Saturday, February 28, 2015

Photography Class: Dreams

Taking a picture of a dream started out as a challenge for me. I have a handful of reoccurring dreams or dream themes that I can remember.

My oldest reoccurring dream is one that I no longer have. Back when I had this dream, I was pretty sure it was the only dream that I had, as I never remembered any other dreams when I woke up. It is hard to describe the dream itself since the environment I was in or viewing (it's hard to decide really if I was really there or just seeing this) isn't anything that exists in reality. The best I can do is say:

I am in a sort of square, but really amorphously shaped, colorless room. The room has double walls. The inner set of walls, where my viewpoint is from, is clear. The outer set of walls are just opaque, I suppose, or black or gray or the world ends there or there is nothing to see after that point or something. Between these two "walls" are geometric shapes in muted colors sort of moving (floating?) around. Occasionally, there is a opening or hole in the transparent wall and a shape will move from one side to the other through the holes. 

That's it. That's the whole dream. The only dream I remembered having for basically years, if not two decades really.

For the past 10 years or so, I have had more dreams that I remembered, but there are two repeating themes.
  1. I am trying to get something done that requires other people to do things and I cannot get them to do them. I spend all night trying and failing to accomplish this thing while becoming increasingly frustrated with the people in my dream. I wake up all stressed and pissed. For people who know me, this just sounds like my life. What with me being a type-A anal retentive personality with unreasonable expectations. Talk about a shitty dream.
  2. I jump and instead of coming back down, I keep going up. The higher I get, the more anxious I become because I know at some point I have to come down. As far as I know, I have never come down in the dreams. So basically, I have a flying dream, something that most other people enjoy, and I spend the whole time stressed about the eventual fall to earth.
For the assignment, I initially tried to think about how I could convey the emotions from those two dreams in a picture. Given my limited shooting time (I go to work in the dark, I come home in the dark. So I can only shoot on the weekend when I also have to do the cleaning and the grocery shopping and go to my Storytelling class), they both seemed too complicated to accomplish.

Knowing that I had other dreams in the past, I did a Facebook search of my posts in my Activity Feed and hit pay dirt. Holy shit have I had, and recorded for posterity in Facebook, some weird ass dreams.

There is enough great material here that I think, over time, I will do a series. However, for this photography class, I just needed one. I decided to go with the first one, as it had a lot of potential.

I started with an Amazon search for a platypus. Since this is a photography class, I wanted to shoot everything in the image. I didn't just want to find a picture of a platypus on the internet and photoshop it. At first, I thought I would buy a realistic platypus:

Courtesy of Amazon

Until I discovered Agent P.

Courtesy of Amazon

OMG was he awesome. Just the sort of platypus that would menace me at night.

Agent P turned out to be a rare Disney character not available at either Disney store in Austin. Apparently, in his non-agent form he is Perry the Platypus and is readily available. But Agent P is harder to come by. I ordered him off Amazon and had to wait until Wednesday night when he arrived (my class is on Thursday) to shoot him.

In the meantime, I decided the whole gun, bill-grabbing thing was too much. I would just have him loom menacingly over my sleeping figure. So I stuffed some pillow under the sheets and shot the bedroom (with and without Cale for perspective and lighting purposes). After I got Agent P on Wednesday night, I shot him as well and combined the two images.


I think it turned out rather well.

This week we are shooting an event, curating a 12-piece show of our and/or others' images, and determine what camera and lens we use the most.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Human-Centered Design: Everyone Dreams of Giving Away Lottery Winnings, Right?

Apparently, +Acumen​ online courses are addictive. I've started one on Human-Centered Design.

The first reading included this statement: "One of the biggest impediments to adopting design thinking is simply fear of failure."

My response? "When I have a foundation, and I am funding organizations, I will give those organizations money each year to spend on the crazy ideas that can't get funded. Even if they fail, there will be no repercussions for their regular annual funding for operations...There will be M&E, don't get me wrong. I am not just throwing this money away."

That's right, because I frequently daydream about how I would give away lottery winnings. Seriously, I have to keep upping the amount I have won in my fantasy, not because I have more things I want for myself, but because I can think of more ways to give it away.

If I win $1 million, I'll give $10,000 to this person and $10,000 to this person...and wait, now there isn't enough for an endowment.

Ok, if I win $10 million, I'll give...

And so it goes.

