Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The joy of a children's book ... and getting back to writing

A colleague of mine has honored me by asking me to edit her children's book. Considering that this person does not know me very well and considering that writing is such a personal think, I was pleasantly astounded that she would ask me to do this task.

And what fun it is! The book is absolutely charming and very well written. A pleasure to read.

Today, we had our first editorial review of the initial, three chapters. I had some ideas about enhancing some scenes, some ideas about adding depth to some of the characters, and was able to point out some areas where some odd anomalies had crept in. The author was very gracious about hearing my thoughts and seemed to like the suggestions I gave very much.

I've never edited fiction before so I wasn't sure how to go about it. But, once I started reading, I could draw upon the gazillion stories that I've read. And it worked. I felt that I had been able to contribute in a positive way. It would be so much joy to see my colleague have her book published and know that I had a small part to play in its success.


Editing this book has made me think about doing some of my own writing -- something that I haven't done in many years. A friend of mine has a writing group ...a small group of authors of all types that get together for critique, ideas, support. I have some ideas about essays that I might want to try to write and am thinking about joining the group. I've always been way too self-conscious to do something like this...which is odd considering that as a tech writer, my work is critiqued on a regular basis. Then again, personal writing is so much more...well...personal. It's an extension of one's soul, it's the message that you want to share with the world.

Maybe I've just reached the point where I no longer take others' opinions of me or my work personally. Maybe I've gained enough self-confidence or sense of self-worth that the thought of listening to critique of something personal like writing is not as scary as it once was.

I like that I am starting to have some ideas about writing...even if I never go through with it, I'm content enough to think that if I do, I'd be quite OK with having it read.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Professional bluffers?

I came across the term, professional bluffers, at Richard Skaare's blog - SkaareWorks PocketChange (

According to the blog entry, professional bluffers are people who know "...their stuff but didn’t practice it—inspiring marriage counselors in broken relationships, empowerment evangelists who never would accept contrarian ideas..."

I know people like this. They wax eloquently and long on topics such as how to live a more enlightened life and yet, rarely do what they're preaching. I like the phrase, "professional bluffer", much nice than "hypocrite", eh?

I took this thought inwards and realized that sometimes, I'm a professional bluffer (sigh). For example, I always tell people that saying no to people at work selling stuff is simple. Just say no (politely, of course). I even have the arrogance to think that I adhere to that principle very closely.

Bzzzzzt! Not true, oh greendragon.

Earlier this week, a co-worker gave me some cosmetic samples to try (yes, I knew she sold them, no, I never asked to try them). So, I tried them. Feeling that the polite thing to do was to let her know I did try them and that I thought they were nice (I did, but I didn't ask to buy anything). Next thing I know, I'm accepting an invitation to lunch so she can show me the whole line of products, blah, blah blah. And, of course, I'll purchase something (the products really are nice...but I suspect they'll be expensive).

I've rationalized this as part of the need to start bonding with my new co-workers -- something I haven't put a lot of effort into yet. But, the truth is, I just felt I couldn't say no.

There you go...a professional bluffer. A person who talks about how saying No is not terribly difficult. And yet, I ignored my own rules in this case. I need to keep an eye on this to make sure I stick ot my principles. Otherwise, who knows how much junk I might end up buying!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Greendragon goes to Art Camp!

Yup, that's right. Art Camp. It's called Snow Farm ( in Williamsburg, MA. The Boston chapter of the Society of Glass Bead makers sponsored a weekend retreat. My colleagues at the glass studio were going so I decided to join them. Here's how it went:

I left work at the usual time on Friday. The weather had cooled off significantly so I ended up stopping at home to grab some warmer clothes. This meant I got on the highway later than I had originally planned.

Now, Williamsburg is about a half hour north of Northampton. More or less, in the middle of nowhere. By the time I arrived, it was dark. Once I turned off the main road onto the lane that took me to Snow Farm, it was PITCH black. I mean, really, really dark! I crept up the gravel lane, going about 2 miles an hour, looking for something, anything, that would tell me where to go. Eventually, I ended up next to a building that had several cars parked behind it (turned out, I parked right behind the dorm building where I was staying...lucky coincidence!).

So, I parked and started walking around. In the dark. In the darkest of darks. I wandered around a bit and finally came across people with flashlights (which I never thought to bring with me). Another lucky coincidence -- I found my colleagues from the glass studio! They were kind enough to share their rum and cokes with me :-) The weekend had begun!

My glass buddies had a list of room assignments and with their help, I found my room and unloaded the car. For some reason, I didn't receive the email that told me what I was supposed to bring (thus, the reason I didn't end up bringing a flashlight), but I managed to bring the right things anyway...sleeping bag, towel, pillow, blanket...everything I needed to be comfy.

