WordCamp US 2019

I’ve been digging deep into WordPress this year– attending my local MeetUps monthly and attending three WordCamps – Lancaster, Leigh Valley, and PHL. I’m into it, but even more than that, I love this community.

Given the time I’ve put in and the interest I’ve developed, I was overjoyed to get the opportunity to attend WordCamp US this past weekend.

The event had about 6 tracks instead of 2 or 3 and child care. Much of the other community standards were in place – close captioning, support for people with disabilities, a code of conduct, and plenty of diversity.

Besides the classes, which were amazing, I really enjoyed just talking to the attendees and vendors. I met people from all over the country and many from Canada. Morten Rand-Hendrickson of Lynda.com was there, and I got to meet him and tell him how much I enjoyed his classes. He literally taught me how to build in WP.

Pam Aungst, who spoke at WordPress Leigh Valley, was there, and I saw Beth Soderberg, who I saw at all three WordCamps I attended earlier. She wasn’t presenting this time, but it would be hard to beat the talk she did on building her starter theme at WordCamp PHL.

I also met up with three of my colleagues from the Lancaster MeetUp. One of them invited me to work with him at one of the Gutenberg Block Workshops. I have only known him for about a month and was so pleased he asked me to join him. I hope I can pay it forward like that some day.

The weekend ended with Matt Mullenweg’s keynote. I noticed a few things about it. First off, he’s an inspirational speaker. He ended his main address by requesting the audience give back by donating 5% of their time to WordPress Core development. I’m going to take this challenge to heart.

He also took about an hour of questions and answered them with a calm professionalism that I admired deeply. I found myself wanting to work for someone like that – be their friend – learn from them. It was deeply moving just to see him navigate the questions so respectfully.

As Scott Galloway says, Life is So Rich.

I have so much to learn.

All of this doesn’t matter that much

I’m a huge fan of Million Dollar Listing New York. I barely watch tv outside of sports, but I’ve seen all 8 seasons of this one and all 17 of Project Runway. What those shows have in common is the importance of problem solving and working within a limited window of opportunity. There is only so much you can say to make that construction next door a positive when selling an apartment. Have to make a dress with what you find in a floral store? No sweat.

However, this season of MDLNY is full of sturm und drang because the market for million dollar listings is in the toilet. The brokers the season follows, Fredrick, Ryan, Steve, and Luis, now have to really struggle for every sale. For a group of Type A high achievers, this is a daily struggle against the expectations they set for themselves.

I like them all personally, which is probably why I enjoy the show so much. I read Fredrick’s book, I downloaded Ryan’s, and I have a strong fondness for the searching that Luis allows himself. They feel real to me.

In this season, it’s Ryan who has a really tough go of it, and his wife, Emilia, has to calm him down.

Emilia: All of this doesn’t matter that much. You have to calm down.

Ryan: Every day. Every day. On the fifteen minute mark, I get yelled at because the market is crashing. It’s my fault. I can’t control the market. I can’t control what things are selling for. The things that people say to me are so fscked up. All I want to do is do good work. Do good work.

Emilia: You just said you can’t change the market. You can’t freak out about something you can’t change.

Ryan: It’s just tough right now.

Emilia: It’s always going to be tough. You put so much pressure on yourself. You’re going to have a heart attack. You’re so young. Is this how your dad was? (Ryan nods) Children learn from their parents. This is your safe zone. You should be laughing. Otherwise, when does this end?

She’s right. There is only so much you can do, and it’s not worth destroying the peace of home to make right what is essentially out of your control.

In the end, all of this doesn’t matter all that much.

It will probably just be fine, perfect in fact

This Wednesday, I got a flat tire that required an entirely new tire. I have 18 in rims and low profile tires that are probably fine in any other state but a nightmare on the horrendous roads of the Commonwealth.

This Saturday, I had tickets to WordCamp Leigh Valley, and I had to drive. I had a moment of panic thinking, “what if this happened on the road on Saturday? “

Then I took a deep breathe and said, “It didn’t happen on Saturday. It happened now when you can deal with it.” 

I took off Friday, and when I got up, I had what felt like a grain of sand in my left eye. I rinsed it with water, stood under the shower, used eye drops, nothing worked. I had sand in my eye all day.

When I got up on Saturday, my eye was really swollen from all the rinsing and rubbing. I bought my WordCamp tickets in May. I bought a special iPad keyboard to take notes for the event. I had been looking forward to it for months. I also happen to get up later than I expected and couldn’t have breakfast. I was driving to an area I’ve never been to for an event I knew I would love – and my eye was a mess. “What if there is another nail in one of my tires?” I was kind of stressed out. 

