The Outline’s Role

Three days into NaNoWriMo yesterday, and I took a moment to see what the world wide web would provide when I asked about outlines for writing a novel. I encountered these three sites, which I have borrowed some elements of:

Today, I have learned of NaBloPoMo, shared with me by WordPress.

This is practice, by design.

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A 5280 Family Reunion

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35 members of five generations of family who range in age from 7 weeks to a few weeks shy of 93 assemble in Denver and Aurora this weekend. Select moments of storytelling have been:
• two consecutive days of pool with my niece and nephew, including a 10-minute clinic on grips, how to place their left hands on the pool table, and steadying the cue on the padding between a thumb and forefinger. Last night, Diego said “thanks for showing me, Uncle Chad. I wasn’t this good at pool before.”
• telling Ms. Gayles, Aunt Barbara and Grandmother about ten years of vegetables and the proliferation of CSAs, community gardens and urban farms. It’s amazing when a diabetic says, “I had no idea that young people, your age, were so into their food like that,” as we talked about jobs, health, diets, fish chromosomes in tomatoes, the proliferation of and popular resistance to GMOs, and the future.
• stories of Count, Candy and GoGo, who were George’s three Dobermans in Dallas. Count, who was a guard dog, walked Sherry down the street one day causing a neighbor, who could recognize any Doberman, called George to tell him where his daughter and dog were.

Slowing Down

So, what is this, this slowing down?

I have considered myself an old soul for a few decades. Part of that old-ness has been a proclivity to chillax, and take things slowly. When I was a teenager, my older brother used to assert that i wasn’t running my fastest and hardest up and down the basketball court. When I look back upon it now, it is not surprising that my norm seemed slower-than-most to others.

The single simplest way that I embrace slowing down is by refraining from multi-tasking. After being conditioned to praise multi-tasking, I try to avoid it these days. When I brush my teeth, I no longer do calf lifts in order to build muscles in my legs as I tried to do at 17. I don’t brush my teeth while putting on socks and shoes as my 24 year-old self did. Instead, I brush my teeth, and allow my attention to feel the sensations of toothpaste, enamel and the stretch of my cheeks.

There is a geography to slowing down. The Southwest and Mountain West flows at its own rate. I sense the attraction and the fit now that I have returned after being gone for more than a decade. The hustle and bustle on the coasts is a different wavelength than what I flow on, with my flyover country ways. Thirteen years after leaving Barbados, a Bajan proverb of tekkin tyme ent lazyness resonates now more than it did when I lived there in 1998.

But it isn’t only due to the pace of the world outside. For the first time in my life, I am living without a television in my home. It has all sorts of consequences, only a few that I anticipated. Then, there are countless benefits of living free of cable, channel surfing and the echo chamber of the 24 hour news cycle. A few glimpses of what it means to not have a tv are: (1) I do not plop down on the sofa when I am exhausted — whether it is a weeknight, a Sunday morning or the middle of the night. (2) television has a powerful, addictive quality with my psyche, which used to keep me seated in front of it, long after I was actually choosing to watch. (3) As a result of the minutes and hours that I used to spend in front of a television, my days fill with hours and minutes that i sit, stand or lie elsewhere.

Other ways of slowing down range from reading, laying down and closing my eyes to baking or going for a walk. As a result, a slower lifestyle subjects me to fewer external stimuli, which keeps my internal systems (my circadian rhythym, I believe) lower. My mind, nor my days, are not as frantic nor as herky jerky as they once were.

I commit to fewer appointments, phone calls and obligations each day. This results in a slower morning, a relaxed afternoon and a soothing evening most days. A year ago, I was amazed to find that I had the time one evening to listen to how tired my body was when it was 8:06 p.m. As a result, 8:06 became a joke about my preferred bedtime.

Instead of having to scramble to honor commitments that had been made, I choose to be spontaneous instead. I can have a hunch of what I may get in to this afternoon or over the weekend, yet I refrain from fillinig it up like an itinerary. Fewer commitments allows for more spontaneity when living moment-by-moment.

More openness results in being able to cook and prepare meals more readily, and more easily. Whether it is the 5 minutes to toast bread for a peanut butter, honey and banana sandwich or 30-60 minutes for baking or a stew, food takes a precedence in my slower schedule. It is no surprise that I make more pancakes and french toast, bake more (cookies, brownies and breads), and eat more vegetables made in all sorts of ways. I choose to make time for meals, cooking and eating well.

I realize how much of lifestyle is about choice. The choice of whether to grab food out, or choose to eat a meal at home. The choice to get the groceries to be able to prepare a meal in as little as 2, 5 or 25 minutes makes home cooked meals much tastier.

I can choose to stop working at a designated hour, rather than allow my day job to encroach on my evenings. It is not the same hour every day, but I am content to leave my work alone when the time is right.

—–
A few years ago, a friend told me how he and all of his coworkers were revising their job descriptions. What was memorable, was that they were cutting away one-third or half of what was on their old job descriptions in order to focus on what was essential, and what was desirable to them in their work. This, is the kind of cutting back that we need.

This is the kind of cutting back that slowing down invites.

Why open space?

Open space is a way to break up the mundane, old ways of conferences. Just as we are realizing that rote memorization does not work in the classroom, and education needs to be shaken up. Our meetings and multi-day conferences need strong winds of new ideas and currents of new ways.

We do not need to leave the cool, non-traditional, people-powered ways to the techies in San Francisco, either. In fact, for the sake of our selves, our souls and our future, we need to harness our collective strengths. Open space (or Open Space Technology, as it can also be called. OST for short.) is one compelling way to do so.

