Here Be Dragons

Today, I continue to follow a path that I embarked on last summer. And four weeks ago, I began this blog to fulfil a Technical Writing assignment; intending to follow a weekly posting schedule. The weekly post quickly fell by the wayside, but my goal lays before me.

  • My initial concern: “I [might] have nothing to write.”
  • What actually happens: I think too much about what I write.

My participation in Blogging 101 provides a framework through which to practice my writing because, although I write well with identifiable parameters, I fall short of my expectations when I explore new territories with my writing. Here be dragons.

Questions Expressed, Answers Sought

During early adulthood, I related to a limited variety of friends.

  • Work friends, typical of system administrators and developers in Information Technology, preferred to relate about technology, including on-line gaming, but I desired to break away from that focus.
  • Church friends socialized with others who held similar beliefs, but I felt disconnected from their assumptions.

Middle age finds me with new friends who have refreshing preferences, beliefs and assumptions. I want to ask questions—to understand—but I fear my own exploration of preferences, beliefs and assumptions will offend long-term or new friends. My writing allows me to examine those questions.

As I consume media—television, novels, and social psychology—I  learn about myself and the world around me.  As I write, I ruminate on what I have learned. As I find others who explore their social world through writing, I hope to connect.

Career Renewed, Skills Tested

As I eventually complete my Technical Writing studies and begin searching for new work, this blog also forms part of my resume. Finally, this blog allows me to evaluate my progress and discern how I may improve. Is that a tall enough order?

Hockey Teen on a Ferry

This is a work of fiction based on real conversations with my friend, who reported a recent experience on a ferry, and others.


“That would be so gay.” Look up. Your eyes, previously focused on a crossword puzzle, scanning the room. Who said that? Those boys —they’re only thirteen to fifteen—wearing the same hockey jersey.

Did Tom really say that? What would my uncle say? Tom’s looking at me. “Yah, so gay.” Sorry, Uncle.

Crossword puzzle forgotten, your hands reach for your purse—to find your knitting. You hesitate. Best not to draw attention.

That man is looking at us. He heard me.

You look around. If that’s a team, shouldn’t there be an adult nearby?

Is he going to tell Coach? Tom’s dad would laugh at him. “It’s a free world,” he would say. “I could call you ugly all day, but I say ‘gay’ and you want to call the f-ing police.”

What’s Ryan talking about? Why is he saying that Jasmine just keeps demanding more and more sex? He’s never had sex. Has he? Mom would want me to walk away. No, no, no, don’t look at me! “Just give her a dildo.” Sorry, Mom.


We have come far enough to find it jarring when teens jest with homophobic or misogynist taunts. We have a distance yet to go.

The People Behind the Issue #2

A More Effective Argument

In my last post, I expressed that I find the topic of oil pipeline expansion, along with other complex issues, perplexing. Kinder Morgan wants me to focus on The People Behind the Pipeline—television commercials designed to offer a social connection to the project:

  • Employees are happy in their communities and are proud of their company’s safety record.
  • Landowners are pleased that Kinder Morgan has negotiated fairly.

Interested viewers are invited to visit

Activists opposed to pipeline expansion have also offered a social connection. The news media reported arrests of protesters, while they tried to block Kinder Morgan’s tests on Burnaby Mountain:

  • David Suzuki’s granddaughter.
  • An 84-year-old retired librarian.
  • A mom with her 11-year-old daughter (the daughter was not arrested).

If I am an undecided observer, I have probably emotionally attached to both sides of the issue. But whose testimonial should carry more weight?

Self Justification

figure Pictures/mistakes-were-made.jpgMistakes Were Made recommends viewing testimonials with skepticism because of a cognitive bias called self justification.

  • You look for evidence that confirms your opinion.
  • I seek for you to confirm that I made a good decision.

If I cannot trust the testimonials from Kinder Morgan or the protesters, then I must return to struggling with the flood of facts. Do I have another choice?

Response to a Reader

Ted’s Facebook comment to an earlier post may suggest a solution.

Not related to your post specifically, but one year I decided I wouldn’t vote for the party that used negative or smear advertising. I figured if that was the best they could do, they didn’t deserve my vote. That year I didn’t vote.

But then, I read our councilmembers’ election brochures like I read resumes. “Yes, you sat on that committee. In real world hard values, of budgets, revenues, expenses, time frames, how did that committee do? What did it accomplish? What was your contribution to that? What was your significant contribution to that committee? Tell me about a time when your contribution to the work of that committee was the thing that was responsible for the success of one of the committee’s projects. Provide specific measurable examples.”

We live in a representative democracy. What would happen if we elected parties and representatives that actually deserved our vote? Could we entrust our elected officials to represent us, trusting that they would protect our interests? Do you want to try?

The People Behind the Issue #1

Two Opposing Views

My news feed is full of details about the Trans Mountain Expansion Project. When I went to examine the issues, I found so much information that it felt like being blasted with a fire hose.

Kinder Morgan summarized their plan—more than a thousand pages—into a convenient infographic, “By unlocking access to world markets for oil, the Project will result in increased tax dollars and years of employment.”

Conversations for Responsible Economic Development (CRED) published their own risk assessment of the expansion project. The two camps disagree strongly on the many issues. Here are a few that stand out:

  • The historical spill count is either acceptable or significant.
  • Expansion will either create many high-paying jobs or potentially cause widespread unemployment.
  • Tax revenues will either be a significant or insignifcant contribution.
  • In the case of another spill, either Kinder Morgan or the taxpayer will pay for the cleanup.

