaction. No, he said, when they get to this point they go downhill fast. You may notice changes even overnight.

It’s a physical symptom.

Even now, a month later, I catch myself. I’m driving to an appointment. I tell myself, “Wake up! Why are you still sleepy? Pay attention!” Oh. I’m not sleepy. It’s my blurred vision.

It’s a physical symptom.

So I wonder--what else am I misinterpreting? Is this about trusting, not judging, myself? Is it about the specific role of vision in my life? I want to explore this some more.

How did I miss it?

And I’m trying to figure out how I missed it.

This condition has been gradually getting worse for months, if not years. And yet I went along not noticing it.

This probably happens pretty often with things that get gradually worse. If it had happened all at once, I would have been all over it. But a little bit at a time felt normal—until it went over the edge.

I’m proud of myself for going straight to the doctor. For taking myself seriously.

What else am I missing?

Join me in the comments!

No advice, please. But I’d love to hear your experiences. What have you missed? What have you misinterpreted?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Grief and the Undergrowth

I lost my father

I lost my father this summer.

Here he is.

His name was Leland Stauber. He was eighty-two years old.

This spring, after he was diagnosed with cancer, I made a blog for him and helped him to get his political/economic ideas out on the Internet.

He and I had sweet times together when he was in rehab and later in hospice. He let me feed him and lift him and wash his face. I told him that he walked the halls with me and changed my diaper when I was a baby, and now it was my turn. He smiled.

He was at peace with dying, and he navigated his last months with incredible courage, grace…and humor.

He said, “I’m not upset about passing on. I’m at a resting point in my writing. Hmm, I guess it will be a terminal one!”

He said, “I’m so exasperated by this! I’m ready to die, so why don’t I die?”

I’m so proud of him.

And I was able to say goodbye knowing for sure that he loves me and is proud of me.

And still

And still, I’m living now in a completely different place. The place of grief. Everything is different. They say that losing a parent is a life transition. Maybe that's why everything is different.

I keep having moments when I realize again that I’ll never see him again.

Daddy, my daughter's doing really well! Shock.

I can't wait to hear what he thinks about Occupy Wall Street. Shock.

Daddy would love this political science book I’m indexing! I have to call him and find out if he knows this author! Shock.

I’m publishing his last book for him. Which photo should I use on the back? Will he agree to the more informal smiling one? Shock.

Shock. Shock. Shock.

I’m sleeping a lot. I feel weak and sad. It’s hard to make plans or be hopeful. I don’t quite understand how this is related to losing my father, but I believe it is. They say that grief has many faces and lasts for a long time. This isn’t going to go away next week. I need to live with it.

So little by little, I’m trying to pay more aware attention to my inner self.

The rabbit

So I asked myself what animal I feel like. I feel like a rabbit, frozen in the undergrowth. Even as I smile, work, organize, sing, part of me underneath is that rabbit.

Photo by Jerry Kirkhart. Flickr: jkirkhart35

At first this image feels very weak. I must be afraid. I imagine myself shivering.

Then I thought, “At least I have the undergrowth.”

What is the undergrowth?

It’s my blankets. It’s my warm house. It’s my safety. I’m in it. It’s a resource.

The rabbit is smart

Then I realized that a rabbit in the undergrowth isn’t necessarily paralyzed with fear.

Going into the undergrowth is a strategy. The rabbit goes there for self-protection. It goes there for healing. It knows exactly what it’s doing. It’s in the right place.

I’m in the right place.

And at any moment I might be ready to leap out and DASH somewhere. My dash will also be a strategy. It will be exactly where I want to go.

And my daddy will be cheering me on.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Deadlines Get a New Name

So after I talked to my deadlines, I decided that I need a new way to deal with them. I made a folder called Gentle Planning and put a few notes in it. Then I put the whole thing in my subconscious.

About three months later, I’m having some ideas.

The word.

The first is that the word “deadlines” has got to go. Deadlines deadlines deadlines. It has the word “dead” in it! In fact, here’s where the word comes from: in Civil War prison camps, they drew a line in the dirt. If you crossed it you would be shot. The dead line.

If I don’t meet my deadlines, someone will die.

Well my goodness, no wonder they’re scary.

Okay. I’ve learned how to invent or find new words from Havi’s Metaphor Mouse. Let’s do it.

What goes into the meaning of the word deadline (good and bad)?

have to have to have to
you better do this
it must be done
I’ve got a deadline
reminding me
knowing when someone is expecting it
knowing when I’m expecting myself to finish
if I don’t
oh no oh no
helping me plan
making me do it

What does this remind me of?

being threatened
something from outside me

An overseer. With a whip.


What are the qualities of the new metaphor I want?

coming from inside me
helping me do what I want to do
free choice
giving me information
meetings with other people. dates.
giving me energy

What does this remind me of?


Waking up naturally from a nice nap. Where did that come from?
A date. Getting ready for a date.
A meeting time. A tryst. An assignation. A rendezvous!

Photo from The Fellowship of the Ring (Jackson)

A rendezvous!

What is a rendezvous? A secret meeting with an exciting person who makes me happy.

  • I have a rendezvous with this index.
  • The rendezvous for the workshop handouts is April 1.
  • What do we need to do before the April 9 conference rendezvous?


It’s a definite meeting time and place, a commitment.

And it’s fun and exciting and I look forward to it!

I hold it close to me and peek at it every day while I’m waiting for it!

I'd love to hear from you in the comments! What do you call your deadlines? How have you made friends with them?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Talking to My Deadlines

Yes, I have deadlines

photo by openDemocracy on Flickr

I’ve lived with deadlines for a long time. They rule my life as an indexer. The index is the very last thing that happens before the book is published. If you think about it, this makes sense—the index, which tells you what page things are on, can’t be created until what page things are on is absolutely final. After those last paragraphs the author wanted to add, and the illustration the designer decided should be a little bigger, which moved everything on the following one hundred pages over by a half page. Final.

Thus, by the time the publisher sends me the page proofs, they want them back yesterday. The printer is waiting, everything else is done. So---if you’re a good indexer, you don’t send in your jobs even one day late. Editors need to be able to count on you.

I’m a very good and reliable indexer. I’ve been meeting deadlines for twenty-five years. But I’ve never really come to terms with them.

And of course, the more endeavors I jump into (I’m a scanner, remember?) the more deadlines there are. Right now, besides two indexing deadlines, I have a CD-production deadline, a workshop-planning deadline, and a tax deadline. Then there are self-imposed deadlines, which help to move my projects along. I’ve promised my Right-brainers in Business support group that my new teaching website will be up by the end of March.

So there are all these deadlines.


And they scare me. When they’re far away, I don’t think about them and feel free. Yay, no immediate deadlines! And then all of a sudden they jump out at me and scare me. They loom. I feel oppressed, constricted, afraid. I worry worry worry. Oh no, I’m not going to get them done.

And I then use that energy to get them done. Not a fun way to live.

I’ve tried various strategies for dealing with them, some of which have helped a lot. I’ve made daily quotas for indexing. I use Getting Things Done and plan the next action for each project. I’m definitely better at spreading the work out over time than I used to be (which is good, because at 51 I’m getting too old for all-nighters!)

