What It Is Like To Live Your Calling #soulitsearch

I have spent all my life up until this point working towards living my calling. I realised last week that I’m doing it. I’ve answered the call, I’m living it.

What made me realise it?

People talk about “act as if”: act as if you know what you’re talking about, act as if you know what you’re doing and you’ll get there. This isn’t what happened for me. It was the inverse. I realised that I needed to “stop acting as if I don’t know“, “as if I’m not there yet”, and instead step into it.

A part catalyst for this was something I heard in the background from a Youtube video as I was working: “look at the ways you’re practising lack”. Look at the ways you’re acting as if you don’t have enough and are not enough. How am I thinking I’m not there already? Three things came to mind:

  1. Treating these blog posts as a long (3 month) rehearsal.
  2. Writing notes for my book rather than writing my book.
  3. Losing weight to get to a point when I’ll be ready.

So I turned these around:

  1. Now I’ve integrated the intention of these blog posts and done away with the constraints that I needed to get me started. They were the necessary kindling. But now I need different fuel to keep it going. (I’ll share more about the shifts to get to this point in my newsletter.)
  2. I’m now writing directly into my book.
  3. I love the way I look and feel now. I still want to lose a little bit more. But that isn’t about not liking now, it is about playing with different “me”s that I love. I’m not fixed. I love my many forms.

On top of these, the other way I know I’m answering my calling, speaking the calling, living my calling, calling others, is because it is now routine.

Every single day I act on my wishes, my wishes that I know are generative–that impact everything that I do. Every day I get up early, I do a short meditation, I do exercise, I eat well, I drink lots of water, and I write. I write and/or design every single day. I write and design the way I write and design. Every single day.

And it is wonderful.

You may be thinking that living your calling means you’re meant to be a big success. I’m not officially answering my calling until I’ve published my book. Not so. It is living it every day. As Steven Pressfield talks about in his book The Artist’s Journey:

“I hadn’t written anything good. It might be years before I would, if I ever did at all. That didn’t matter. What counted was that I had, after years of running from it, actually sat down and done my work.

This was my epiphanal moment.
My hero’s journey was over.
My artist’s journey had begun.”

Pressfield continues:

“[O]ur primary hero’s journey as artists is the passage we live out, in real life, before we find our calling. The hero’s journey is the search for that calling. It’s preparation. It’s initiation (or, more precisely, self-initiation). On our hero’s journey, we see, we experience, we suffer. We learn. […] The passage that comes next is the Artist’s Journey. The artist’s journey comes after the hero’s journey. Everything that has happened to us up to this point is rehearsal for us to act, now, as our true self and to find and speak in our true voice.”

The lure to live my calling has been with me my whole life. It is a place, a state, I wanted to be. But now I’m here, looking back over my life I realise that I have always been on the path. I have always been living my calling. Everything I have done in my life has been important and necessary. All of the friendship, dancing, travel, tears, poverty, abuse, research, games, theatre, stories, they are all the ingredients of the gifts I have for the world now.

I have reached a point where I am myself in this world. As an artist, I am sharing my unique gifts to the world.

And one gift that has been incubating for a while is beginning to sprout. I am not alone in offering this gift, but my way of bestowing it is unique.

The book I’m writing is on the “First-Person Transformation Journey”. And now you can hear a bit more about it, as my lovely colleague Simon Staffans just interviewed me about it briefly on his podcast.

It feels good to answer the Call to Self. 🙂

[That is what the image is for this post btw – from the book’s design kit – illustrated by Marigold “Goldie” Bartlett”!]

Wardrobes to Gladwell – The Soul in the Search #2 – Mon 27th Jan, 2019 #soulitsearch

[soulitsearch #1, soulitsearch #2, ]

Hello again! I am a day late with my 2nd soul in the search. I wasn’t able to get it done yesterday, but a day later is cool. Last time one of the responses was that they’d like to see search queries as well. I was thinking of doing that too. At first this was about having a subjective narrative around interesting links, but perhaps the groove is found more in the subjectivity throughout. It is about revealing the soul in the search!

