The Art of Writing in the Digital Age

As many of you know, I started the LD Podcast when my kids were small, because they had learning struggles, and one went to a school for kids with learning disabilities for a number of years. Along the way, I read, researched, and even wrote a book, on top of producing a podcast about learning and learning differences, so that as I learned about how to help my kids, I could help other parents and kids at the same time.

One of the issues my boys struggle with is HORRIBLE handwriting.  There are fine motor issues, and even throughout their schooling, there have been debates about whether handwriting is important, something schools should spend valuable time on, or skip in favor of teaching kids keyboarding skills at an early age.

Well, there are even more studies coming out that say taking notes by hand help strengthen your memory and mastery of material.  When I spoke to handwriting and learning experts a number of years ago, they explained that the process of handwriting meant that you had to take information in auditorily, then transform it and determine the most important points, and write it down- and in this process, you were doing several things using your short term and long term memory that helped retention, better than just writing down everything the teacher said, like taking dictation. You had to take information and the physical act of writing seemed critical in that process.

This is why I have notebooks everywhere. I have driven my husband crazy with all my notebooks, and I am surprised the Moleskine company hasn’t added me to their christmas card list.

Then, in 2016, I discovered Bullet Journalling, where I could keep all of my notes in one journal, rather than having one for every subject. It has an indexing system which makes it convenient to use, but I am still tied to paper.  In fact, I recently needed to share my notes on a subject with my boss, and he laughed- in part because of the paper, and how inefficient the method was in sharing information.

So this year, for my birthday, my husband gave me a new ipad pro and an apple pencil. I have been gradually giving up paper in favor of the ipad/apple pencil pairing, and I hate to admit it, it is working.

While I love the notability app where I can take notes and audio during a meeting or interview, the Nebo app for ipad lets me take handwritten notes and with a click, transforms them into typed text that I can export and share in anyway I need to.  This now frees me to write, draw, and do anything I need to with the Apple Pencil, and still let the text be useful to export into blog posts, landing pages- whatever I might be working on.

And if I ever need or long for a Moleskine and things like the storyboard pages, the Moleskine app provides this for me as well, although it does not have the handwriting recognition I get in Nebu.

While ditching paper is still a challenge for me, my love of handwriting and the efficiency of transferring that information into a useful and searchable digital resource is finally at hand. I’ll let you know how it goes, but so far, my world is becoming less and less dependent on paper.

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Being Helpful

A long time ago, there was a pretty famous book entitled All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten. It was cute and seemed quaint, but it is so true. To be happy and reasonably successful as a grown-up, you can get quite a long way by just starting with be helpful and kind to everyone.

This week, a couple of people have asked for help in the job search. For some reason, I have been getting a ton of emails from different recruiters lately, so I have been passing these on to people who have asked for help. It’s up to them to apply to these jobs, or sign up with the recruiter themselves, of course, but sometimes, all someone needs is the key to the next door to find a treasure trove of opportunity.

I obviously don’t have the time to be everyone’s personal job concierge.  But I do like meeting people, and like passing on opportunities- If I can’t solve someone’s problems, maybe it came to my desk so I could pass the opportunity on to someone who needs it more than I do. And if something works out, then it was a moment worth taking.

We all get stuck sometimes, and aren’t sure where to go next.  Where’s the next rock to cross the stream? You can feel trapped and unsure, and it’s a miserable feeling for sure. Asking for help is important, but you also have to be as specific as possible, so you get the kind of help you want.  General pleas don’t have enough information so someone can say- well, I can help you with that!! And its important to remember spending a few minutes listening to a problem can make a world of difference to someone else, even if you can’t help.

There are times things seem complicated and messy. Take the time to be kind, help out, be fair, share, and surprisingly, you feel better as you help make others feel a little better too.  If nothing else, it’s good karma.

And here are the rules Robert Fulghum came up with. I would add – don’t forget to hold hands and help someone who looks lonely make a new friend.