But they still scare me.

A conversation

So, inspired by Havi’s monster conversations, I decided to talk to them. Here’s the conversation.

Me: Hello, deadlines. We’ve lived together for a long time but I don’t think I’ve ever talked to you. Will you talk to me?
Deadlines: Sure! (crowded, talking over and shoving each other, very cheerful)
Me: Hmm, what should I say? I often feel afraid of you.
Deadlines: Hahahahahahaha!

photo by CarbonNYC on Flickr
 Me: I’m afraid that when you appear, I’ll fail. I won’t be able to do what I promised. Hmm—and I sometimes pretend you’re not there. I put you in a room and close the door.
Deadlines: We don’t like that! That’s why we jump out at you when you remember us! Boo!! (they’re laughing like two-year-olds just before a meltdown)
Me: Oh. Oh. You really are with me all the time—close or far. But I wish you would just go away.
Deadlines: That’s mean! You need us!
Me: What do I need you for?
Deadlines: To make sure you Get Things Done. That you keep your promises. You only do that when you’re worried.
Me: I DO want to keep my promises. And I WANT to do the things I’ve planned. But I don’t want to be worried.
Deadlines: (shrugging and punching each other) Too bad. That’s the only way.
Me: Okay, I don’t think that’s true. I think we can change this. Let’s see, you need to make sure I get things done. I need that too. I also need ease and smoothness, and confidence not worry. You know if I’m confident, I get more done? Oh, and I need STRUCTURE.
Deadlines: Structure?
Me: Yes, clear expectations for when I’ll do each thing.
Me: Maybe you can help me with the structure. Do you want to help?
Deadlines: Yes, yes, let us help! We can help! (they still feel like little kids)
Me: I need structure that doesn’t crush me. It’s more like awareness. The ability to make flexible plans.
Deadlines: Can we be there with you?
Me: Oh, is it a place? I wonder what it looks like?
I think it’s a place where I know I’m safe and I have all my tools around me. So I can plan. (Liking the italics button)
And yes, you can be there too. You know what? You feel like little kids. I think you need some cuddling. 
Deadlines: (crowding around, delighted) Cuddle! Cuddle! Ahhh. 
Me: I also notice that you’re shoving each other and interrupting each other a lot. What’s that about? 
Deadlines: We’re afraid you won’t notice us. We have to get in front. We feel desperate. 
Me: So if you each have a special cuddling place in my Planning Room and you know I will pay attention to you, that will feel better, right? 
Deadlines: (looking cute) YES. 
Me: Okay, I promise not to shove you behind a door any more. And you promise to be gently present and not trying to scare me.
Well, okay.

Well, okay. That gave me some directions to go. I’ve been sitting with the task of making a planning process (place) where my deadlines can be with me and not scare me. Where I can set up structures for myself that mean I can trust that I’ll get things done.

I’m calling it Gentle Planning.

I think I have some ideas.

To be continued.

Join me in the comments! I'd love you to share your methods of dealing with deadlines, but let's give each other space to work through our own stuff: no unsolicited advice.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

My Search for the One Thing, or How Barbara Sher Changed My Life for the Third Time

Since I was little, I knew that I was put on this earth to Do Something. My mission, my gift to the world. (Okay, I was a little grandiose as a child.)

My favorite books about the childhood of famous people (ohmygod, I loved those books!) confirmed this belief for me. (I remember going to the library and being told “No, you can’t check out twenty Childhood of Famous Americans books.”) Those people just knew what great thing they were meant to do. They knew. And then they grew up and did it. I especially remember Benjamin West and His Cat Grimalkin. I was especially fond of Benjamin because he was a Quaker like me. Even though his family didn’t approve of art, he got to do it because he was So Good at it, and because it was obviously what he was Meant to Do.

For a long time I wanted to be a writer, like Harriet the Spy. I held onto that all the way into my first year of college. I was great with words, but I just didn’t seem to really have stories in me. And I think that my vision of being a writer was more about being Something creative than about a specific drive.

I got to college (which I did on the six-year plan with two leaves of absence in the middle). I couldn’t settle on a major. At first, of course, it was going to be English—I wanted to be a writer, after all, and I loved reading. But I really didn’t like lit crit. Eww. So I just kept taking courses from every professor that sounded good, in lots of different subjects. Anthropology! Sociology! Religious studies! Philosophy! Three different beginning languages! And history. My love and interest was most consistent in the history courses, so I decided to major in history. (I still love it!) But even then, I couldn’t really focus. At my college, with a New Curriculum invented in the 60s, you had a lot of scope in your major. I just had to take a bunch of history courses and tell how they were related. Well, let’s see. The American Revolution, Foreign Relations of the European Great Powers, early Chinese history, Social and Religious History of the United States, the English Revolution…surely they’re part of a learning plan! I made up a very creative one, but I don’t remember what it was.

All of a sudden I was about to graduate, and I didn’t have a plan. I took the Strong Interest Inventory, a career test that tells you which professions you are similar to the members of.

I wasn’t similar to anything. That should have been a clue.

Cut forward a few years. I found my freelance career as a book indexer. My scattered college career was the ideal preparation. Indexing is perfect for me because I never get bored! I get to read a different book every couple of weeks, on subjects like behavioral psychology, teaching English as a Second Language, the effect of globalization on social programs, human prehistory, and what it’s like to be deaf in Japan. This career has supported my family and brought me intellectual challenge and opportunities for the last twenty-five years. But something was still missing.

Indexing was (and is) a wonderful job, but it’s not what I was Put on This Earth To Do. It didn't tap something big in me that I knew was there. I started thinking about what that might be, which led me to Barbara Sher’s books (and the first two times she changed my life, which I’ll come back to in future posts). I got excited about quilting, gardening, composing, and several other things. But I ended up focusing on colored pencil art (while feeling guilty about all the tools for other interests that I’d left lying around).

And in 2005, at a place in my art career where, although I wasn’t making money, I was getting national attention and awards and was teaching successfully, I decided that this was it. I was an Artist. I knew that I liked to do lots of different kinds of work, but figured that all the different pieces of an art career would be interesting enough. I got a career coach. I started marketing seriously.

And then….guess what happened? I rediscovered the guitar. Riches of music started to pour through me in a whole new way. I found a new home in my folksinging group. Friendship, music theory, new songs—the learning was crackling through my body and mind.

And my first response? I said to myself, “Why are you wanting to play guitar? You’re not a musician! You’re supposed to be an artist! An artist!! Stop with all this music stuff!”

My visionary all-encompassing art life started to feel constricting. Even though I continued to create and teach art, I was panicky with guilt, feeling as if I was abandoning my commitment.

I had found my One Thing, and it wasn’t enough.

And that’s when Barbara Sher changed my life again. Just as I was feeling like a failure, a flake, a dilettante, I found her book Refuse to Choose.

She told me I was normal. That my bounding from interest to interest like a giant puppy was my strength, not my weakness. That One Thing would never be enough for me. That I wasn’t a failure.

Oh my gosh. I felt as if my brain was exploding. Wonderful things to learn flooded in. I could write songs! I could learn to cook on the campfire! I could read about early English Christianity! I could learn German again!