How may I decipher these well-presented arguments without becoming an expert on pipelines and oil spills? If I decide to focus environmental issues, I won’t have time or energy to decipher the dozens of other important issues of our day. I have listed a few examples of complex issues below. What complex issues perplex you?

  • Healthcare privatization
  • Foreign aid, including medical and military
  • Pensions and welfare

Kinder Morgan wants me to focus on The People Behind the Pipeline. In my next post, I will do just that.

I Remember It Well

In an earlier post, I admitted that I sometimes forget—enough that my wife and I joke about I Remember It Well, as performed by Maurice Chevalier and Hermione Gingold.

In that post, I also mentioned the House credo, “Everybody Lies.” He sometimes explains his credo by blaming amnesia caused by Korsakoff’s syndrome, which is a rare disorder caused by a vitamin B1deficiency. In his opinion, all patients should be treated as if they have this disorder.

figure invisible gorillaMaybe my forgetfulness is caused by something a little more mundane. The Invisible Gorilla describes surprising myths about our ability to remember.

  • Distorted memory: You and I may remember the same event but have completely contradictory memories.
  • Change blindness: A photographer may fail to notice a recently placed water bottle.
  • Failure of source memory: You might recall an event to me so vividly that I remember it happening to me.
  • False memories: You might remember facts that have been suggested to be true.

After I read recent studies that memory and imagination are closely related in the brain are true, I started to repeat another saying, “In my imagination …” Perhaps I just need to work on my imagination instead of trying to improve my memory. What does that say about my desire to pursue a career in writing?

We all forget, and perhaps Hermione Gingold’s memory is more indicative of her own belief in the myth. When have you remembered something; only to have later realized your memory was not true?

Responding to Gossip

‘The Good Wife’ Campaigns

Political campaigns often follow a predictable path:

  1. Candidates announce that they will focus on positive ideas.
  2. Soon after, they bring out the attack ads.

figure the good wife alicia frankEven though political researchers advise negative campaigning, Alicia Florrick, The Good Wife, wants to avoid mudslinging. But she feels guarded when Frank Prady contacts her for a commitment to run a positive campaign; he asserts an agreement between two candidates is more solid than promises in the media.

figure the good wife alicia frankOne week later, Frank has broken his promise. Alicia challenges Frank and he pleads innocence, but then expresses reluctance to retract his message. Alicia’s response is classic, “Ah, are we not friends anymore, Frank?” Will Alicia stoop to his levels and allow her campaign manager to release the negative advertising? Does she have a choice?

Workplace Campaigns

Frank—not his real name—assigned me to support a computer application, that he had developed, for 500 users.

  1. I could not work with the application.
  2. He was too busy to help.
  3. He repeatedly declared that I was too stupid for the job.
  4. Months later, another developer demonstrated that the application was completely broken.
  5. Frank refused to acknowledge his mistake.

I might have easily repeated Alicia’s question, “Ah, are we not friends anymore, Frank?”

Frank continued to spread malicious gossip about me for more than a year, until he finally left the organization. At one point, a manager coached me to fight back by spreading factual gossip about Frank. I hated everything about that fight for my livelihood and am relieved that British Columbia has implemented Anti-Bullying Legislation. I’ll never know why Frank did what he did, but I am certain that neither of us won.

In Closing

This story happened a long time ago. I went on to celebrate many successes with that organization and I eventually left because I was ready to pursue my own interests. I hope that Frank is well.

Have you ever felt forced to respond to gossip? What happened? Would you change your response now?

Everyone Has a Story

‘House’ Rules …

figure House Everybody LiesOne of my favourite sayings is, “Everyone has a story.” I started to intone it in response to the popular House credo. What did House mean when he said, “Everybody lies”? Do you agree with the following explanations? Will you add to my list?

  • You seek something from me or someone I know.
  • You want to save face or help me to save face.
  • You forget and need to gather your memory.

figure House Oops“You’re lying!” The accusation focuses on the negative. It shuts down conversation. How do you continue an open conversation after that? That said, I will admit that I have met one or two people, with whom continued conversation seemed pointless.

… May Not Apply

“Everyone has a story.” The statement allows me to keep asking questions.

  • I may discover that we seek the same goal.
  • I do not win by making you look bad.
  • I sometimes forget too.

Our internal narrative explains our intents and actions to ourselves. It affects our ability to interact with those around. Engaging with our stories informs me how to align with my environment. Learning your story helps me to relate. In this new blog, I will ask how we tell our stories.

Everyone has a story. What is yours?

The Blank Slate

figure netbook notebook blankHaving sat down on my birthday—yesterday—to begin this blog, I photographed my blank blog and my blank notepad to mark another beginning. The blank notepad—a birthday present—had sat for several years on my bookshelf asking, “Are you a writer?”

I wasn’t. Oh, I wrote—a lot—as a business analyst. I even wrote—infrequently—for pleasure. But the blank slate frightened me a little. As my muse struggled to surface, I feared, “I have nothing to write.”

figure joy long children playingI reflect on the first painting that I bought, as a young man in the eighties. While I spoke with Joy Zemel Long, during her exhibit of orange crate paintings on the lawn overlooking Stanley Park Garden, she described how children approach playing as a blank slate. She captured my imagination and for years I’ve thought, “I wish I could be a writer.”

Last summer, I registered to study Technical Writing at BCIT. I will publish five more posts by Friday for one of my assignments and expect to continue publishing a weekly blog for my art. I am having the time of my life and I think, “I might be a writer.”

I look forward to this festive season of parties and meeting new people. When they ask about me, I will answer, “I am a writer.”