“These are the things I learned (in Kindergarten):

1. Share everything.
2. Play fair.
3. Don’t hit people.
4. Put things back where you found them.
5. CLEAN UP YOUR OWN MESS.
6. Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
7. Say you’re SORRY when you HURT somebody.
8. Wash your hands before you eat.
9. Flush.
10. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
11. Live a balanced life – learn some and drink some and draw some and paint some and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
12. Take a nap every afternoon.
13. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
14. Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
15. Goldfish and hamster and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.
16. And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first worked you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK.”
Robert FulghumAll I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten

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Dealing With The Inevitable

During my “day gig” as a digital marketer, I have a variety of clients that I love.  One of our new clients in a Continuing Care Retirement Community, and so I am learning a lot about aging and aging gracefully from a community of people who I really admire.

While this means I am confronting retirement and mortality realities much sooner than I’m comfortable with, the bottom line is ignoring the fact that we will all eventually pass away isn’t a good option for any of us, personally, or for our families.

I’ve been spending some time interviewing seniors- mostly older baby boomers, and like myself, they are kind of surprised they’re getting old. Many of them have also struggled with the needs of their parents as they have aged, and are deciding to take a different path, one where they have control, rather than letting- or making- other people make the decisions for them.

I get this, because my husband and I have three aging parents, all in various states of health, and each one is in a different state of acceptance/denial about this.  One thinks with the right planning, they will live to be well over 100, no matter what actuarial tables or doctors might say. One is starting to have mobility problems, and there’s no telling how much of this might be permanent rather than transient. And the third is getting, well, vague is the best way to put it. Not quite on the dementia spectrum, but starting to slowly fade, might be the best way to phrase it.

My husband has two siblings, as do I. We live far away from all of the aging parents, so our siblings are doing a lot of the hands-on maintenance. While it might look like that would be easy, after all, the daily burden isn’t in our laps,- it makes us sad, guilty, and wanting to be able to help more, but not sure how, especially from a distance.  I can gather information, make calls, and listen, but all the day to day hard work is really hands on, and we’re just not there.

For the relatives that need less direct help, but might need a longer term plan, having conversations about this is not easy. One one hand, we’re talking about our parents here- people who have been the adults in control in our lives for our entire lives. The thought that they may no longer be that shining, guiding light on how to do things still takes me by surprise from time to time. Plus, if my husband thinks I’m stubborn, guess what? My stubborn skills pale next to the tree from which I came.  And I’m still vaguely afraid of my mom when she gets angry, even if I think I could take her in a fair fight if it came down to that.

Welcome to the Sandwich generation. We are trying to make sure our kids get launched into life successfully, while simultaneously worrying about aging parents and making sure they get the care they need and have earned. It’s stressful. There aren’t any clear answers. There could be impending doom around the corner, but the best thing we can hope for is that they have a decent power of attorney and estate plan in place, to be honest.

And I get it. No one wants to get old. No one like facing their mortality. But answering questions, not only about care choices, but about disposition of assets, where to find the important stuff, a list of primary contacts, where you hide the safe deposit key, etc. just seems to me to be a minimum amount of planning that will make your kid’s lives less stressful later on.

All I can say is that I know a little planning goes a long way, and I hope my husband and I are getting the message of how to plan, to help our kids so they don’t have to make choices for us. As someone said to me last week, it is so much better to be five years too early than 5 minutes too late. In that regard, I hope all of us learn the lessons we are being taught now and don’t put our kids in the same situation, because it’s easier to ignore the inevitable than face it.

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Bookends

The Simon and Garfunkle song, Bookends, talks about old friends and memories.

I went to a memorial service this weekend for a great man, Sam Armstrong.

Sam was a teacher at Centreville School. My son James went there, as did Sam’s son, Jack. I knew Sam in his roles as parent and teacher back then, but I didn’t see him much until I ran for office, and then I met him again through his involvement with the local democrats, and it was such a pleasure to see him again. He was one of those people who always made you feel better about life, just being in the same room with him.

As someone said at the service, Sam didn’t really remind you of anyone else- he was his own category. He was a kind listener, but not a tea and sympathy guy, so much as a “Well, dust yourself off and let’s go fix it” kind of guy. He pushed everyone around him to do better and be better, just to live up to his standards of always doing the right thing. It started with kindness, and always seeing the value someone brought to the table. He made kids feel like they were special, they were heard, and they had something to contribute.

Same worked at Centreville Layton School, a school for kids with learning disabilities.  Often times these kids have had rocky school experiences, and come to Centreville with feelings of not quite fitting in in the world, and Sam was the kind of teacher who could help those kids feel valued and that they had something unique to contribute to the world and the school community. That can be a challenge with kids who aren’t used to that sort of fierce love and kindness- but Sam helped them all feel important.