Then I took a few deep breaths and said – let’s just go and assume it’s going to be fine. I can see. It doesn’t hurt outside obviously being sore and gross to look at. The sand is gone. Once I get some water in my system, the swelling will subside. I have a pile of bananas I can eat on the road. Let’s grab a Gatorade and go. I’ll wear glasses anyway. The place is full of nerds that will hardly notice my angry eye… and so what if they did. 

The moral of the story is : it was fine. I got a protein bar at a WaWa after my bananas were gone. I made two wrong turns that were easily corrected. I had no trouble finding the place. I got my preferred parking space right next to the venue. The car held up fine. Everything was fine. Everything was perfect. I made some new friends. Learned so much. Brought home two nerd t-shirts. Mixed up my life in the best way possible. 

My mind often turns to the worse possible explanation, and I know many experience this from time to time.

Just remember – it could just be fine. In fact, it will probably just be perfect.



Alabama Nationals

A tale to tell in which I finally set foot in the state of Alabama for a tennis tournament.

I had the good fortune to be asked in late December 2017 to join a newly formed 18+ 6.0 mixed team whose season began in January. Captain Laurie quickly organized a practice every Saturday at 10:30 am, and low and behold, most of the team came out. Every week. On a Saturday morning. 

The season started off a little slow. I had my husband come out and watch a match to give me some advice.

“Bend your knees. Be ready. Just bend your knees and you’ll be better than anyone on that court.” 

Noted.

Practice continued and the wins started stacking up. We ended in first place and a spot in the regional championship in Hershey. 

A regional competition works like this. #1 plays #4. Win that, and you’ll play the winner of #2 & #3.  Three courts play, but this time all courts yield the same points. 

I played the first round. We went to a third set tiebreak. The opposing man served to me on the ad court at our first match point opportunity. He served to my backhand, and I nailed the cross court winner. Game over.

Turns out we won all six courts and advanced to Regionals, which would be held nearby but on an unfamiliar surface, Har-Tru. Our coach joined a club so we could practice on it. 

We’d play the winners of New Jersey, Delaware, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh. We won. Again. Nationals here we come.

Nationals were months away, and in the time, I continued to take lessons, play matches, and work out with weights and yoga. I showed up ready to play. 

The Mobile Tennis Center has 70 courts. I’ve never seen a club this big, but it’s all outdoors. Due to threats of rain, the Friday matches would be a compressed format  – play to four with no ad scoring. Gender to gender service at deuce. Ugh. We started off slow. 

Saturday came with wind and cold weather, but the games would be to 6 with ad scoring. We hit our stride. We ended the tournament 2-2 – in 9th place out of 16…in the country.

It was a long trip there, and my flights sucked. I’m definitely glad I made it though. It was fun to learn more about my team mates as people, see a state I’ll probably never return to, and play well. 

To suppress anger

Brad Warner’s Sit Down and Shut Up: Punk Rock Commentaries on Buddha, God, Truth, Sex, Death, and Dogen’s Treasury of the Right Dharma Eye is the 18th book I read in 2018, and the fifth whose subject was Buddhism.

It’s been a tough year on a few fronts, but reading and internalizing these studies has helped me navigate a chaotic work environment, helped me stay calm on the tennis court, and has helped me grow as a person. 

To suppress anger, you have to suppress the urge to enjoy the beautiful juiciness of it all.

Brad Warner, Sit Down and Shut Up

One of the things I’ve tough quite a bit about lately was the role of anger. I’ve been imploring a few people I genuinely like to be nice to each other. Yet, they seem to choose anger. I couldn’t put my finger on why until Warner pointed it out:

To suppress anger, you have to suppress the urge to enjoy the beautiful juiciness of it all.

It’s hard for people to admit, but when you start paying attention, you’ll notice that you actually enjoy being angry. There’s a wonderful rush of self-righteousness to it. Because, obviously you can’t be angry about something unless you know you’re right and the other person is wrong. You are angry because you want to be angry. Always, always.

The main thing is to avoid acting on any angry impulses that might pop into your head. No matter how justified you might know yourself to be, an angry action will only invoke another angry response, both in the person you’re dealing with and in yourself. These actions and responses scramble your brain and make it impossible to act in any kind of efficient way to solve the problem at hand.