In the last few years I have made less art, immersing myself in music and now my new teaching business. I have allowed myself to let the art be, knowing that everything is connected and it will come back when it wants to.

And you know what? That flood of riches is still flowing. I am an artist, yes. I am a musician, chorus singer, songwriter. I am a really good indexer. I am a writer and a teacher. And who knows what I’ll be next? I’m a scanner. There is room in my life for everything I love.

And writing this post is making my pieces in process, "The Holiness of the North Wind" and "Questioning the Air" wake up again inside my mind. My colored pencils are already out as I design the header for my new teaching website. I can feel my fingers itching for the feel of the paper under the pigment.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Digging for Treasure: Getting Real

Photo by woodley wonderworks on flickr
Here we are again, with the ninth post in the Digging for Treasure series. (I just reorganized and re-labeled them a bit. Because that’s who I am.)

I have been busy helping people actually go through this process—and it WORKS! I am so thrilled!

So! You’ve got your structure: buckets to put all your treasure in. And you’ve gone back and done some jewel gathering, filling up missing spaces in all the buckets with the things your learners will need. You found the detailed instructions for installing Wordpress. The funny story about do lists. The examples from designing an abstract painting.

What’s next?

It’s time to fine-tune your structure, and put it in order. Because you’re getting really close to being ready to plan your workshop, write your book, film your video. You’re almost ready to share your knowledge.

What do you want your learners to take with them?

I’m going to share the little tool that has helped me immensely in all of my teaching experiences. It’s called the AIB system, and it helps you to think about your goals for your learners.

  • A is for Attitudes. What attitudes do you want them to learn and adopt? Every part of your presentation should model and encourage these attitudes.
    • In my workshop A Taste of Colored Pencil, I wanted participants to experience colored pencil as a fun and accessible medium.
    • In the Digging for Treasure program, I want you to value what you know and feel empowered to share it.
  • I is for Information. What do you want them to know? Basic information in your field? Rules to be mastered before being broken? A step-by-step process?
    • In A Taste of Colored Pencil, I taught specific strokes to use when applying colored pencil to paper. And I gave information about basic tools and resources.
    • In Digging for Treasure, I teach a step-by-step process for unearthing and organizing your subconscious knowledge.
  • B is for Behavior. When your learners leave you, what do you want them to do? Do you want them to actually try the activity or skill you’re teaching? Do you want them to change their lives? How?
    • In A Taste of Colored Pencil, I wanted my students to go get some colored pencils and make some art!
    • In Digging for Treasure, what do you think? I want you to move forward in teaching or writing about your knowledge and expertise!
As you fine-tune your structure, put it in order, and start to see your presentation as real, keep these goals in mind.

Now you'll take another look at your structure.

Floating Details

Let’s take another look at your structure. Do you have some details, examples, stories, yummy stuff that you dug up that still doesn’t have a bucket? There are several possible reasons for a floating detail.

• It’s a representative of a category that needs more details. In other words, you need another round of jewel gathering.

• It really belongs in an established category. Try thinking about the detail from different angles to see if it fits somewhere.

• It’s a sign that your categories need to be re-sorted. For instance, when I added a discussion on cross references to my indexing workshop, I spent some time trying to figure out where they should go in my existing structure. I realized that, along with subheadings and double-posting, they were a way that categories were connected in the index. Those three topics deserved to be together.

• It can be discarded. I always save these in case I can use them in a future project! They’re still treasure, after all…

Looking at order

Order. You’re going to put your buckets in order now. When you stand up in front of the room, what are you going to say first? What will your first blog post be about? I told you this was getting real! (If you feel the ground shaking under you a bit, go back and read my posts on What’s Scary About Teaching.)

Order is important because it helps people learn. If they can move from one point to each other in some kind of logical way, they’re able to hook onto the information, remember it, and make connections between different parts of it. (That connection-making part, according to current brain science, is just about the most important part of learning.)

Well, duh.

Okay, maybe right now you’re saying, “Well duh. I have my order already. It’s the steps of my process. Why is this such a big deal?” Well good! Write it down! Some subjects lend themselves to an obvious order more easily than others. And do look at the ideas below in case it needs any tweaking.


Otherwise known as, things you have to know before you can learn something else. Do you have any of these? Think about each point you want to make. Is there something people need to understand before they’ll be able to get it?

Is there a step, a task, a priority, a reason that trumps all later decisions? Put it first. When I was planning this very lesson, I realized that this very point needed to come almost first (right after duh, the order is obvious). (Yes, I know, we’re getting very meta here. I’m putting in order my points about putting points in order. Sorry, this is my life these days. It’ll get less confusing when I go on to teach about mindmapping or something.)

A toolbox

Here are some examples of logical orders from my toolbox. I have a nice long list of them. I find that I don’t actually use the list directly—I get the types into my mind and then they’re there to be accessed.

  • Process or step-by-step order. There’s our “duh” example. But it’s not all that simple. You could start with the finished product and work backward, showing people how each step built on the last. Here’s a wonderful party. What did the organizer have to do to make it happen?
  • Feelings or attitudes to concrete details. If I was teaching about living with rheumatoid arthritis, I might talk first about what it feels like to have this disease before going on to offer practical advice.
  • Practical issues to feelings. On the other hand, you can do it the other way around. I could tell about the steps you need to follow to sell your house, and then address the feelings that it might bring up.
  • Classification. Types of things! Reasons children get into conflicts with each other, and how to address each kind of conflict.

You might need a combination of orders. For instance, a video on building a cabinet might basically follow the step-by-step process, but have an introductory section on the tools and materials you need for the project.

My process

I’ve done this ordering thing many, many times. If there was some time in between (as there was before I got going on Digging for Treasure) I might forget what I always do. Then I have to reinvent it. It always comes out the same. Here’s how I do it.
1) List my categories (buckets). Usually at this point they’re sections in a Word document with all of their treasure collected in them. So I have to pull out just the category names and make a list. 
2) Write each category on a card. Lay out the cards on a table or, usually, the carpet, and move them around. Make a tentative sequence. 
3) Talk or write through the sequence. I talk to the Magic Imaginary Person in my head. This person is marvelous because she’s dying to know anything I can tell her. I start telling her my points in order. 
4) And I find out whether the order works or not. I find this out by listening to what I actually say to the Magic Imaginary Person. Sometimes I find myself saying, “So, the first thing to think about here is…” and what comes out of my mouth is not the point I thought was first. Huh.

When I was planning this lesson (here we go with the meta-meta again), even though I had put something else first, I found myself saying “here is a toolkit of logical orders.” (That was the first time I called it a toolkit. The Magic Imaginary Person often helps me to name things.) And a toolkit really ought to go first, because you want to have your tools from the beginning. So I moved it up closer to the beginning.
Sometimes I learn about my order by hearing the transitions between points. Because you can list a bunch of points, but if you’re actually going to talk about them, you end up with transitions from one to the next. So after I finished telling the M. I. P. about the toolkit, I found myself talking about how you might need more than one order. That just naturally followed. And the order fell into place.
5) Then I go back to my Word document and move the whole sections around to their new order. It’s helpful at this point to note any transitions you discovered!
Oh my goodness. You’re done.