Some tweaks to the method: I used the search-function in my Chrome History. This reduced a lot of noise and made it easier to find sites and searches. I also included searches and non link/article/video visits. I listed them from oldest to most recent, and I included a screenshot to give you my view.

OK, so here are some links from my last week’s browser history! 🙂


Visited Trickle-down leadership wardrobes? – women, wardrobes and leadership

Last week I did a call out in Twitter asking for examples of the use of comedy in academic writing. I was thinking about the frustration I feel writing academic articles, and how the rhetorical demands stifle parts of myself. I am actively bringing my “selves” together and not having a “public self”, a “professional self”, a “private self” as so on. I have a private life, but I’m working to be myself in all of them. The whole notion of a “professional self” is so stupid. Now I sound stupid.

But at the time I realised I don’t have to censor myself. It is possible to be light-hearted, perhaps, and have scholarly gravitas. This is one of the reasons why I stopped joking around at work — because I found people couldn’t hold in their head that someone can be smart and silly at the same time. And my response? To stop being silly. Not smart.

So now I’m looking out at examples of academic writing that uses comedy, that has a lightness, just to see I’m not alone. I’m familiar with the wink and pun hear and there, but I was keen to find out about people who were known for their rhetorical effect. I few great examples were sent to me, including Joanne B. Freeman and Amanda Heffernan. And now I remember the title of my first ever talk as a post-graduate student studying cross-media: “The Day My Book Went Psycho”.

Visited Writer-Production Crew Collaborations a Win-Win for Movie Projects – Variety

I was happy to see this, as it is another example I can show my studio students (postgrads and trainers) that having diverse viewpoints during development is not uncommon. I won’t say common. I feel in love with the process of giving and receiving feedback from all team members, and importantly too from all people outside the arts. You need to know how to facilitate the feedback to get the most out of it together, and who to select for a feedback session, but when these work it is satisfying and inspiring for all involved. Silos are an artificial construction. Art is a lifestyle, not a medium, or a department. Why does this even have to be said? Oh I know. Ignore the question.

Visited This Science Fiction Novelist Created a Feminist Language from Scratch | Literary Hub

Once again, so many cool things in this article that I copied and pasted to my Notes folder. I have tried Scrivner, and I have a million google Docs. But I find using Notes to the best way for me to keep notes on my writing and research. It has to be quick and categorised, and in chronological order. Notes WORKS for me. [beat] I totally just checked if you could back up Notes and you can. I’ll be doing that next!!

Searched for 504×4=

Ha! Yes. I use Google as my calculator. And even for simple multiplications like this. It was for a invoice. I didn’t want to get that wrong. (And it isn’t as much as it seems as it is another currency.)

Watched Designing with systems featuring Raph Koster & Mike Sellers (2019)

This popped in my email and I listened to it immediately while I was working on something. I don’t recall what. Some really lovely discussions about systems thinking in this conversation. I may include it as a resource for my next Narrative Design course.

Visited What does Stifling mean?

I don’t remember exactly why I searching for this. I recall being worried that I may be writing out some word that I don’t mean…and I couldn’t get “Stifler’s mum” out of my head. I did a panic search just to make sure.

Visited Track Your Order – Domino’s Online Ordering

Well, if my browser history on my phone was fully accessible this would be a slightly different story. It was Friday. A very hot Melbourne day of 44C/111F. I needed to go into work to make some certificates for the Trainers of the last course I ran. I didn’t mind the heat (I just moved from tropicalish-Brisbane). I didn’t like the idea of just sitting on a tram though. I looked at the weather of my phone, and even though it was late morning and the heat was rising I concluded that I will ride my bicycle to work. (I usually say “bike” but some people start thinking I have a “motorbike”.)