Watch how your anger begins, and see how it grows. When I did this myself, I discovered that anger always starts out very, very small. It’s always based on the difference between how I think things should be and how they are. Within this gap, the fiction known as “me” appears and reacts. To protect this fiction, I begin to justify my anger, to build a convincing case to prove to  myself that I have every right to be angry. I do this, I found, because the very existence of this fiction of self is based on its supposed ability to feel angry. To let go of anger is to let go of self. And that, my friends, is very, very, very difficult.

You cannot accept any of the justifications for anger that your ego coughs up at you, no matter how reasonable you make them sound. Even the absolute, incontrovertible certainty that your anger is 100 percent utterly and without doubt justified is an excuse to allow yourself to feel angry.

Look hard at what is happening within you. Your habit of reacting with anger has been built up over long years of reinforcement from a society gone terribly wrong.

With practice this stuff gets easier. But you’ll never completely lose your desire to get bad at things.

Drop me out of the equation. When there is no “you” there is nothing for “you” to get angry about and no one outside yourself to get angry at.

So to end my own anger, I have to stop enjoying it. To stop seeing the world as “me” and everyone else.    

To end the anger of my friends, I need to help them understand the same thing – that they are the world. There is nothing external. 

As Warner said, this is extraordinarily difficult.

In the midst of reading this book, I was musing to a friend that I was sometimes exhausted being the “nice” person in the room. Now, I see that this is the only way of being because everything is connected. Every action ripples throughout the universe because we are all connected. This is no me. There is no them. You can send that negative out or you can counter it by being nice. By being of service to others. Always. 

Gift Horses

I just finished a Content Marketing class at the Pennsylvania College of Art and Design.  This was just one of a series of Continuing Education classes they offer in the evenings and on weekends every semester. It’s a great way to increase arts education, serve the community, build a base of supporters and potential donors, and better use the building. Continuing education students might not turn into full-time students, but they learn their craft and come to love the school. Like I did.

One of the things I love about the school is the instructors. They’re working professionals. Like Ken Mueller, my instructor for Content Marketing. Ken does marketing for Occupational Development Center, a facility that helps gives jobs and purpose to adults with intellectual disabilities.

Ken also teaches the Intro to Social Media class and most of the classes in this certificate series. He also taught the full semester course for PCAD’s full time students. 

During the last class, he mentioned that the full-time students have to take social media, and they often aren’t into it. He joked that an 18-year old Ken might not have been into it either.

I get that, but they’re missing an opportunity.

I have two degrees in English. When I left graduate school, I landed in an insurance brokerage firm with a copy of Adobe PageMaker 6.5. I wasn’t a designer, but designing the internal newsletter was part of my job. 

Being open to that experience allowed me to build a career in design. I’m a very good designer now and a competent photographer. Both skills support my writing. You know – the thing I went to school for? 

Stuff

Last winter, I instituted a room by room cleaning project. I emptied closets and cupboards. Nothing was untouched. Nothing uncleaned. I got rid of boxes of stuff. 

In Brad Warner’s fantastic book, Sit Down and Shut Up, he writes this about things:

Every object you acquire comes with a certain degree of responsibility for that object. Most of us don’t realize this, which is why we treat the stuff we own so incredibly badly.  You need to take care of these things. When you don’t, you cause yourself and others a heap of trouble.

The only way to really be happy is when you desire as little as possible.

I keenly felt the burden of things during my clean out, but since then, I’ve continued to acquire. I was unable to give it up then, but I’m coming around. I just bought a new computer and deliberately let go of some files. I purchased Spotify and stopped buying music. I’m thinking of dissolving my CD collection. 

Technology helps as certain technologies go away like VCRs and DVD players, those relics left behind lose their meaning. Streaming services mean you no longer have to own your movies or your music and thus the burden of caring for it.

It’s sometimes noted with a sneer by older generations that millennials don’t want to own things like cars. I think owning things comes with a certain complexity that this generation has decided to avoid. I think we need to, perhaps, applaud that thinking and re-examine our own.

The advantage of being a student for life

I began my graduate work a few weeks after receiving my undergraduate degree. I knew I didn’t want to leave school, and I kind of never have. You shouldn’t either.

Here’s why.

I work in technology. Everything changes all the time. Being ok with being a student turned out to be a huge advantage, and it will continue to be as the world of work changes in nearly every field.