If you’ve done all of the parts of the process as I’ve outlined them in these posts, you should have the makings of a presentation. You’re ready to take your beautiful treasure, your knowledge, skills, experience, and give it to people.

What next???

It’s time to think about the first form your presentation will take, and look at the next steps for that particular form. Call the community college to find out how to apply to teach a workshop. Sign up for my Workshop Workshop course. Teach yourself Powerpoint. Register a domain name for your blog. Read the books on self-publishing. Join a writer’s group.

One more thing though:


At this stage of the process, it’s useful to start writing about it. Actual sentences. Paragraphs with topic sentences. So if you haven’t started already, start now. Explain things. Write down the succinct, expressive phrases that come to you in the night. (Most of the really good sentences in my indexing book came to me when I was falling asleep.)

If you’re planning to write about your subject, this is your next step anyway.

If you’re planning to teach, writing is still useful. you’ll need to compose what you’re going to say. I usually write it all out and then condense it for the cheat sheet I’ll actually be looking at. And you’ll will probably want written support materials.

Your Magical Imaginary Person can be very useful here, especially if writing feels intimidating. Start explaining things to her, and tape yourself. Transcribe it (or use voice recognition software). Ta-dah! Beautiful writing, straight out of your mouth.

Digging for Treasure in your life

The Digging for Treasure process gets internalized. You go along through your life, and you notice what you know. You value it. You’re aware of your knowledge and skills on a deeper level. And that enriches your life.

And especially if you find you enjoy the actual experience of writing or teaching, you find yourself doing the process again with a different subject, and taking it out into the world.

That’s what I’ve done—with a whole bunch of different subjects, and more in the future. I’m launching the website for my teaching business, and I’m giving it a really broad description (contrary to the niche marketing advice). Because who knows what else I’ll want to share?

Who knows what you'll want to share?

Here are the posts in the Digging for Treasure series, in order:

Digging for Treasure: My First Dig
Digging for Treasure: At School 
Knowing Without Knowing 
The Survey: Discovering Your Deep Knowledge
The First Digging: Observation 
Into the Baskets!  
Sorting Your Treasure
Jewel Gathering

Monday, February 21, 2011

Waking Up the Guitarist, part one: Stopping and Starting

I learned to play the guitar when I was twelve. Through junior high, high school, and college, I lived with the guitar on my lap. It was an intrinsic part of my identity.

After I graduated from college, I stopped playing.

I didn’t play again for twenty years.

And then, five years ago, I quite suddenly started again. Why did I stop? Why did I start again? I’ve been trying to figure this out. I think there are a couple of reasons.


When I was in school, my playing had a social context. Friends regularly gathered to sing with me, poring through my hand-printed songbooks to find the songs they wanted. Playing and singing were gifts I was able to give to my friends.

I made friends through the guitar. My three short romances happened through the guitar.

After college, the social patterns of my life changed. Music remained important, and I always sang one way or another: Balkan songs, Christmas carols, political rally songs, rounds, lesbian chorus. But I didn’t have a group of friends who wanted to gather around and sing. My guitar wasn’t needed.

So what happened the year I started again?

At the yearly retreats on the coast where the members of my chorus get together to choose our music, we would sing together in the evenings. I hadn’t experienced that kind of informal singing in a long time. And our director, with her guitar and ability to pull out chords for any song we started, made it work.

Subconsciously, I started to feel as if my guitar playing could be useful again. I got out the old yard-sale guitar that had been under the bed for twenty years, and started to mess around on it a little bit. It was hard-I felt as if I'd lost all that I'd known.

Then I made a new friend who played the guitar. A wonderful friend with whom I felt an immediate deep connection. She came over to practice the song she was accompanying for our chorus. She played so marvelously. I told her I was just picking mine up again, and she said, “Well go get it!” And we played. Together. And her joyful encouragement made me feel as if I could actually play again.

I had played for group singalongs. But I hadn’t played with other guitarists since those junior-high campouts. And blending the sounds of two guitars and two voices, working on a song until it sounded good? That was a whole new level of connection.


My guitar stayed out in the living room.

A soundtrack

In high school and college, my friends and I had a whole repertoire of songs in common. We listened to James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Cat Stevens, John Denver, America… Their songs were the soundtrack to our lives.

Every romantic feeling, every intense adolescent emotion, every important event had a song to go with it. Chelsea Morning by Joni Mitchell for joy on a sunny day. Down by the River by Neil Young for rage. All I Want by Joni Mitchell for the boy I thought I wanted, but couldn’t have.

Note that many of these songs I had never heard sung by the original artists. I learned them from friends. I had fun today finding Youtube links for them!

I remember a college friend, as she processed her grief about her boyfriend’s death, coming to my room every day and asking me to play Sad Lisa by Cat Stevens. She needed that song.

I remember a high school dorm room full of fifteen quiet contemplative friends, anticipating graduation and getting ready to say goodbye. They asked me to play Changes by Phil Ochs. They needed that song.

But after college, the songs that had wallpapered my adolescence didn’t seem so relevant. I loved many songs, but maybe I needed some distance from the adolescent emotion. Or maybe I didn’t need a soundtrack any more. And I didn’t have people who needed me to provide it for them.

So what happened five years ago?

I turned forty-seven.

With my chorus friends at the coast, I found myself digging up those old Joni Mitchell and Cat Stevens songs. This many years away, it was wonderful to find those words and tunes coming so smoothly from inside me.

New songs

Back in my early guitar-playing years, lyrics and chords were precious and rare. We borrowed each other’s handwritten songbooks, passing on chords to Beatles songs like coded messages. Without much money, published songbooks, recordings, and concerts were mostly out of reach. I learned songs from other singers.

I remember finding out that a guitar-playing acquaintance at college was about to leave for a year off, running to his dorm room with my guitar and saying, “You have to teach me Angel from Montgomery! Right now, before you leave!” He graciously put down his bags (literally) and showed me the chords.

And some songs I yearned for remained out of my reach.

When I started playing again, I discovered that the internet had been founded! Suddenly, a whole world of songs was there at my fingertips.

I could hear a song on the radio, look up the station to find the artist, watch it on Youtube, and find the lyrics, chords, and tabs! The feeling of abundance was incredible.

I started by looking up the songs I used to play that I couldn’t quite remember. Then I looked for the songs I had loved but never thought I could play. Melissa by the Allmann Brothers. Horse With No Name by America. Pleasant Valley Sunday!

Then I started listening: to CDs, to the radio, to other singers. I started finding songs that spoke to me—and singing them. The Indigo Girls, Dave Carter, Girlyman. No soundtrack will ever be as intense as that adolescent one, but my life is richer now.

So very much richer.

What it was like to learn to play again after twenty years? That will be another post.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Jewel Gathering

This is the eighth post in the Digging for Treasure series. The others are at the bottom of this post. Whoo-hoo!

You’ve dug up some treasure, and you’ve sorted it out. You have some buckets—some categories to contain your stories, details, and information.