Open space is not only about the topics that get discussed. The experience of open space is equally important. The experience of making choices and self-authorizing. The experiences of realizing that other people are co-creating ideas, having exchanges and addressing their own needs at the same time. In fact, others are doing so At. This. Very. Moment.

Open space is like communication. Just as 70% of communication is non-verbal, leaving 30% to be verbal. 70% of open space’s potency is how it feels, and 30% is what is said in the array of small groups.

Open space honors that we do not all learn in the same way. Open space embraces that we are all on different pages. Our being in different places is embraced, rather than viewed as being detrimental. It is actually, seeing a group of people as each one of us in a group is. Oftentimes, some people are ready to discuss some specific tangent, while others are seeking basic definitions and understanding of what is happening. Open space allows for the introductory and in-depth or tangential to happen at the same time. The people get to choose which one suits them.

During the recent BIN conference, I introduced open space technology as a version of “montessori for adults.” Go do what you want, as you want, with whomever else wants to do it. Or as they say in the Montessori camp, “go learn on your own, while being guided by a teacher.” Guiding happens, just with us guiding ourselves rather than relying on some typical teacher/facilitator.

****

I have attended too many gatherings and conferences where the energy of a group can swiftly change. The warmth, curiosity of the first-day-and-a-half pivots. Suddenly, people can begin to see that the multi-day funfest is has an endpoint. Questions arise: how do i carry this on next week when I am back at school/work/my home/my desk? How will the importance of this moment be sustained? Who is going to follow through on all that been talked about, identified, proposed and what i have heard?

Open space can be a pressure valve to let off some of the steam that expands in a contained space. Instead of trying to control it, open space provides a blank canvass for people to doodle, paint and illustrate. Old controlling tendencies get mired in question of what: what are we gonna paint? what are we using, watercolors, oils, pastels, charcoal? what is going on this canvass?

Instead, open space can be a canvass to the nth power. There can be as many canvasses as there are people who are ready to paint. Canvasses for whatever people identify a need for, and then commit to take it upon themselves to utilize. (if no one goes to discuss the place that open space identifies, then it quickly ceases)

Instead of saying, “oh no, we only have x number of slots,” open space enables, equips and empowers. People can say:
– You want a canvass to do what?
– Great. Go find some space and put a call out to everyone else so they know what you are up to.

The primary constraint in open space is our minds. By that, I mean the limits of what our human minds can fathom when we categorize, define and differentiate. Open space is a wiki for meetings and conferences. Some people can discuss topics and issues while others can figure out the building blocks of logistics, principles, leadership, communications. This is some of what happened when we devolved in Atlanta.

***

A year ago, I first introduced open space to another group. When defining it, I had to explain that it is not Free Time. Instead, it was a time for people:

  1. to go do what they need to do,
  2. to go where they needed to go,
  3. in order to take care of themselves.

That meant napping for some, and snacking for others. For me, i sat on a rocking chair on a large porch at the Benezet House of the Penn Center in St Helena, South Carolina. FOr most of the people present, it was a chance to jump in the car, ride 10 minutes to the beach where they took their shoes off, rolled their pant legs up, and strolled in the waves along the beach. They were doing what they needed to take care of themselves. They were right where tehy needed to be. And they got to do the things that we were all there to do: tell our stories, exchange ideas and experiences, compare notes.

As a little kid in me would say, it was so important that we got to do it outside, too. Afterwards, when i asked some people what their favorite part of our previous 2.5 days had been, they said it was their time on the beach.

***

That is some of what open space can allow for. What began as one person’s idea spread. It went from one car-full of people. To another. To a third. Just like that an idea found a group of people ready to spring into action. These ideas and such moments are all around us. The question is whether we can see them.

Rather than attempt to control them — control the ideas, control the moments, control the people — open space is one way to embrace ideas, moments and people.

new mornings of 4 practices

I developed a fourth new practice for my mornings, before 12noon. It gets added to the bottom of this list:

1. sitting,

2. stepping outdoors in order to walk + spend 30 minutes outside,

3. 20 minutes of cleaning, cleansing, chores and purging,

4. writing the morning pages.

Morning pages, a phrase from writer Julia Cameron, are described on en.wikipedia as:

Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. The Artist’s Way says there is no wrong way to do Morning Pages—they are not high art. They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind.

The Artist Date is a once-weekly, festive, solo expedition to explore something that interests the artist.

The first day I did morning pages, on Monday, my forearm fatigued from the length of time and the speed of writing longhand. A lactic FeltSense or the “unclear, pre-verbal sense of  ‘something.'” Yes, unclear and preverbal was that tingling in my right arm. Brought about by the quickness of my right hand moving pen over paper.

resolutions for here/now

I stopped with the new years’ resolutions habit years ago. It was when I started to getting frustrated with the self-imposed expectations of the gym 7 times a week. Both my own proclamations of such, and those of others, were self-punishment. But, I’m back into resolutions. Thanks to Carlos Vega. Who’s remixed the resolution by having the same one each year: to see more movies.

Since imitation is the highest form of flattery, I’ma mimic the C.Vega resolution by trebling it:

My new years resolutions for 2011 (as of today, Nov 23rd) are:

  1. yes, to see more movies,
  2. to drink more coffee,
  3. to drink more beer,
  4. to cook more new meals — from both recipes and inspiration.

(h/t JVF)