Sleeping accommodations at Snow Farm are comfortable, but rustic. Each room opens into an open corridor...roofed, but essentially out in the open. Each building has a shared bathroom. Yes, it's a coed facility, but there was a sign to let others know which gender was in residence. It seemed to work out well. But perhaps that's because most of the attendees were women ;-). Once I turned on the space heater (it was a dark and chilly night!), the room felt quite cozy and I settled in for the night.

Breakfast was served promptly at 8:00 (Two types of pancakes, sausage, yogurt and fruit, juice, coffee and more. Yummy). While we're waiting, I get to chat with some of my fellow bead makers. It's interesting to hear about people who really do make their living by making beads or other types of crafts. Also got some good tips about how to take pictures of my beads for online posting.

Then, it was off to class. I decided to take only one class and then use the rest of the time for open studio. My class was PMC - Precious Metal Clay. The other classes covered Soldering, Welding, Glass Blowing, and Bronze and Copper Metal Clay. Our instructor was fabulous and we had a great time making small items out of silver.

>>Sidebar: PMC is an organic clay with very small silver particles embedded in it. You shape the clay the same way you would with any type of clay. You can sculpt it or use molds and stamps to create elaborate designs. You let it dry completely and then put it in a kiln. After about a half hour, the clay burns away, the silver particles fuse together, and you're left with pure silver (99% pure). It's an amazing process. You can also use a liquid form of the clay to paint any organic item, such as leaves, flowers, sticks, insects, you name it. The kiln burns away the organic material and you're left with a pure silver flower, stick, insect, whatever.

After morning class, it's off to lunch (pesto pizza - a bit too salty -- and salad. They have an interesting choice of salad dressings. I choose Lemon Parmesan which is quite good) and then I had the entire afternoon to spend in the glass studio working on my bead making techniques. What a pleasure to just have time to practice, practice, practice. So, there I am, all focused on making half-way decent beads, when I notice that people are clustered around one of the instructors who walked in, oohing and ahhing. What a second...what's that she's holding? It's a HEDGEHOG! Yup, Joy has a pet hedgehog. It's about as cute as cute can be. I've never seen a hedgehog before. I pet it (kind of prickly, actually) and share a glance with this amazingly different and special animal. Sigh.

By the time dinner time rolled around, I was exhausted! As I walked past the Welding studio on my way to the dining hall, I stop in and check out what people are making. The welded sculptures are amazing. If I go back next year, I might consider welding...looks like tons of fun.

After dinner, most people head back to the studios to do some more work. Although my glass instructor made it sound like the evenings were all about late night parties, the reality was that by 11, most everyone was out of the studios and snuggled in their beds, including me.

Sunday, the routine starts again (breakfast is scrambled eggs and bacon, yum!). This morning, it's back to open studio again and this time I get a lot closer to perfecting a technique that eluded me the day before.

After lunch, it's back to part 2 of PMC class. We learn how to set stones, make bales and drill holes in our pieces. The afternoon flies by. Before I know it, it's time for dinner. Then back to the PMC studio to see if any of our pieces are done. The instructor shows me how to use a brass brush to remove the remnants of the clay and reveal the silver underneath. It's magical! From a dull, white, stone-like item emerges a bright, shiny, silver pendant. Cool!

And then, it's time to head home. I take with me the best of souvenirs...a pocket full of new beads and some, pretty silver pieces. PMC is now on my list as a possible artistic endeavor to pursue (yet another EXPENSIVE hobby). But, we'll see....

All in all, I highly recommend Art Camp!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The pluses and minuses of work responsibility

As I mentioned before, I have the responsibility at work to edit all of the text content in our user interface. Which is a good thing.

On the other hand, it means I need to get into the source code and remove the hard-coded text with labels. Which also means, I need to do local builds and unit tests to make sure I didn't break something. I'm not so fond of that.

If I'm careful, I should do just fine. But, I suspect I'll have to go the next step and learn how to merge code as the developers will be working with same code that I'm working with. Not such a good thing. Too easy for things to break.

I hate looking stupid in front of the developers, especially since I still consider myself new here and trying to prove that I'm not an idiot.

So, I'm feeling a bit stressed.

This project wouldn't be so bad if the developers hadn't started out hard coding text and used resource files from the beginning. But they didn't, so now I'm doing the retrofitting work for the them -- they have so much to do right now that it's the only way this work can be done.

Sigh...challenges...they're supposed to be good for me. But I'm really not in the mood for it.