I looked at the ride path along the beach and thought it would be good to get exercise and I could go and come back before the heat peak. I wore a head-to-toe white outfit, and put on sunscreen. The majority of the ride was glorious. But then I was on the long part of the beach ride where there are no trees. I felt my back and it was soaked, and I could feel my face getting red. I turned to the side streets and managed to cool down very quickly then. Got into work. Was mopping my face for the first 7 minutes, but then dried and refreshed. Chatting with folks, and then hopped on the bike to get back quickly.

It was a long and much harder ride back. A couple of cyclists rode past me, and one said “Hot day” or something like that. I didn’t respond, I just turned to look as they rode by. I don’t know why, I just didn’t feel compelled to fill in a line back. The cyclist seemed annoyed and spat on the ground, as the tough ones do.

I was in the last 10 minutes and knew I was about to pass my gym. I thought I could refill my drink bottle with cold water, but then I thought “nah, I can do it!” But then I reminded myself that if I was riding with someone else, I would insist we spot to do the smart thing and take care of ourselves. So I did it for myself. I am very good at taking care of myself these days, but sometimes I have to catch how quickly the “I can handle it” mindset kicks in. And I treat myself as I would treat others. It was a great cold drink.

Then as I rode home I fought the urge to get an icy-pole as a reward for doing the trip. I’m training myself not to reward myself with food. I reminded myself that a cold drink of water is much more rewarding for my body than an ice-cream, and I’ll feel better for it. So I got all the home. Stripped off. Had a great shower. Not soon after I ordered a pizza, chips, and thick shake. I have this every lasting dance where I keep figuring out what is right for me in the moment. Delayed gratification is important, especially the gratification part.

Visited Malcolm Gladwell and Steven Johnson on Vimeo

Ted Hope referred to his video and once again I had it playing in the background while I worked. There were some interesting and helpful conversations (especially as I’m writing my non-fiction book). But my thoughts went back to a thought that has been niggling at me for years: how it is easier to become proficient at something that uses existing, prevalent structures. I don’t mean for a second that Gladwell and Johnson don’t have skill and that what they do is easy. What I am referring to is relational. How the complexity of representation and responsibility increases when you’re crafting marginal systems. I don’t shy aware from the hard stuff though. That is why I’m here, to see how I and we can live our true selves beyond what others say is shiny.


Running a Remote Studio – notes on co-collaboration

I run my own remote studios. I have been working with colleagues online for over a decade, building remote communities for years, running remote practice studios for post-graduate students and training teachers in remote practice for studios over the past couple of years (I just won a national teaching award for these!), and will begin running open remote artist studios soon.

Actually, it is difficult to even find a person who HASN’T done remote work these days. But for a few years I have been teaching others how to do remote practice. The key benefit I have found about running remote artist studios is that if you can make it work there, you can make it work in a local studio. Indeed, the inverse is not true: what works locally doesn’t automatically work online. Why? Because you can’t lean on proximity bias. You have to overtly design the environment and actions to reach your aims. It is the test of making it work for a non-norm context that makes it better for all contexts.

Since I’m always keen to share things I discover (it helps me understand it more too), I planned on releasing more info. I presented at GDC last year (on a different topic), and did intend to pitch a talk on running remote studios for this year’s GDC. But I was busy while the call went out, and since I had just moved interstate I wasn’t sure if I could get the funding or funds to go.

What prompted this quick post were the recent discussions on Twitter about group work and students (in games), and coming up with alternative methods. So I’ll share notes about an approach I’ve developed to in my remote studios: co-collaboration.