He had a passion for the environment and native plants. He made kids feel a part of nature and science. His neighbors remember him as the guy who could fix anything, take the time to help a neighbor, and always, always, did the right thing.

I wish I got to spend more time with Sam, but even from a further distance, I always thought of him as a person who was someone we all wished there were more of in the world.  Someone who was fiercely loyal and kind. Someone who was empathetic, but not sympathetic- he understood, but spurned you to take care of it, not wallow in pity.

It seems so unfair that he was taken from the world at a young age, by a particularly rare disease. His kids are still in those early years of adulthood, when a Dad’s advice is valued so much, and I know when I lost my Dad at that age, it was really hard. And as I looked at my son who is about Jack;’s age this weekend, I thought about how lucky we were, and that every moment we spend together as a family is precious. It was a reminder to me about how fleeting things can be, and how we can’t afford to waste time on things that don;t matter.

Thank you, Sam, for everything you taught me from afar. Thank you for everything you have done for kids over the years, and how you have inspired so many people to just do the right thing- always.  We will miss you always.

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Pay it Forward- For Yourself!

I work for a digital marketing firm, and I produce a lot of content for the web- videos, blog posts, copy for websites, and more. The one thing I do every day that pays off the most in the long run, is trying to capture ideas, pictures and little snippets that end up becoming the pieces of bigger, more impressive projects later on.

For example, last year one of my clients participated in a big 4th of July parade.  I took lots of pictures and video that day. We posted some of the footage and pictures live that very day.  Some of the pictures went into an email newsletter shortly thereafter.  And all of those pictures and footage made putting together a short video for their site to get people excited about this year’s parade super easy.  This meant the time spent capturing the moment last year has continued to pay off in different ways for at least a whole year- that’s a good investment of time and resources.

Likewise, for another client, we write a ton of case studies about the work they do.  By having their workmen take a few shots when they are installing new equipment, and having the owners shoot us over a little bit about the job and the folks involved, I’m able to create a great case study that showcases a solution to a problem many other people have, while also demonstrating our client’s knowledge and expertise.   A few minutes of capturing data and pictures, and the payoff becomes content for the blog and Facebook that helps create new leads and multiplies their success.

Yesterday, I was trying to solve a problem for a client, and I remembered a friend had posted about this particular issue a few years back- the post stuck with me.  So I looked up their blog, and while the post was no longer there, I found a couple of other interesting ideas, and now I’m thinking about ways we can work together on a few things.

In all of these cases, work and ideas I paid attention to a long time ago come forward and become incredibly useful now- it’s like David Sedaris’s new book- Theft by Finding- by revisiting what you’ve done, you can then remix, rework and come up with entirely new ideas based on everything that’s gone before.

But how do you create a personal Swipe File- Idea Board- collection of stuff that you will use again and again?

Personally, I use Flipboard to alert me to new information and blog posts I might not otherwise see.  I sort the best stuff into a couple of “buckets”- they call them magazines- where I can collect relevant info for projects or ideas that I can then go mine later on when I’m stuck or feel particularly uninspired.

I use Flickr to post pictures, and I also try to take pictures of flowers, signs, etc. while I’m out and about- things that capture my attention, because that all becomes a decent backbone for are for a slidedeck or blog post in the future. I have a log of background sounds I’ve recorded while on vacation- sounds I can use in videos, podcasts, or even a story/drama if I ever need one.

In the age of digital media, you can be a content hoarder and easily get overwhelmed.  The key is to try to stay a bit organized, tag everything so it’s easy to search and find, and use the right digital tools like Skitch, Flipboard, This blog, Pinterest, and even Facebook to keep the good stuff easily available when you need it.

Building in capturing moments that grab your attention now will end up paying off huge dividends later.  All you have to do is keep your eye out for the things that are creative, odd, memorable, goofy- with flashes of brilliance that make you smile. Save that stuff- digitally- and it can reap rewards (and save tons of time searching for this stuff online later).

Just remember the time you put into this now- just moments when you are doing your everyday stuff- can yield dividends multi-fold in the future. Pay it forward- for yourself and others, by being observant in the now.

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