Don't get me wrong. I will definitely go on a nice vacation to some parts of the world where I haven't been before. And I will buy somethings of my list of stuff I need for myself. Like new underpants and exercise clothes. You know, really splurge on myself.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Storytelling for Change: On Manipulation

Someone in a Storytelling for Change forum talked about the possibility of storytelling abilities to be used for [cue creepy voice] evil. This person was approached for money by someone claiming their wallet had been stolen and he just needed money for gas to get home. After giving the man money, my classmates reflected on it and felt that he had been scammed. Since then he has refused to give money when approached for fear of being scammed gain.

The cynic in me says, of course he was scammed. But that is not the point.

I started to type this long response, but decided not to send it. When I reflected on the response, I realized that it really had nothing to do with the content of the course itself and there was no reason to try to start some sort of argument.

However, I thought I would share my thoughts here:

This is something that I have thought about a great deal.

I think about it in terms of Type I and Type II errors in statistics (the likelihood you will accept the hypothesis when it is in fact false or when you will reject the hypothesis when it is fact true).

I also think about it in terms of the presumption of innocence and reasonable doubt concepts in the U.S. justice system. The idea behind those being that it is better for a guilty person to go free than an innocent person to be convicted.

I recently had a conversation with someone about a charity center where she frequently volunteers. Over the years, they have increasingly added to the rules those seeking support from the center must follow. I feel it has been come quite repressive and seems to strip their clients of all dignity.

Clients are not allowed to go into the warehouse for donations themselves. Instead, they must tell a volunteer what they want and why they want it. The volunteer then goes into the warehouse and brings back the items the client may have. So people are not allowed to select their own clothes or home items. They have to take what they are given. They are also limited. You can only have so many shirts or so many tables and only one electronic item, etc.

There is a reason for these rules. This center has seen through the years that there are people who would come and take advantage. They would take more than they needed, leaving less for others. Or take donations only to sell them. But I wonder, is it worth it to insult everyone who comes to the center, assuming they are there to take advantage, just in case there are a few people who are there for that purpose? I think I would rather give some donations to people with less than noble purpose than to fail to help those in need with dignity and grace.

On the other hand, if the center doesn't find a way to screen or limit its clients, it is possible that its donations will go to individuals not in need, leaving less for those who are in need.

It is a hard thing to balance and something that constantly requires thoughtful consideration. I, of course, have no answers. Only questions.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Sara is Not Impressed

Thanks to my parents, I am taking a photography class on campus on finding my photographic style. Our assignment for class today was to bring a photograph we had already taken that is a six on a 1-10 scale. The instructor talked about how spending more time on the pictures that aren't bad, but aren't quite there is a great way to improve your work.

Last night I basically scrolled through a decade of images in Lightroom pulling out the ones that were, you know, ok. I still have to sort through the 50 or so I have set aside to find the one to show in class (though, since class was cancelled tonight, I suppose it is for next week now).

However, in the course of scrolling through all these pictures, I came across the folder of pictures Mom had scanned from her photo albums to make a scrapbook for me recently. As Cale and I clicked from picture to picture, we started to notice a trend.

Sara, historically, has not been impressed. Cale calls it the evolution of resting bitch face.

And so, for your meme fodder, I give you: Sara is Not Impressed.

Sara started out unimpressed.

Sara was unimpressed with birthdays.

Sara was unimpressed with holidays.

Sara was unimpressed with family activities.

Sara was unimpressed with school.

Sara was unimpressed with friends.

Sara was unimpressed with her chunky phase.

Sara was unimpressed with Disney World.

And of course, Sara was an unimpressed teenager.

So there you have it. Sara is Not Impressed through time.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Storytelling for Change: Leadership Presence

This week the storytelling course is focused on leadership presence. I find it interesting that the content of this course I am taking actually dovetails with the program I manage at work. We offer the MBA students access to a roster of communication, specialty, and executive coaches, as well as curate a leadership development curriculum of sorts that involves scheduling optional sessions and workshops .Both storytelling and leadership presences are skills we help our students develop. So this course may turn out to be beneficial to my career in other ways. Maybe I'll think of some new sessions to offer the students.

Anyway, leadership presence.