Those who learn will flourish

Tom Peters recently noted on Kara Swisher’s Recode: Decode podcast that the ability to be dedicated to reeducation will allow you to flourish in a time of change:  

I believe that the 40-year-old who is totally dedicated to reeducation every single day of the year is gonna make it and is gonna flourish. I think that they are going to flourish by being a value to some customer set, for God’s sakes.

It’s not new. It is not new. My wife and I have a sub-zero refrigerator and the compressor went out. The guy came to fix it. I chat with everybody. Here’s a guy who I would guess is 40, 45 years old. He has a little utility company that helps do appliances, six people. He had just gotten back from a two-week training course that he had paid for out of his own pocket on the Internet of Things. You know, when refrigerators start ordering your stuff for you.

I think he’s gonna survive, and I think he’s gonna thrive. I think there’s a good chance that his six-person company will be a 16-person company. I am incredibly optimistic about people like that.

This is an era of rapid change, and Swisher’s podcasts have focused heavily on the world of work. Peters contends that being dedicated to reeducation means survival. It sounds drastic, but is it? 

How many things have changed in your job since you started 5 years ago, 10? If you just started, what do you think your occupation will look like in 5 years, 10?

Different? Yes. Radically different. Very possible.

Online or in class

My degrees are in English, but a good chunk of my work is in print and web design. To bolster my career, I earned a design certificate from The Pennsylvania College of Art and Design about a decade ago. I’ve taken classes there ever since for both professional development and for personal growth.

I also use Lynda.com, Skillshare.com, and Coursera.org for access to specialty courses, world class instructors, and general training.  They’re great resources and very affordable. Lynda and Skillshare have low introductory offers. Some Coursera courses are available to audit for free. 

Classes can also bring about interesting changes in perspective that enrich your life outside work. I’ve written about a Buddhism and Psychology Class that helped me think differently about the world of stuff. 

In some ways, it’s never been a better time to need a constant education because the resources are available and plentiful. Choose carefully. Get recommendations from others, and fire up that web browser or get thee to a classroom. You’ll be glad you did.

My completed courses at Coursera.org. I’ve used this site for both professional and personal development. 

Schmaltzy

My mom called last Sunday. She got the self-portraits I sent for their 45th wedding anniversary. She cut her trip to the Oregon Coast short so she could say goodbye to her dad. “The pictures were a really nice surprise. Thanks for that.”

My mom’s parents are divorced. They separated when she was 12, and her dad moved to Idaho. We’d get to know him really well only when we moved there…when I was 7 and my brother was 5. He and his lady, Doloras, had a lovely split level home with a pool in the old part of Boise. We spent hours in that pool. Hours. We lived within walking distance. I used a lifetime’s worth of pool time up in those five years.

My brother, Eric, is named after my grandfather, who was the youngest of four children born to Paul and Elizabeth, German immigrants from Dresden and Singen respectively. They would meet in Chicago.

Their third child, Billy, died as a two-year old when he chocked on a chicken bone at a family picnic. We’d take my great grandmother to visit his grave in Pottstown regularly when I was a kid, and my mother and I would find a locket of his blonde hair when we cleaned out her dresser after she died.

Eric was born soon after. 

All three boys were entrepreneurs. My grandfather owned a repair shop that fixed outboard motors and propellers. His first employee, Mark, bought the business when he retired. He was a gregarious and easy-going business owner who would take a boat or car in trade for work completed. His shop was always full of interesting things — motorcycles, classic cars, a commercial-grade rotisserie.

He liked to eat and drink and entertain, and his waistline showed it. His older brother Woo called him “Schmaltzy.” He was the kind of person utterly unbothered by such a nickname.

My grandfather was one of the few relatives that frequently came to visit Jeff and I in PA. He stayed at our house and always slept on the couch even though we offered him a bed. He’d watch tv all night and nap with his computer in front of him on the coffee table. He was an early adopter of technology and left three laptops behind.

My mom said a year ago that his heart was failing. The family in Idaho was tag-teaming to take him to his doctor’s appointments — my brother even showing up for one in a pickup truck filled with his goats.

My mom said she had a nice conversation with him just before he passed. He told her he knew he wasn’t leaving the hospital, and he didn’t. He went quickly but with time for a kind word for everyone who visited. You can’t really ask for more.

Anniversary Photo

My parents will celebrate their 45th Wedding Anniversary later this month. I took some photos for them, so they would replace their photos of me at 18. 

Photo Shoot Day
Tools used: A Canon 5D Mark II, 16-35mm f2.8 Canon lens, two Canon speedlites, Pocket Wizards, a tripod, a light stand, an umbrella.