THE NEED FOR CO-COLLABORATION

The need for a co-collaborative approach came out of my international lab Forward Slash Story (which is about developing the artist, not the project), my undergraduate and post-graduate studio teaching (addressing negative experiences in student collaboration), my running of department curriculum development days (facilitating awareness, integration and feedback quickly), and my training of faculty in remote practice (addressing the constraints of the institutional infrastructure and facilitating a cultural shift). Out of these experiences grew the following needs:

Need 1: Put the focus on the process and people, not the project

All the labs I have mentored at are project-based. Teams bring in a project and they’re given guidance with assigned and rotating mentors to help progress the project. These labs are great. But I wanted something that also focused on the person, so the lab could affect all their projects more. All projects are intimately connected with the people that make them, but the focus has historically been on the object, not the artist. This can create a warped view of what creative practice is. So the F/S lab was introduced to be about creatives coming together, irrespective of what project they’re working on. The lab enabled me to develop activities that facilitate a quick connection between creatives in ways that will then influence their own projects (and lives).

Need 2: Giving students a positive experience of collaboration, which includes seeing the benefits in their project

In studios designed for project-based learning, instructors can choose the student teams for them, give the students information to help them choose, and some also teach the interpersonal skills needed to bond, inspire, and produce. In my remote context, I have very limited live (synchronous) and email (asynchronous) time with the students. I have a 1 hr meeting with everyone each week. That is it. Everything else happens between our sessions.

These are also interdisciplinary studios were I’m overseeing albums, games, documentaries, installations, films, animations, product design, for post-graduate creatives. So I need to have systems that keep the projects going. Even though the students are creative post-graduates, and many have done collaborations before, there are still ones that do not have experience with teams.

So the issue becomes: is it more important they work with each on the same projects, or that they understand what collaboration is and how it can benefit their project? We often think the only way to get students to understanding collaboration is to force them into working with each other. And no matter how much design you put in to assist this process (especially emphasising how to collaborate above asset deliveries), with limited time it is inevitable that not all students will be able to participate equally. After seeing some students not enjoying the process because of bullying or other overt or subtle blocking behaviours, I decided it was more important to give students a sense of control over the creative process. That the experience and benefits of collaboration are more important than going straight into a full collaboration scenario.

Need 3: Scaffolding the experience of collaboration, and making it adaptable to suit a variety of disciplines, experiences, and project stages

Along with wanting to scaffold learning collaboration, I also had other external issues related to training faculty in remote studio practice. The training is part of an early push towards an institutional-level remote-friendly work culture. But the infrastructure and proficiency isn’t there yet. So rather than mandate faculty to immediately implement interdisciplinary cross-campus projects in all the studios, I wanted to find a way for the learning and infrastructure to catch-up and grow with the teachers.

This is where co-collaboration came in. It is a way for students, faculty, and individual creatives to engage in interdisciplinary, distributed collaborations without forcing shared projects.


WHAT IS CO-COLLABORATION?

Co-collaboration is when people collaborate together at strategic points during the development of their own projects.

The key difference with other approaches I have found so far is this: participatory design and co-creation is predominately (or exclusively) about collaborations on a shared project. Usually the difference between co-creation and participatory design and creative teams in general, is that they are about including people who aren’t usually involved, such as the “users” or “stakeholders”.

While co-collaboration can definitely utilise the insights of participatory design and co-creation, the emphasis is on the reciprocally beneficial activities between people who are working on different projects.

This can include students working on their own projects, artists working on their own projects in a fixed-term studio, and individuals or teams in production studios with parallel projects operating.

I haven’t been able to find writings about this approach specifically as yet. And I have oscillated between calling it co-collaboration and parallel collaboration. But the former seems to work more, and a colleague recently volunteered it as a term. If you’re familiar with writings on this — shoot them through!


HOW DO I ENACT CO-COLLABORATION?

In the meantime, I’ll share how I co-collaboration. You already know WHY I introduced it. I find it an elegant solution to multiple problems. I have implemented it in different ways:

  • Begin with co-collaboration and then people choose their teams based on their interactions during co-collaborative activities;
  • Co-collaboration continues throughout the studio duration, with some also collaborating with others on their project outside the studio (with creatives they already know and/or new ones).

