Journals Against Stories

This is about a supplemental habit I’ve picked up to go along with my recent anti-story practice, and it’s also a mini-review of the DayOne app.

I’ve known for a while that it’s good for me to have some sort of journaling to help deal with ADHD. I slip in and out of it, and use a variety of means to journal, including this blog, plain text files, and physical notebooks .

For a while, my practice involved a pair of daily entries meant to help me figure out the day ahead, then retrospect. It evolved from something I learned from one of my commanders at Fort Bragg, who started and ended each day with a sheet of legal paper she kept by her keyboard.

Over the past month, though, I’ve come to use journaling as a way to capture thoughts and feelings quickly and as on the spot as I can manage. I’ve adopted an informal template, making sure to capture most of the classic five W’s. My journaling tool supports hashtags, so I have a loose taxonomy to connect related entries. Sometimes I’ll make an explicit link between entries, too, if time allows or if an entry is so fragmentary that I want to make sure to connect it to one with context.

An entry usually involves what I was thinking about, how I felt about that (the emotional truth), what I think about that (the considered response), and what I want from all of it, either as an outcome/resolution, or a next step. I try not to self-censor if I can help it, avoiding the quiet temptation to record my best self in these entries.

I guess there are a few kinds of value to be gleaned:

First, I can see the ways in which the inner story-teller is always trying to impose a narrative, even in a moment of relative remove.

Second, I can see the ways in which thoughts and feelings are always changing. It’s a “two steps forward, one step back” sort of thing. Sometimes they refine and improve, sometimes they’re not super worthy. Getting that—understanding and embracing that variability, acknowledging my own messiness—makes it easier to engage a more objective self. I know about the messiness and imperfection of other people. Stepping back from myself long enough to see my own messiness—the messiness I forgive other people for all the time—makes it easier to cut to the ethical heart of hard things. I’m just another human. What would I tell another human if they asked me about this problem? What things would I remind them of? How would I counsel them to act?

It has helped me a few times so far in the past month. It has created a book-ending joy to go with the joy of those moments where I catch myself making up a story in my head and manage to stop doing it.

Journal for the Mission

I’m more kind to others than I am to myself, but my inner- and outer-directed kindness are never too far away from each other. My ability to be kind to others seems to have a ceiling set by how kind I can be to myself. The connection between those two capacities for kindness can be a liability, or it can be leveraged.

When I’m not objective about myself—when I allow uncomfortable or messy truths about myself to go unconsidered and unforgiven—I’m harder on others. I guess the ego casts about outside itself when it’s not comfortable with what it sees in itself. It distracts and comforts itself with the failings of others.

When I think about that small gap between my inner- and outer-directed kindness and try to apply the forgiveness I can muster for others to myself, then the ceiling on my kindness to others goes up that much more the next time around.

That’s important.

When I was pretty young, my dad took me to our church’s annual conference. I don’t embrace that church or its kind of spirituality any longer, but the mission statement for the conference that year has stayed with me:

Do justice. Love tenderly. Walk humbly.

It’s a paraphrase of a verse in Micah, and it has become a sort of meditational anchor over the years. I think a lot about the ways those three directives depend on each other:

Justice without kindness or humility is cruel.

Love depends on fairness and humility, or it becomes mere neediness.

We must temper humility with fairness and kindness to ourselves. We must understand the ways in which unconsidered self-effacement can be deeply unfair and ultimately cruel to others.

It seems to me that the more I can participate in a cycle of reciprocal kindness, to others and to myself, the more readily I can accomplish that mission.

A Few Notes on Day One

DayOne is a journaling app available for both MacOS and iOS. It offers a few key features that have made it great for this practice:

  • The ability to make quick entries, with a keyboard shortcut from the Mac desktop, or with a long press on the iOS icon
  • Fast, transparent cloud sync between devices/computers
  • Passcode/Touch ID security, end-to-end encryption
  • Hashtags
  • Inter-entry linking

It also understands Markdown, and automatically records location and weather in each entry.