Acumen and NovoEd subscribe to the PRES model of leadership presence.
  1. Being Present in the moment
  2. Reaching out to build relationships through empathy, listening, and authentic connection
  3. Expressiveness - the ability to express feelings and emotions congruent with the message using words, voice, body, face, etc.
  4. Self-knowing - the ability to accept yourself, be authentic, and reflect on your values
Since this is a free, online course we just watch a four minute video on this topic and read the first chapter of a book. Both of which basically outline what I said above, but don't get into the nitty-gritty of how you are supposed to do these things. They both agree that this is not an only inherent skill, that it is something you can develop. But I am going to have to do my own reading if I am to figure out how to develop these skills.

Right of the bat though they seem like they fall into the "easier said than done" category. The reading talks about "listening to understand." And I am sure that you could achieve this through employing active-listening skills. But it's the doing it that I struggle with. If I could remember to be an active listener, then I wouldn't need to work on improving my "listening to understand." They just seem like self-fulfilling concepts. Either you do these things or you don't.

I think of the fact that I cannot remember names. Not in the I have no memory, I cannot recall names from my past sort of way that I lamented in my last blog post. I mean that literally (and I am using literally correctly here) someone says their name out loud, and I immediately forget it. I am talking no retention of the name at all. Less than a second later, and I have no idea what you said your name is. Somewhere in my developmental phase where my brain was supposed to learn that a person's name is something to pay attention to and remember, I was having a cookie or taking a nap or something. I never got that. I really want to remember names. I know this is a problem. I am constantly finding myself five second after meeting someone or answering the phone really wishing that I had retained their name. But no. And there is no amount of practicing all those tips for remembering names (write it down, say it out loud, etc.) that is going to help me, because if I could remember to do those tips, well then I could just remember the names!

I feel like learning to be present in the moment or express congruence with my message fall into the remembering names category. Either I can do these things or I cannot.

Of course, I only read the first chapter of that book as part of this class. Maybe I should read the rest?

I have learned to do things that were not natural for me in the past. Take public speaking. It's still not my most favorite thing in the world, but there was a time when standing and speaking in front of a group of people caused me to sweat profusely, turn bright red, speak a mile a minute, and in general make a fool of myself. So I did a play in high school (and hated it and sucked at it). And I took a public speaking class in high school (and hated it and sucked at it). And took a speech communications class in undergrad (and hated it and sucked at it). And joined a student organization that required I make regular presentations (and hated it, but was passionate about the topic and slowly improved). And led summer orientation sessions (and hammed it up and made a fool of myself on purpose). And taught (in another language even, sort of). And eventually had jobs where I taught, and gave presentations, and served as an interview host for a video series. You know and in general was able to speak in public without becoming a hot mess.

So it can be done. But some how public speaking feels like a very different skill than being present in the moment. I am not sure I can improve my being present in the moment skills by just constantly putting myself in situations where I have to be present in the moment. When you have to speak in public, you just have to do it. You are either speaking in public or you are not. Being present in the moment is so much more ambiguous.

Had a fun conversation with Cale about this topic on the drive in this morning:

Sara: How am I supposed to express congruent emotions when I have resting bitch face with leaky disdain? That's just my face! I either look like I am angry or like I am disgusted with you. That's what I got.

In professional settings, such as meetings, I try really hard to be expressive with my face when I am listening to people. However, I cannot see the faces I am making and based on photographs of myself trying to make expressive faces, it cannot be good. I think my face is saying, "oh, that is interesting," but what it is really saying is, "I want to eat your eyebrows." 

Storytelling for Change: Life Map

Based on the responses, some people seem to think that this first, rectangular picture below is mine. It is not. That is what I was inspired by. The one I did is the second, longer picture that requires you scroll.

As I mentioned, I am taking this course. Our first assignment, as I mentioned, was to create a Life Map. I wanted an excuse to have a photography project, and I found a photographic style to try to emulate.

My goal was to simplify this concept. The map would be based around locations and each location would have a geographic outline, at least one large element, and something for texture. I mostly stuck with it, though for somethings the texture was harder than others and for some the large element was harder than others.

Life Map

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Storytelling for Change: Making a Life Map with no Memory

I am not having enough fun or occupying myself enough in enjoyable ways outside of work. So I asked for and was gifted a photography class for Christmas. At least once a week I'll be given a photography assignment, that will force me to get out an do something.

Last week, I signed up to take an online Storytelling for Change course through Acumen. It wasn't something for which I went looking, but members of the Heart of Texas RPCV organization were joining it as a team, and it seemed like a good way to meet people I might like and get out and do things.