If your aim to is scaffold (stagger) learning collaboration, then begin with co-collaboration and build to full collaborative projects. I find it works to help people get a feel for it, see the benefits, rehearse/practice how it is done, and get to know potential collaborators. One of the issues with forced collaborations is how people are brought together. Education institutions aren’t necessarily curators of creatives, and temporary studios are curated but this is executed by others. Co-collaboration allows the artist to keep doing what they’re doing and benefit from what collaboration can bring in a controlled manner.

Co-collaboration is facilitated is during many stages of a studio process: ideation, research, externalisations, feedback, reflections. Here is an example of a pivotal point:

Ideation:

I find co-collaborative ideation to be an immensely helpful process. This is because it enables best practices in ideation, and gives the artists immediate and reciprocal benefits to their project. Since it is at the beginning of a project as well, it introduces the benefits of collaboration first up (a positive first experience) and they get to know each other.

On this point, you could also do a bonding activity that pairs or groups people with an activity that benefits their projects (not just meeting each other). But for me, with an online studio it would be counter productive. I need everyone to get to know each other asynchronously and then synchronously as a group for various reasons.

So back to ideation. Let’s quickly qualify the supposed best practices I threw out there. I’m referring to factors such as ideation is about divergent, not convergent thinking; this includes a quantity of ideas to get beyond the probable; as well as having helpful constraints; that you want inputs that are both specific (related to your project) and general (related to world & general inspiration); that biosociation helps enact these; contributions from diverse (interdisciplinary and non-creative) people; that you need time to incubate; and importantly here you want a combination of individual and group contributions for brainstorming (because going straight to group brainstorming enables the stifling of voices and consensus).

With these principles in mind, I give the artists a range of activities (and they can share their own) to choose from. They then go into pairs (or any small group size you deem works for your context), and conduct the activity in any of the following manner:

  • (Same time) Own Projects: The same ideation activity (on their own projects), at the same time, and then share what they did, giving feedback and further thoughts to each other.
  • (Same time) Each of their Projects: The same ideation activity both on one of their projects, at the same time, and then share what they did, giving feedback and further thoughts to each other; and then repeated for the other project.
  • (Different & Same time) Own Projects: Doing the same ideation activity separately and then coming together to share what they got, and giving feedback.
  • (Same time) Different Ideation Activities: for their own or each others’ projects, sharing and giving feedback and then perhaps swapping the ideation activity (and the projects if applicable). I think this has been less effective, because they miss out of the affect of having a shared activity experience and all the questions it stimulated. They just shared the same time.

In all of these, even though they’re working on different projects, they’re being inspired by what the other is doing. The different projects are another form of biosociation.

QUESTIONS, THOUGHTS?

I have just plonked down some quick thoughts on how I use co-collaboration and why. I didn’t go into detail here about how I make this work remotely, or give citations for everything, as that isn’t the emphasis. But let me know if you’d like me to elaborate, and let me know if you do this or will do this! I’d love to share notes!

SOME CONTEXTUAL READING

Christensen, B. T. (2005). Creative Cognition: Analogy and Incubation, PhD, University of Aarhus.

Koestler, A. (1964). The Act of Creation, London: Hutchinson & Co.

Sanders, E. B. N., & Stappers, P. J. (2008). Co-creation and the new landscapes of design. CoDesign, 4(1), 5-18.

Schuler, D., & Namioka, A. (1993). Participatory design: Principles and practices. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Sleeswijk Visser, F., Stappers, P. J., Van der Lugt, R., & Sanders, E. B. N. (2005). Contextmapping: Experiences from practice. CoDesign, 1(2), 119-149.

Steen, M., Manschot, M., & De Koning, N. 2011 Aug 14. Benefits of Co-design in Service Design Projects. International Journal of Design [Online] 5:2. Available: http://www.ijdesign.org/index.php/IJDesign/article/view/890/346

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