I love being able to make a quick entry anywhere, from whatever device I’m using: Quick, thumbed entries on my phone, or longer and more considered entries with a real keyboard on my iPad or desktop machine.

I like knowing the security is pretty strong. If I switch away from the app on iOS, I can set it to require a thumbprint right away. If I sleep my computer, it’ll require a password before opening. That’s all less about security and more about having a strong sense of privacy: I record a lot of stuff in there. If you picked a random entry to read, who knows what you’d get.

So, I had to talk about something difficult recently. How do you do that? I mean, “you the reader,” not me. I know how I do it, and why.

I’m an introvert. For my purposes that means a couple of things:

Being around a lot of people doesn’t charge me up. Being 1:1 with someone, or in a small group, can. I’m not sure how typical that is of my kind, but I know my favorite parts of the work day are with “my people” in 1:1s, or with my managers. Big meetings are hard. Big social events are hard.

The other thing it means is that I’m not comfortable with a lot of spontaneous expression. I’m an internal processor.

So, when I think I’ve got to have a hard conversation with someone, I think about it a lot beforehand. I used to joke that I spent my morning commute spinning up virtual instances of people I needed to talk to so I could think through a few possible conversational directions. I though it was sort of cute to say that, but I don’t think it really leads to a good outcome.

I mean, it’s okay to decide you’re going to think about what you want to say to someone before you say it, especially if carelessness with your words could hurt them. That’s fine. We should all do that. We have these little phone rooms at work that are barely big enough for a chair, and I sometimes go into them a few minutes before I need to talk to someone about something that matters a lot and think through what I’m going to say. Sometimes I even write it down in a text file. I take deep breaths and close my eyes and settle down into myself.

The “think about what you’re going to say” strategy begins to fail when you imagine what you’re going to say and then imagine them saying something back, and then what you’d say to that and then what they might say back to that, etc. etc.

It took two things to help me realize the problem there.

The first was that one day, in the middle of a period where I wasn’t sleeping much, I realized how badly the lack of sleep was affecting my perception of things around me. Passing comments suddenly seemed like they might be insults. Hanlon’s Razor sort of went out the window.

So I had a pretty good fix for that: On mornings when I’d gotten little sleep – less than six-and-a-half or seven hours – I’d spend a few minutes on my commute thinking about that and what it meant. I’d talk to myself on my bike:

“You didn’t get a lot of sleep last night. You’re going to be feeling a little paranoid and on edge. You’re going to want to take offense at things people say to you. You’re not going to be seeing things correctly.”

Then I’d get into work and try to remember to talk to myself about that a few times over the course of the day.

Things started to roll off my back more easily. It was nice.

It also started making those little conversations with virtual people go down better. I stopped anticipating the worst, or when I would anticipate the worst I’d remind myself that I wasn’t very well rested. I’d make a little joke to myself to spin that instance down and bring up another one and try again anticipating better behavior.

You’re thinking about the ways in which that’s still broken, but this is my story of self-discovery, so either skip ahead or quit reading.

Anyhow, that was my little hack that made difficult conversations with virtual people in my head go better.

I didn’t get the second piece until I went off to a sample training for a program called Conscious Leadership.

If I had to describe Conscious Leadership in a nutshell, I’d say that it takes a lot of thinking around mindfulness and tries to make it work in a business context. If you’re at home with Zen Buddhism, you’d hear some things that are familiar to you.

I could go on and one about Conscious Leadership. I’ve given copies of the book The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership to managers who work for me and people I care about. I use its language in my daily living, and I measure myself against its standards.

The way it helped me in this specific instance was that it reminded me of how easily we can get pulled into the stories we create around things, and how we should always strive to take a story we’re telling ourselves and “explore the opposite.” Expressed as a commitment to sustainable behavior, the Conscious Leadership people put it like this:

I commit to seeing that the opposite of my story is as true as or truer than my original story. I recognize that I interpret the world around me and give my stories meaning.