The first assignment for this class is to create a Life Map. The example on the web site is mainly just a cute little visual of major life moments:

But the assignment is to:
  • Think about the social cause that you are currently most passionate about. 
  • Think about all reasons why you became interested in the issue. When was the first time you interacted with the issue/learned about the issue? What are the other incidents that were relevant to this issue that happened to your life? 
  • Reflect on those moments and think about how you felt/reacted (if you did anything in particular). What did you feel/do? Why do you think you felt/behaved in the way you did back then? 
  • Try to map that as key components of your “Life Map”. Add other contextual information about yourself such as academic, professional, religious, geographical background where relevant.
There are certain social issues that clearly are more important to me than others. I make note of stories about them in my news feed, I have joined organizations in the past related to them. My passion for some have ebbed and waned over the years, but I can say that there are identifiable things I am more passionate about.

So this part of the assignment isn't too terrible. It is the part where I am supposed to think of all the reasons why I became interested in the issue and reflect on moments in my life that are related to my passion.

Literally drawing blanks here people.

I have a shitty, shitty memory. If I was into hyperbole, I would say that I literally remember nothing, but clearly that is pushing it, I do remember some things. But very, precious little.

I was on the Bloomington Commission for the Status of Women and volunteered for women and girl-focused organizations. I follow and post stories related to the ladies, gender, and LGBT issues. But if you wanted me to tell you why I became interested in these issues or the first time I interacted with these issues or the key moments in my life related to them. I could give you a big goose egg. I mean, other than being a woman, who has a gender, and a sexual orientation, I cannot give you a good reason for my interest.

Surely Sara it must have been from experiencing all that gender inequality growing up? Not really, I don't think so. I mean, I have no memories of such. That doesn't mean it didn't happen, what with me having no memories general. But when I try to reflect, I mostly take note of how most of the people in authority in my life have been the ladies. Working mother with all sorts of outside interests? Check. Female high school journalism teacher? Yep. Female faculty at journalism undergrad and female directors of extracurricular programs at Mizzou? Yes again. Female assistant managing editor for visuals, female news director, female executive editor, and female publisher at the Orlando Sentinel? Quadruple plus check.

So when did I decide that the women's issues were so important? Quite possibly because I needed a minor to go with my journalism major in undergrad and sat down to compare all the possible minor requirements with the graduation requirements and discovered thanks to cross-listing if I minored in Women's Studies, I could get a minor and only take one extra class over my graduation requirements.

Some how I think that being both lazy and resourceful isn't a super great origin story for a social issue you are passionate about.

So I stopped thinking about the social issue thing for a while and started to focus on what I could remember in general. As I worked my way forward through time trying to remember things from my childhood, I discovered that most of my memories are location, rather than people based.

Take school for example, when I think back to elementary school, I don't remember influential teachers or even students and friends. My first thoughts go to classrooms. I can remember the location of the room in the building and from there I can start to remember other things. I don't often remember too much of the room itself, but I can place it in a building.

So this is how I remember St. Vincent's

Hallway in the middle, classrooms with high ceilings on either side. I remember that my reading group in Kindergarten were the Care Bears. My first memory of hating Jello is in that First Grade classroom. There was a girl named Star in Second Grade (the coolest name I had heard of at the time). And my parents bought a used set of encyclopedia from the library sale that had a entry that said "...and one day Man may even go to the Moon." But the memories start with finding the room in a location.

Same for St. Monica's

Fun fact, the younger students are on the second floor of the building, but since it is where I started out, for some reason, it is the first floor in my mind. It comes first in time, not space, I suppose.

I don't remember anything from Second Grade there really, other than I got booted from the smart kid class right off the bat. There were a variety of reasons, but for me it will always be because I couldn't spell "pieces." And haven't been able to since. You may think that I made that clever mis-spelling on the map to prove my point, but to be honest, without spell check, I am never sure if I am spelling pieces right. Is it the "i" before the "e"? Or is this one of those words like neighborhood? ARRRGHH!!

So not knowing what my social issue origin story would be, I decided to focus on a storytelling format that would work for me. Photography and geography. I knew I wanted to do something with pictures and that I would base the stories around the places I have lived.

I had recently seen a photo project that I thought would be fun to emulate.

So I had a style and the locations were pretty easy. Now I just needed think of what would be the props and textures for each location.

Tune in tomorrow when I share the Making of My Life Map.