  • Specific issues for solo female travelers in different countries.
  • The elements of design.
  • Emotional blocks to creativity and how to address them.
  • Curriculum areas for homeschooling.
  • Important things to keep in mind while planning a garden, like crop rotation, climate, and pest control.
  • The steps in the process of building a bureau.

Congratulations! You’re getting much closer to a real presentation of your topic. Now that you have a rough structure, your next job is to fill it in with all of the things your learners will need. These are your jewels, the objects of a second digging process.

What do learners need?
  • Learners need stories. I told you I was going to harp on this! In each category, you should have some little narratives. Real-life examples of the points you want to make. Memories. The time you didn’t leave enough room for the winter squash and it took over the whole garden. The great homeschooling project you did about the labor movement and the unexpected way your child reacted to it.
  • Learners need specific information about concepts or skills. Don’t just tell them to think about how color will complement their composition. Give them questions to ask themselves about how color fits in their design, or a system for trying different colors. 
  • Learners need demonstrations or physical/visual examples. You can explain the concept of negative space in a whole lecture, or you can show a white image with the negative space around it colored red. If you’re teaching live or on video, you can gather your participants around and demonstrate the best way to shape your dovetail joints.
  • Learners need ways to actively engage. We’ll talk about this more in the section on Activity Planning, but start thinking now about ways to make your presentation active. Have homeschooling parents design a curriculum project together. Ask readers of a book on creativity to write about a time when their creativity was flowing freely.
  • Learners need things named. A name is a hook, a way to remember your concept. It also helps people to think more clearly about the thing named. The names I gave types of topics in a text have enabled people to talk about indexing in completely new ways, and have become my contribution to the indexing field. Names can be playful (as in the sections of my Digging for Treasure program) or serious, depending on your audience.
  • Learners need to know why they’re doing something. Cover your head when entering a Catholic church--because even if you’re not a believer, following the custom is a sign of respect. Place a photo of a person facing into the center of the page—because the otherwise the viewer’s eyes will follow the photo gaze right off the edge.
Gathering the Jewels

So, you’re going back to look for all of these things and make sure all of your buckets are nice and full. Here’s a way to organize yourself so that you find and keep track of what you need.
  • Make a gathering place for each category. This needs to be expandable and organizable. I strongly recommend that you use a computer file (word processor or mindmap), but folders and binders are also possible.
  • Notice where you need more information or details. Make a system for flagging places that still need something. I use square brackets in Word (easily searched) and bright red branch notes in Mindgenius (easily spotted). This will become more important as your structure gets more complete.
  • It might help to make a list of your target jewels. I’m looking for: an early sketch that I ended up discarding. An example of a good math game. Something funny about Italy.
  • Go back to thinking, observing, remembering about your subject. You’ll be looking more actively for specific things than the first time around.
  • Think about where to find the details you need. Do you need to start a new project on purpose so that you can observe its early stages? Can you excavate your past by reading old notes or journal entries? Do you want to add ideas from other people?
  • Gather your jewels in any kind of basket that works for you. What worked best during your first digging? Sticky notes? A digital recorder? A little notebook?
  • As you record each detail, label it with a category.
  • Periodically dump your jewels into your gathering place. Put each one in the category where it goes. Watch your structure get fuller and richer!

As you do this second digging, your awareness will expand. Connections, stories, feelings, and ideas will cascade through your mind. Collect them all!

Next step: Map Design! How will you lead your learners through your material?

Previous posts about the Digging for Treasure process:

Digging for Treasure: My First Dig
Digging for Treasure: At School 
Knowing Without Knowing 
The Survey: Discovering Your Deep Knowledge
The First Digging: Observation 
Into the Baskets!  
Sorting Your Treasure

Photo credits: Buckets by i_yudai (Flicker Creative Commons)

Jewelry Box, Before by Dennis and Amiee Jonez (Flicker Creative Commons)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Campfire Method: How I Learned to Play Guitar

The Campfire Method: How I Learned the Guitar

By the time I was twelve, I had spent a lot of time camping with the Girl Scouts. Two weeks every summer and a few weekends each school year with my troop in the lodge were so packed with memories that they seem in retrospect to be a big chunk of my childhood.

There was always singing. Singing while we washed dishes, while we hiked, before and after meals in the lodge, and most of all around the campfire every single night. Friendships, dramas, adventures, and accidents all happened to a multiple soundtrack that I helped to make.

And by the time I was twelve, there were always several older girls who played the guitar. Oh my gosh. The epitome of confidence, usefulness, expression, cool.

Can I learn?

And one day at a troop campout, I asked one of them to teach me. As I remember it, it was totally spontaneous. I didn’t build up to it, I didn’t rehearse. I just suddenly said, “Hey, can I learn how to do that?”

She sat me down, plunked her guitar in my lap, and showed me two chords. They were D and A. She made chord diagrams for them (chord diagrams!) so I would remember them. She taught me, very patiently, how to strum a simple pattern: Down, down-up down, down-up down, down-up down. And she taught me one song. Yes, there are songs that only use two chords. Here’s how it goes:

Hang down your head, Tom Dooley
Hang down your head and (long pause for chord change) cry,

Hang down your head, Tom Dooley
Poor boy, you’re bound to (another long pause for chord change) die.

I could play an actual song!!! I went home, borrowed my mom’s guitar (and kept it for ten years, bless her) and played that song continuously for…I don’t know, a long time. My mom remembers. Apparently, I barely stopped to eat, and she got heartily sick of Tom Dooley.

Over and over and over

By playing that song over and over and over and over and over I learned a bunch of things. I learned my two chords, how to find them with my fingers faster and faster. I learned to strum my down-up down pattern. I learned to change chords in rhythm with the strum. (It was a great day when I didn’t have to have those two big pauses in the middle of Tom Dooley!) I learned to open my mouth and have words and tune come out while I was strumming and changing chords.

I learned a lot.


And then I started to gather. First I gathered more chords. “Will you show me another chord?” I learned G next, the easy version that just uses one finger. And suddenly there were a lot of songs to play.

Where do you get songs? I knew a lot of them to sing. But…I needed the chords. And where do you get chords? From other people’s songbooks!

Every Girl Scout guitarist I knew had a hand-printed songbook, a precious collection of all the songs she could play. So you borrow someone’s songbook (eventually, when yours has anything in it, you trade) and stay up all night copying. That’s what I did.

And then I’d play and play and play my new songs.

At the campfire

And then…I felt confident enough to play with other people. At the campfire. Here’s what you did.

You positioned yourself carefully so you could see the person with the clearest hands.

You learned really quickly how to read chords backwards—because you were almost always across the campfire from your model.

And when everybody started singing “They Call the Wind Maria,” you focused like a laser on that girl’s hands, following the chords as much as you could. You fumbled, you skipped those three chords that change really fast and landed triumphantly on the C you knew. The A minor appeared—you’d never seen it before, but you got your fingers in the right place. And you marvelled at the sound coming out of your guitar.

You felt the strumming in your belly, as if you were playing all of the five guitars around the fire.

And the next morning, you accosted the girl and borrowed her songbook. And copied down “They Call the Wind Maria.”