I realized the ways in which my virtual instances were just stories I was telling myself. I’d made a certain peace with the worst aspects of them by taking care to remind myself of the times when I wasn’t well rested and was making the stories worse, but I was still just making up stories and arguing with them.

The thing is, as an introverted internal processor, it was pretty easy for me to slip into those conversations with virtual people in the process of just trying to figure out how to say what I wanted to say when I felt a conversation was particularly important.

I had to pick up a new habit, which is really what this whole post is about.

A Walk on the Beach

So, I went camping. On the last morning we were at the park I woke up pretty early and took my camera and went for a beach walk. I set out thinking I’d go down to the jetty, a few miles down the beach.

I hadn’t meant to spend much time thinking about things and mainly hoped to just take pictures, but there wasn’t a ton to shoot and I knew I was going to have to talk about something difficult, so I lapsed into thinking about that conversation, and that meant I started arguing with a virtual person. Because I was thinking about a difficult conversation, it got increasingly negative and fraught.

I caught myself doing it and got really frustrated, because I know I’m not supposed to do that. So I’d stop for a few minutes and think about other things, but then I’d fall back into it.

Then I remembered how I coached myself about being under-rested, and took a page from that practice.

As I made my way down the beach, each time I’d get into an argument with that virtual person, rather than getting frustrated and beating myself up, I’d just stop and say out loud “this isn’t happening. That didn’t happen. You didn’t say those things.”

Conscious Leadership advocates moving your body when you’re feeling something strong and need to process it, or see it differently, so I’d shake myself a little, too.

Reader, it felt pretty good.

By the time I’d made it to the jetty, miles down the beach, I was smiling to myself because I knew what I needed to say. I knew it miles back down the beach. I’d just fallen into my old habit of wanting to think it all the way through, to know just what to say to each possible response or argument.

And of course the conversation went fine, anyhow. They usually do. I pay attention to people and how they’re feeling, and I’m careful in the initial framing and get things off on the right foot, so just taking the care at the onset is usually enough. When it’s not, well … I stay calm in the pocket, too.

Since then, though, I’ve been using that practice a lot, and it is incredibly helpful. I’m an introvert! I think about what I want to say to people before I say it! I’ve got a life-long habit of spinning up virtual people and arguing with them, which is to say a life-long habit of telling stories to myself that aren’t true. It’s tough to break, and I haven’t broken it. But I’ve added a little thing to the loop: When I catch myself doing it, I say to myself, “that didn’t happen” and it has made me feel lighter and happier each time. I think to myself “I don’t really know what they might say, but they didn’t say that, and they could say something completely different. You’ll just have to find out.”

Some Notes on My Fujifilm Lens Collection

I promised an email to a friend about my Fujifilm X-mount lenses, but figured I might as well blog about them and include a few samples.

Prior to buying an X-T2, I usually had a general-purpose zoom of some kind (18-200mm) plus a prime or two (35 or 50mm) .

My couple of years with a Fujifilm X100S got me back in a prime lens mood, and most days when I’m picking something to walk around with, I’ll go with a prime. I have a single zoom, and when I’m carrying a bag with a few lenses in it, it’s usually one of them.

When I bought my X-T2, I started collecting lenses in earnest. I think I might sell a few of these now that I understand them all better, so there’s some overlap in the collection.

I’m not going to talk a lot about the technical characteristics of these lenses. To my eyes, they’re all pretty sharp and nice. Whether they’re weather resistant matters to me because I live in Portland, and then it’s down to how well my brain works with a given focal length. As a somewhat shy shooter, I don’t start feeling comfortable with walking around lenses until 35mm or so.

If I had to name a favorite out of the bunch … a desert island lens, I guess … I’d probably go with the 35mm/f2. It’s sharp, weather resistant, small, and versatile. I’ve used it for street, portraits, and landscapes. It’s not as hard to fill as the wider lenses, and the only thing I’ve got that’s tighter is the 56mm portrait lens, which isn’t versatile and isn’t weather resistant.

I guess I’ll do this wide to close.

Rokinon 12mm/f2

I love this lens. It produces really sharp images and it’s fairly small and light. It’s a manual focus lens. On the X-T2 I use focus peaking, which outlines the in-focus parts of the image in red.

My one hangup about this lens is that it’s not weather resistant, so it doesn’t come outdoors much during the winter or in rainy weather.

Camp 18

Fujifilm 16mm/f1.4 WR

Kind of love-hate with this lens. It’s very fast and sharp, but it sits in a weird spot for me. Since it’s weather resistant I’ve carried it around more readily in the winter than the Rokinon, but it’s awfully close to my 18-135 zoom, or 23mm/f2, which are also weather resistant.

Sunset at the Steel Bridge

A quick search tells me I’ve put about 900 shots through it, and I can see where I’m still trying to figure it out. It’s so close to the Rokinon on one side, and so close to the 18-135mm zoom on the other that I’m not sure what to do with it. I’ve got a few landscape ideas I’d like to try out, but I get the feeling I’m going to sell it.

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Fujifilm 23mm/f2 WR

As a 35mm full-frame equivalent, I suppose this is the classic street photography focal length. I like that it’s small, light, unobtrusive, and weather resistant. I struggle a little with filling the frame with it because I’m not fond of getting up on subjects. On the other hand, the 24MP sensor on the X-T2 means I’ve got plenty of room to crop.

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This is the same focal length as the lense on the X100 series. Curiously, I’m pretty happy with 23mm on those cameras because it’s versatile: Landscapes, environmental portraits, general purpose street stuff, etc. But when I’m shooting with an X100 I’m in a different frame of mind, too: It’s a small camera for snapshots. I’m in a pretty informal frame of mind when I’m shooting with it. When I have the X-T2 along, I’m thinking differently and I’m probably carrying a bag with a few other lenses along.

Fujifilm 35mm/f2 WR

Next up from the 23mm, another small, weather resistant lens at the classic 50mm (“nifty fifty”) full-frame equivalent focal length. I think this is my favorite walking around lens. It does a little bit of everything, and I love just carrying it around.

Portland Women's March at the Hawthorne Bridge

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Fujifilm 56mm/f1.2

Hm. I bought this for portraits, and I’ve used it for portraits. I haven’t taken many portraits. It’s fast and sharp. I’ve read people who use it for street photography, but it’s a pretty big lens and I’m averse to taking things onto the street that will read as “fancy and big, it must be serious” vs. “little camera that isn’t serious.”

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Ben

Anyhow, I’m glad I’ve got it even if it doesn’t see a ton of use. It’s a niche lens for a niche purpose. Once I get around to shooting more people, it’ll see more use.

Fujifilm 18-135mm/f3.5-56 WR OIS

My sole zoom. I usually have it along when I’m carrying more than one lens, and I like to have it for travel in situations where I don’t care to swap lenses around. Since it’s weather resistant, I don’t mind taking it all sorts of places.

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Since it’s image stabilized, it’s good for indoor shooting despite being relatively slow.

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The image stabilization is pretty nice. This was shot at pretty high ISO (6400) and very low shutter speed (1/20):

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Not tack sharp, but pretty usable. When I think back to ISO 1600 on my old Pentax K100d, which had in-body stabilization, I’m pretty happy with the results.

I thought 135mm would feel like a compromise, because I had a 200mm zoom for my Nikon D5000. So far, though, I’ve been pretty happy. I haven’t felt limited or frustrated, and when I review what I shot with the 200mm zoom on my Nikon, fewer than a fifth of my shots ever exceeded 135mm. The majority were shot somewhere between 50mm and 135mm.

I had a 50-200mm zoom for my Pentax K100D, and a lot more of my shots were taken at 200mm, but that includes a wedding where I used the long focal length to keep way out of the reception and shoot from the edges. That was the first time I’d ever shot a lot of people, and I was very uncomfortable with the experience. Since then, I’ve loosened up a little: If I’ve been invited to take people pictures, I don’t hang back as much. I also tend to give the subjects a little more room in the frame for a more environmental portrait sort of effect.