I recopied my songbooks in high school, so I don’t have that twelve-year-old printing. But here are some of the first songs I learned on the guitar:

Tom Dooley
The Banks of the Ohio
They Call the Wind Maria
Blowing in the Wind
If I Had a Hammer
The Flicker of the Campfire

Reading those titles takes me right back—to the glowing coals, the glossy wood of the guitars, the hands picking and strumming and fretting, the faces singing with me.

And here is the poem I wrote for a class assignment in high school, based on William Carlos Williams’ “The Red Wheelbarrow”:

so much depends

a clean brown

humming against
my belly

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Inside an Indexer's Brain: Pilgrimage to a Structure

I’m making an index for a fascinating book about three different shrines to the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico and the United States. Ethnography, sacred space, co-performative witnessing. Wow.

This is an organically organized scholarly book, very well-written. But not in any way easy to index. The author writes in stories and geography, visiting the sites she is studying and showing us the people who interact with them. All I can do as I start the index is to follow her.


The Virgin of Guadalupe originated in a vision in 1511 on a hill called Tepeyac in what is now Mexico City. The hill has since been transformed in various ways, and since the text is focused on sacred space, these buildings and spaces are important. In the introduction, I followed the author and indexed “Tepeyac” for the discussion of the Aztec empire and the origins of the cult.

So here I am in the middle of chapter one, and the author has gone back to the colonial period. Of course, the Virgin of Guadalupe is the metatopic of the book, so I can’t index everything under her, and she’ll be implied in all of my other headings. So I index “colonial period” for this section, along with the names of the churches that were built in the area during this time.

Then I find postindependence church-state relations, and futz a bit deciding where to put that (Catholic Church? Mexico? Its own heading? All three?). I postpone that decision because I’m not sure how much this will come up later in the text. Lots of notes to myself right in the index.

So far I feel as if I understand the text, but I’m not quite happy with my index entries. They feel pretty random. However, I forge on, reminding myself that my own book tells me to be patient at this stage. Forging on.


The next section is about religious tourism in the twentieth century. Now they’re building the Plaza de las Americas and the Modern Basilica. John F. Kennedy visits. Oh, now they’re building a shrine modeled on this one outside of Chicago. The Mexico City one has strong ties with the Chicago shrine. Okay…lots more names to index…

And I suddenly realize what my uneasiness was about. All of the sections about the Mexico City shrine, even though it has gone through multiple transformations and names, need to be together in a main heading. I didn’t land on that right away because the author doesn’t consistently use one phrase (at least not so far).

Whew. I feel so relieved. Everything is shifting around.

What to call it?

I still don’t know what to call it.

And actually, I don’t need to decide right now. Such an important concept, for all kinds of writing, not just indexing. Get the idea down in whatever words appear. Go back later and find the exact perfect right wording.

Sometimes the heading I first write down can sound pretty silly. I was indexing a textbook on multimedia, and every chapter had a section talking about how to tell if that kind of project is good. I wanted to gather all of those discussions in one place, and I couldn't for the life of me figure out anything to all it except “Is it good.” Yes, really. I indexed the whole book, blithely adding pages to my “Is it good” heading. I finally decided to call it “Quality hallmarks” at the very end.

Okay, I resolve to ask the author what the best all-encompassing phrase for this shrine area should be. Meanwhile, I just call it “Mexico City Guadalupe shrine.” Not too silly this time.


And suddenly indexing this chapter has become much easier. This is a complex book. My growing index is littered with notes to myself, including lots saying “reword!”. I will probably go through this same process multiple times before I’m done. But I’m on my way. The peregrinos in the book are following their pilgrimage paths to the Virgin of Guadalupe. I feel like I’m on a pilgrimage to the structure of this book.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Sorting Your Treasure

This is the seventh post in the Digging for Treasure series. Wow. Go find the rest of them at the end of this post and let me know what you think in the comments!

Well, hello, treasure-digger! You’ve been observing your process, remembering your experiences, and gathering your subconscious knowledge. Your shovel has lovely mud on it, and you have a whole pile of treasure.

You have the right words for explaining to a parent that their child is struggling with math.

You have your list of useful macros to use in your indexing software.

You have the way you feel a little panicked when you’ve finished a piece of art and don’t know yet what the next one will be.

You have the time you got up to perform your very first folk songs and only two people were listening.

You have your stories. Your feelings. Your resources. Your riches to share.

But what on earth are you to do with it now? These are bits of treasure. They’re random. They don’t seem to add up to anything. They may be overwhelming you a little. And you’re right—in order to use these observations, they’ll have to be organized.

It’s important to organize your information because:

  • Breaking it into small nuggets makes it easier to absorb and remember.
  • Eventually, you’ll need to make an order for your presentation. Having categories gives you sections to put in order.

But how are you going to organize it?

Fear not! It’s time for treasure sorting. In this stage of Digging for Treasure, you’ll put your bits into buckets. (Hmm, we captured them in baskets, now we’re sorting them into buckets. I’m still fine-tuning the metaphor!)

What do I mean by buckets?
  • Categories.
  • Goals for your learners.
  • Important points you want to make.
  • Principles illustrated by your specific examples.
  • Parts of an analogy.
Depending on the way you’re planning to share your knowledge, these categories could turn into sections of a workshop or teleclass, chapters of a book, or blog posts.

How are you going to find categories?

The neatest thing is that you already know some of them.

If you know a lot about something, there will be some kind of structure in your head. And the process of observing yourself and recording your observations almost certainly has called up more of it. So think about what categories have already popped up for you.

If your knowledge is a process, I’ll bet it has steps. Write them down—they might make good buckets!

When Trisha and I were observing the doll stories she uses to teach kids about diversity, we discovered that she was following distinct steps—and she didn’t even know it! Those steps became the sections of our workshops about the Kids Like Us technique—and the chapters of her book.

Okay, time to make a structure.

There are two ways to do this. You can use either one (or both), depending on how your brain works.

Method one: physical sorting. Cut up your bits or write each one on a card. Move them around until they fit into groups. Nice colored sticky notes are useful!

Method two: labeling. Jot down a list of possible categories, and label each bit with a category.

See what you find!

And guess what?
  • Your categories don’t have to be final at all. You can always change them later.
  • You don’t have to put them in order now. In fact, I recommend jotting them on a mindmap so that they’re not linear.
  • You might find one bit that doesn’t have a category. Don’t worry! Just label it “where” and move on.
  • You might realize that you need more examples and stories to fill in your categories. Right! That’s the next step in the process!

Here are the previous posts in the Digging for Treasure series:

Digging for Treasure: My First Dig
Digging for Treasure: At School 
Knowing Without Knowing 
The Survey: Discovering Your Deep Knowledge
The First Digging: Observation 
Into the Baskets! 

Join me in the comments!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Me and Harriet the Spy

When I was little, I read Harriet the Spy over and over again. The cover of my Scholastic copy fell off.

They made a movie based on the book fifteen years ago. I hadn’t read the book in a long time, though the copy with no cover is on a shelf somewhere. I went to the movie on my birthday.

I started crying in the middle of the movie, and didn’t stop till twenty minutes after it ended.

Why did I love Harriet so much?