Oh, the Lensbabys: Sweet 35, Sweet 50, Edge 50

I bought a Lensbaby Optical Composer plus some lens elements for it. It’s pretty fun to shoot with now and then. They’re all manual, and Lensbaby is a weird shooting experience in general, and it’s not weather resistant, so I don’t play with it much anymore. At the same time, it’s a fun creative toy so I’m keeping it around.

Lensbaby

Supporting an Open Door Culture by Listening

The soul of our politics is the commitment to ending domination.  — bell hooks

Next week I’m going to give a talk on how men can support women in the tech industry. I was uncomfortable with the idea when first approached: My thoughts turned to images of me clicking through a deck and reading off bullets of things you shouldn’t do that I probably did myself at some point before someone undertook the effort required to get me to stop. I hated the idea of standing in front of a room and implying there’s something I get that maybe the men I’d be speaking to don’t. 

After a brief back and forth with one of the organizers, though, I proposed building a talk around a project I undertook a few years back to author guides for a company open door policy. She was supportive of the idea, and that made me more comfortable: Even though I had designed and led the project, it was never “mine:” It happened at all because our CEO had been listening to women who were telling him what they needed to feel more safe and heard at work, and I was just there to help make it happen. 

I suppose this entry is to help me firm up some of my thoughts before I present, but it’s also to provide a link to a repo that has the output of that project that’s consumable by anybody who’s interested in having a supplement to whatever fossil of an open door policy their company has tossed up on the intranet. I wanted to be able to share the work with the folks at my talk, so I scrubbed the guides down and dropped them on GitHub (along with a small todo list of things that could make them better in the project issues). I’ll link to it a bit later, too, but here it is right now in case you’re curious and don’t care about anything else I’ve got to say on the matter:

https://github.com/pdxmph/open_door_guides

The initial brief for these things was to create a guide that made it easier to understand how to use our open door policy at all. I was asked to work with HR to deliver something that we could position within the open door policy itself, perhaps as a diagram or flowchart. I met with our VP of HR and one of our HR business partners, and we tried to whiteboard a basic “open door process flow.”

As an aside, that initial diagramming session was one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. Up until then I had a pretty dim view of HR. I’d worked in places where the HR org wasn’t just “there to serve the company’s interests,” but had become a sort of political center in its own right, controlling the path to promotion by gate-keeping mandatory training or obscuring promotion standards and practices. I’d never spent a lot of time thinking about the nuances of the HR discipline. 

By the time I was done working with that VP and business partner, I had a new appreciation for the complexities HR people deal with (and a huge amount of admiration for those two in particular, because they had an architect’s perspective on some of the problems we were discussing but were as engaged with making the architecture amenable to people as I was).   

I’d also decided the idea of just making a diagram or flow chart was a terrible idea: It was too rife with edge cases, and no amount of detail at the “step 1, step 2, step 3” level suggested an awareness of how it actually feels to have a problem you can’t fix for yourself that you have to go get help with. I took that idea away, digested it, talked to a few women around the company, and sent a note to the CEO:

... the issue is less "what are the steps?" and more "how do we get everybody to an equal place in terms of their confidence that when they use the steps they'll get a good outcome?" Your public statements about non-retaliation a few months back are important, but there are things beyond retaliation that matter, too, and these came out in interviews:
  • Will my manager place the burden on me to fix the problem once they hear me out?
  • Is my manager attuned to the idea of discriminatory behavior that flies below the radar of outright bigotry? (microaggressions, which are not universally understood to be "real")
  • Is my manager attuned to the idea that bringing my concerns to them sometimes feels like I might be marking myself as a troublemaker/"difficult," if not to them then others. (confidentiality as a cardinal component of the process)
  • How will I know what's going on with my issue once I bring it to someone?
  • How can I know I'm not going to inadvertently bring a hammer down on someone?
That's 20 percent "process" and 80 percent human factors.