With her short hair, bangs and glasses, sweatshirt and jeans, short and stubby, she looked like me. I was almost the only kid I knew who wore glasses. I was short. I’m not sure I was really stubby, but I felt stubby. Harriet marching along on the cover of that book looked so familiar and comfortable.

She got teased and excluded. Really bad. Her ex-friends had a whole parade about hating her. I got teased and left out every day. So I liked being inside the head of someone who knew what it was like. And she fought back! She tried lots of things! She got her friends back.

She had backbone.

She wanted to be a writer. No, she was a writer. She filled a whole trunkful of notebooks. She had a special pouch to carry her notebook in.

I wanted to be a writer too. In fact, I made a spy notebook, which my friend stole, read, and was mad at me about. Should have seen that one coming. I think I wanted to be a writer because it was the first time I noticed that you could be something. For years I was going to be a novelist, until I discovered that plots aren’t my strong point. (I am a writer now, among other things. It just turned out that I'm better at explaining things.)

I was pretty vague about what would happen when I grew up. I really thought I was going to be a housewife (although maybe writing novels at the dining room table). Harriet at eleven years old had an ambition, no, a profession. Even through the vagueness that lasted into college, I had that seed: of wanting to be something.

Well, Harriet, now I am a thing or two.

Thank you.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

What's Scary About Teaching, Part 3

This is the third post in a series. Here are the others:

The authorities! The authorities!

I don’t do this in the standard way. Don’t I have to teach the standard way?
People will argue with me.
I’m not up to date.
The authorities will disapprove.

Okay. First, are there really authorities in your field? Are you imagining a committee that will have an official meeting and decide to condemn you for your uppitiness or incorrect methods?

Or, in your field, are there highly respected people with good ideas?

I went through this when I taught my first workshop about indexing. I felt as if I was coming from nowhere, suddenly stepping out and offering people advice and guidance. Who did I think I was? (See I’m not perfect). And more than that—I disagreed with some of the published authors in the field. Yikes!

Well, it turned out that my methods are extremely helpful to indexers. People love them.

I have become one of those highly respected people with good ideas myself!

What’s more, people did argue with me as I taught my workshops (you know who you are, Michael and Sylvia!) —and I survived. In fact, it was fun.

What do you do when someone argues? You listen to them. You say, how interesting. You see if there’s something you can learn.

And you explain why you do it your way. Because way more important than one strategy or another is the rationale for deciding. Why do you do it that way? For instance, in indexing the two most important principles are to be true to the text’s meaning and helpful to the reader. That’s what I want my students to understand. My specific strategies, although I’m quite opinionated about some of them, are really paths to those ends. If someone takes a different path, that’s fine.

My niece teaches kung fu. There are lots of different ways to put together a series of moves, and so she often gets, “My other teacher doesn’t do it that way! He says to do a hard block.” How does she answer? “Yes, there are many ways to do this. Because I have less muscle mass in my upper body, I choose to do a circle feint at this point. The most important thing is to respond appropriately to the attack.”

By opening up the discussion and giving learners permission to choose for themselves, you are empowering them much more than if you just pounded your own way into their heads.

And they will end up respecting and listening to you much more too.

Too many other people are already teaching about this.

Havi Brooks addressed this so eloquently and funnily in her Blogging Therapy post that I’m going to summarize a few points here and then send you over there to read the whole thing.

1. Yes, lots of other people are teaching about this. Art? How to give workshops? Parenting? Are you kidding? But the fact is that people who want to learn about something want to learn everything they can get their hands on. Just because there are lots of restaurants doesn’t mean no-one should open a new yummy one.

2. What you have to offer is unique to you. All of those other presenters are not teaching the same thing you are, because your knowledge comes from your own experience and process of discovery. Your Right People want exactly what you are giving. Don’t deprive them of it!

3. Everybody, including those Great People who are already teaching your subject, feels like this. Normal!!

I have to address everything that has been said about this subject.

Everything. Ever. Including the thing that hasn't even been written yet.

Short answer: nope.

And when I started teaching time management, I was boggled to paralysis by the thousands of other teachers/books/blogs/systems out there. Every time I thought of a good way to explain, say, the limits of working memory, I'd find someone else talking about the same topic. Oh no! I have to report their point of view too?

There’s no way to include thousands of points of view. People want my point of view.

I started to panic as I started to write my book about indexing, based on my workshop. A lot of people have talked about subheadings. How can I organize my own material about how I create them and also address all that stuff? And say which parts I agree with and which parts I disagree with? And answer all of the possible arguments? Oh no, oh no!

Fortunately, some indexing-expert supportive friends sat me down and said, “You don’t have to do that. People want to know how you do it. Just say it’s not a literature review and move on.”

Oh. What a relief!

People want to know how you do it.

Furthermore, they want guidance and direction. They want to trust your competence. That works better if you don’t waffle.

Of course you’ll acknowledge that there are a lot of different ways to do the thing. (See above.) And of course you'll credit people if you learned from them or you're quoting their ideas.

But there’s a reason you chose your way. Let your learners see your confidence, and they will confidently relax and learn.

Comment-land: has any of this helped you move towards teaching? I'd love to hear about it! And please tell me if I missed any fears! There could always be a number four...

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Into the Baskets!

This is the sixth post in a series about the Digging for Treasure process. Go find the earlier ones at the end of this one!

So, you’ve been observing yourself, digging up bits of the treasure that is your knowledge of the subject that you want to teach. What will you do with all of those bits, with the first step in your knitting design, the way the view from the window looked at the moment you found out you had cancer, the most important question you ask at a job interview?

Basket #3by

Noticing and remembering is just the first step. You will have to capture all of those bits of treasure, gather them into baskets so that they don’t get lost. They’re precious!

I learned about capturing from the Getting Things Done system, and just this piece has made a huge difference in my life.

Oh, I’m sure I’ll remember it!

• Well, no. You can’t remember too many bits at once. Our working memory can hold about seven pieces of information at a time, and retrieving something that has fled into long-term memory seems to be a matter of random triggers. If you add an item to your memory, another one is likely to fall out.

• Besides, when you gather your treasure outside your mind, your psychic RAM is freed up to do more creative observing and thinking.

• As you keep going with the Digging for Treasure process, your awareness about your subject will expand. Connections, ideas, sentences, questions, and images will cascade like jewels through your mind. You’ll need every one of them, written down in detail, to go further with the teaching process.

What kinds of baskets?

Do you think your observations and ideas will wait until you’ve scheduled a time for them? I don’t think so! If my experience is any guide, your best ones are going to come right when you can’t easily write them down. In the car. When you’re almost but not quite asleep. Keep a capture tool with you all the time!

• Sticky notes! When I was observing my art process, I kept a stack next to my art table.
• Index cards. These, along with sticky notes, can be useful in the Treasure Sorting process.
• Paper lists.
• Word processor documents.
• A digital recorder. This is what I use when driving and almost-sleeping.

You can use several different methods. Just dump them into a central place periodically.

No order for now!

You might be tempted, especially if you’re a natural sorter/patterner like me, to start putting things into categories, analyzing them, planning with them. You don’t have to do this now. In fact, I think it’s better not to. Why?

You want as much raw material as you can. Concrete details, stories, emotions. If you start analyzing too soon, you’ll lift yourself out of the concrete realm and into the abstract.