The next few months involved some document design, some writing, and a lot of listening. One of the people who worked for me had the misfortune of experiencing one of my people management failures, and I was incredibly lucky that we’d reestablished enough trust that she thought it was worth her time to explain to me how I’d fucked up. 

Another woman told me a deeply personal story about what it was like to be condescended and talked down to by a male colleague. We spent an hour talking about her experiences, and even then I was catching myself drifting toward thoughts about the ways in which her patronizing male colleague probably didn’t mean any harm, or surely hadn’t acted that poorly. We ended the meeting and went back to our desks. A few minutes later, I saw her at a nearby whiteboard with that colleague, so I stayed at my desk and listened to the interaction from afar, and it worse than she described, which caused me to realize that even in a relatively safe context she was still protecting someone who had treated her terribly. I’m glad I was able to engage in some empirical verification; I’m sorry I felt the need to. 

As the work progressed, I invited more and more people  into the documents to help shape them. At one point I had three copies of each document so stronger voices wouldn’t drown out quieter ones in the comments. When it was clear that the very idea of “microaggressions” was controversial, I asked women to help me list some examples: The documents don’t have that word in them (even if they probably should), but they articulate the idea and provide examples from womens’ experience. 

After a few months of work, either writing, listening, or reconciling the viewpoints we’d brought into the project, the VP of HR signed off and we shipped them to the CEO. He said he liked them, and he named four women he wanted me to meet with to get final approval. I was a little chagrined because I’d already talked to each person on his list as part of the work, but I invited them all to meet and discuss the finished docs, anyhow. They turned up a few more small things and we fixed them on the spot, which taught me it never hurts to listen for just a bit longer. 

We ended up with two guides, meant to be used as a supplement to a generic open door policy of the sort you can just go download from the web: 

The first guide is for employees. It’s written to strongly suggest our values around the process of escalation. The language is about “expectations,” and you could think of it as a bill of rights that compels certain behaviors from managers. The language is meant to be supportive and affirming. It’s made clear that if those expectations aren’t met,  the interaction is in trouble and the employee can bail on it, escalating to the next level.

The second guide is for managers. Structurally, it closely parallels the employee guide. The language is less on the “supportive and affirming” end of the spectrum than it is quite imperative. 

The employee guide references the manager guide a few times, not to avoid repetition and certainly not as a requirement to understand the employee guide, but to accentuate things we’re telling employees: “We told you to expect this behavior, and here is where we’re telling managers, in imperative language, to do exactly what we told you to expect. If you observe your manager not doing these things, you can see right there in the manual we wrote just for them that they’re supposed to be doing those things.”

Since releasing them just over two years ago, HR has made them part of the management training program, and our HR business partners make sure new employees hear about them when onboarding. When I’m involved in a conversation with an employee about something sensitive, I will often share the link after telling them about their rights to confidentiality, and I’ll make clear to them that the bedrock values of those docs include consent and confidentiality. 

I don’t have any way of measuring their success. Personally, I find them comforting: Even though I helped write them, I still find myself going to them to remind myself of my obligations to the people who work for me, and people have told me that they’ve been glad to read them. 

And they’re also a valuable reminder to me of a few things: 

First,  the piece of work I’m most proud of during my time at Puppet wasn’t really my work at all: It was the result of deciding I didn’t know everything I needed to know, that I didn’t have all the answers, and that my reputation as someone who understood womens’ concerns and was a good manager in that regard wasn’t something that I had—something that was part of my nature—but rather was the result of knowing to listen, and accepting the idea that “I know that I know nothing.” 

Second, that the thing I’m most proud of as a manager came not from “taking charge” and leading, but from deciding the best use of my authority was to assert my right to be guided by others who hadn’t been given that authority. 

Anyhow, if you see some values in these guides, they’re on GitHub. The README has a few suggestions on how to use them that preclude simply downloading them and tossing them up. Instead, I’d suggest you fork them and make them your own, preferably after talking to people in your organization and learning what would make such a guide more useful to them.