Also, if you don’t start grouping your bits of treasure now, you’ll have much more creative space later, when you go to figure out the concepts you want people to understand.

So: keep the bits separate from each other. If you think of a possible category or concept, of course jot it down! But focus most on the down-to-earth process of observation. That’s where the gold is.

Here are the previous posts in the Digging for Treasure series:

Digging for Treasure: My First Dig
Digging for Treasure: At School 
Knowing Without Knowing 
The Survey: Discovering Your Deep Knowledge
The First Digging: Observation 

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The First Digging: Observation

Hi! This post is fifth in a series about Digging for Treasure: Learning to Teach What You Know. The other posts are linked at the end of this one.

So you’ve found something you know really well. Your treasure! And you want to share it with other people. It’s time to start working on that! What will your first step be?

Remember that when you know something well, your knowledge is subconscious. There are parts of it that you’re not even aware of.


Photo by USACE Europe District
So your next step is quite simple, but also magical. You go about your business, using your skill and paying close attention to the details. You watch yourself.

Plan your next party. Talk to your teenager. Put charcoal to paper. Observe with all of your senses: look, listen, touch, taste, feel. How does the living room look when it’s all ready for your guests? How does your child’s voice sound when he’s just about ready to start really talking to you? How does the charcoal feel as it moves across the grain?

You’re also going to think back to past times when you used this skill. You’ll think about how you learned it, decisions you had to make, problems you’ve encountered.

If your subject is an experience you’ve lived through, you’ll need to relive it in your memory. (This can take courage if it was a difficult experience!)

Every detail you think of is a bit of treasure. Don't worry about sorting them now! That's a different stage.

Finding Stories

I’m going to harp on stories all the way through this process. People learn best through stories. They engage, they think, they identify with you. They're entertained. They remember.

So you’re going to be looking for stories. Not necessarily epic novels. But small narratives that share what this process is really like. How did I decide what colors to mix to make the grey fur in my gorilla painting? What did the teacher say to the child who was melting down because he made a mistake?

How did you actually do this piece of your process?

Finding Feelings

And you’re going to pay attention to emotions—another thing that helps people to latch on to the concepts you want them to understand. Your emotions.

What was the frustration like when you decided your first design wasn’t worth keeping? How did you move through that to the next piece of sketch paper?

How can I describe the little click of satisfaction I get when I find another discussion that fits into an index heading I already made?

And anything funny is pure gold!


And you’re going to see things you never saw before. This kind of observation will give you a completely different angle on your knowledge and your process. You will actually know more when you’re done.

Next: what to do with all of those observations.

Comments: have you ever tried observing yourself like this? What was it like?

The Digging for Treasure series so far:

Digging for Treasure: My First Dig
Digging for Treasure: At School 
Knowing Without Knowing 
The Survey: Discovering Your Deep Knowledge

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Survey: Discovering Your Deep Knowledge

This post is part of a series on the Digging for Treasure process. Other posts in the series are listed at the end of this one.


You know you want to teach or write. You have riches to share. But you’re not sure what your subject is. Before you can dig for treasure, you need to do a survey.

Maybe you’re a really good teacher. You’ve taught and written about several different subjects successfully. You love the process and want to do more of it. The field of possibilities is wide open. This is where I was when I came up with Digging for Treasure.

Maybe you’re a scanner. If I said, “You have a treasure inside you to share,” you would answer (possibly with panic), “which one???” You know enough about raising goats, weaving, vegan nutrition, blogging, and international development consulting to teach a college course in each one. How on earth should you choose? (Oh yeah, this describes me too.) (Well, not those exact subjects.) (I could see myself liking goats, but…)

Maybe you wish you could share a philosophy or an attitude towards life that has helped you. Maybe you’ve been inspired by a wonderful teacher and wish you could spread the message. But you don’t know exactly how to do it.

A survey into subjects you could teach is by nature going to be very individual and personal. You’ll need to wander around in your lives and interests, and your next subject might appear through serendipity. But I’m going to give you some clues to help you find it.

If You’re a Scanner

…and you already have a list of possible topics, the answer is easy. Eventually you can teach them all, if you want to. It’s really important for scanners to know that they can embrace everything they love! You don’t have to choose just one in the long run.

But for now, you just need to pick one and get going! Learning to dig up your treasure and get it ready to share is a skill you can learn. Once you’ve done it consciously with one subject, teaching or writing about all the others will be easier. So the important thing now is to start on something.

But how should you choose? Here are some ways:
  • Pick the one you have the deepest knowledge about. This will make it easiest to prepare.
  • Pick the one you feel most passionate about. Your enthusiasm will drive you along!
  • Pick the one for which you have an audience. If you want to sell your expertise, it helps to have a market.
  • Or close your eyes and pick one at random! If you love and know them all, any one will be successful. Remember, you can always share the others later.

If You Want to Share an Attitude, Philosophy, or Teaching

…you will need to root your teaching in real life. Learners need stories and concrete details to engage with and to make them think. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
  • What experiences led you to this new attitude?
  • How did learning the philosophy change you? What were things like for you before and after you learned it?
  • Do you have stories of other people whose lives have been changed in the same way?
  • If you were inspired by a teacher, do you remember exactly how they inspired you? What did they say? How did you relate it to your life? Again, how did things change for you?
The answers to these questions will give you some places to start digging for your unique treasure.  


If you just know there’s something in you that needs to be shared, you will need to do some wandering.

I believe that everyone has deep knowledge of something. Even if you don’t think you’re highly competent in a particular skill, I bet you have been through life experiences (wonderful or awful) that other people could learn from. You need to explore your life and experiences to find your unexpected sources of knowledge and skill.

Below, in a mindmap, you’ll find some directions for your wandering.

I recommend that you try mindmapping for this exploration process. I’ll be writing more posts about mindmapping, which I use constantly. But it’s simple enough to jump right in. Just put your question in the middle and use each of the clues I give as a branch. As you have thoughts, extend them from the relevant branch. Working from the inside out mirrors the way our brains make connections and thus makes it easier to think. It doesn’t need to be beautiful or artistic. And there are no rules!

And One More Wonderful Exercise

This is the one that found me my Digging for Treasure program. I found it in Finding Your Perfect Work by Paul and Sarah Edwards (highly recommended if you’re wanting to start your own business).

I did this one in a mindmap too.

In the middle, put People Like Me. Then start adding branches. Who is like you? Homeschooling parents? Short men? People with lots of siblings? Accountants close to retirement? Ex-Catholics? Intermediate guitarists? Photoshop users?

You’re going to think about what you might have to offer each of those groups, with whom you share characteristics or experiences.

When I did this exercise, I found about thirty groups of “people like me.” Just doing it was fascinating, a whole different lense on my life and experiences.

One of those groups was “people who give workshops.” And I realized that I had given successful workshops in a lot of different fields. Maybe I had something to offer people who want to teach!

I'd love to hear from you. Did you try doing the survey? Which clue helped you most? Did you try mindmapping? What did it feel like?

The Digging for Treasure series so far:

Digging for Treasure: My First Dig
Digging for Treasure: At School 
Knowing Without Knowing