On How To Survive Conferences And Not Get Tripped Up By A Word

At a conference earlier this week, I had to get up and share my views on our ‘company culture’ which inevitably led to the usage of the word ‘diva’.  Well because we have our fair share of divas… and martyrs in my industry. Who doesn’t?

So this post is really about that word – diva – but it is also a short ‘how to’ post on surviving conferences (we call them camps in our industry) that go on for days.

Tip #1

Play games.  For example:  I play a game where I count how many times Steve gets to use much-used and therefore stale expressions like ‘from the ground up’ or ‘yesterday’s weather’.

OR

How many times Sally decides to abbreviate everything for the sake of clarity confusion like ‘so in XPSPR we noted that PRV didn’t happen in time for XGT to process the order’

I have a small notebook dedicated to abbreviations.  Most of which I am still stumbling through.  Sally you see, is a far superior being in every way and I’m afraid if I don’t get to understand at least 20% of what she is saying, my bosses will soon realize they made a mistake hiring me.

Tip #2

Do drink at the company dinners, if so inclined, but not too much. No one wants to hear how you’re ‘hungover’ during your ‘showcase’ event or presentation.

Tip #3

Don’t use a word during your own presentation or talk that you know always trips you up, leaving you red-faced because everyone knows ‘diva’ rhymes with ‘geezer’ but for some reason you pronounce as ‘diver’ because your neurons don’t fire as they should …and then blame your flawed tongue on the mojitos from the night before.

Do you have a word that continually trips you up, no matter how many times you practice saying it in front of the mirror?

On The Red List

I wrote this post earlier this week because of an image I saw on Facebook.  It was the photo of a sad baby rhino who according to the article was scared to sleep alone.  That story inspired this post but then after reading it, I thought no, I won’t publish it because the world doesn’t need another whiny post from another animal-lover and passionate conservationist.  But then … an egomaniac decided he and his estimated 20 000 guests would feast on elephant and buffalo meat at his 91st birthday celebration and that dear readers and friends is why you get to read my post.

From Grade 1 to 3 our school would take us on ‘field trips’ to the zoo.  Even then, as a curious and fierce animal lover I did not like zoos and dreaded those trips.   Something –  I knew not what – was wrong with the Polar Bear and something was definitely wrong with the Siberian Tiger.  It wasn’t until I went on my first safari that I realized what that ‘something’ was and why their lacklustre coats and sad eyes filled me with horror.  Lost to those animals behind thick iron bars and high walls is the life coded into their DNA.  These animals have been abducted and abused for profit and yet …in some cases – and this is increasingly becoming the case – animals are being saved by zoos.

Do you visit zoos and aquariums?  Do you feel we need them? 

To save animals from human beings you have to capture them and imprison them, because demarcating swathes of land with walls or barbed wire and declaring them ‘wildlife preserves’ do not stop poachers.

Here’s some quick rhino related facts: the Western Black Rhino has been wiped out by poachers; there are only five Northern White Rhinos left in the world, all in captivity and all unable to breed.

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Image from discoverwildlife.com

Beautiful, shaggy orangutans (above) are on the endangered list (Borneo).  These gardeners of the forest are responsible for ‘seed dispersal’ but human encroachment has impacted negatively on their population.  Snow leopards, sea lions, Green Turtles, Fin Whales, African Wild Dogs, Black Footed Ferrets…if you have not yet heard of these wonderful creatures or had the privilege to see them in their natural habitats, familiarize yourself with them today because soon they will join a chorus of Dodos and Passenger Pigeons.

So today I encourage you to visit a wildlife refuge or zoo if it means you get to see and fall in love with ‘exotic’ species or something within you wakes up to the realization that we’re not as ‘superior’ or as special as we like to think we are, because of our Big Brains and Big Plans for more, more and more until nothing is left, just a list of names in the interverse.

Characters That Stay With Us

I have an odd assortment of good friends.  Most of whom are made of flesh and bone but a few are less solid, having been penned to life.  These paper friends visit me in dreams.  Wang Lung, a great-grandfather (at last count he had eighteen grandchildren) still visits tea shops and is able to walk over to his beloved fields. I often find him standing at the top of an emerald hill staring down at the place where he will come to lie below his uncle and his father and not far from his devoted wife, O-lan.  Having worked hard to claim for himself property and success he is still a man humbled by nature. There is so much I want to know, I say, but I dare not ask him. I wonder if he feels bad about the way he treated O-lan? I wonder if he still yearns for Lotus who was far prettier than his wife and slender as bamboo?  Does he, I wonder, still bend down to scoop up earth with his hands.   Does he appreciate each day on the good earth  with his sons and Pear Blossom who remain faithful and attentive?

I know Huck Finn is adventuring in another world but he likes to tell me about his grand adventures in the Wild West after he and Jim parted ways.  He tells me he crossed paths with Pawnee raiders and rescued more than one damsel in distress.  I have Huck to thank for introducing me to the evils of slavery, robbers and conmen and to floating down the Mississippi river on a raft.  Huck Finn is the reason I crave adventure.  He also gave me the courage to plan my own escape when I was seven.   I didn’t follow through with my childish threat to run away but I had a satchel packed and ready just in case my mother threatened to tan my hide again for something my sister did.

I once threatened to ‘tar and feather’ a bully in primary school, thanks to Huck.  She stopped bullying me after that.

Reverend Stephen Kumalo and I still weep for his son Absalom who was found guilty of murder and condemned to die in apartheid-era South Africa.  I wonder if he and James Jarvis have undertaken any new projects? James, who after his own son’s death was forced to face the racial issues that divided his country.  James who tried to make amends. I wonder if the good reverend’s village Ndotsheni has prospered or if the men are still leaving to find work in the big cities?  I think I know the answer to this question but to hear Kumalo speak of these things in person would be a precious gift.

Which book’s character/s continue to live with you? 

There Are No Victims Here

Most of us are familiar with the idiom ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me’ and most of us will agree it is untrue.  Words hurt. Words can be turned into weapons that pierce hearts, crush dreams and break spirits.  I have always been particularly sensitive to how we use words and what compels us to choose one word over another.

If you watch the news or keep up with events online or in print, you will have read or heard a phrase like this a thousand times over  ‘he/she was victim of a heinous crime’ and description of said crime.  The truth is most of us (if not all of us) have been ‘victims’ of something less-than-desirable through no fault of our own.  We have been victims of neglect, absence, abuse, unfairness, misfortune and crime and not because we ‘deserved’ to be victimized but because things happen all the time to the best (and worst) of us.  That’s life.

I am one of those people who crave the ‘after story’.  I want to know more about said ‘victim’ of wolverine attack, avalanche, burglary, rape, molestation etc.  I want to know if you saw the road ahead fork in two.  I want to know if you believe in second and third chances.  I want to know if you still get up in the morning to shower, brush your teeth and get on with creating your life.  I want to know if you hope again, love again and dream again.  I want to be inspired and am inspired by people who refuse to be labelled or prescribed to.  I am inspired by people who will not be defined by an experience or a poor word but fear for those who continue to play the victim card.

Words can also heal.  They have resurrective properties. Someone who has overcome; someone who has fought back; someone who has clawed their way back out and up and resisted is a survivor.  I wish more journalists would adopt the word ‘survivor’ and drop the word ‘victim’ when reading the news. I wish more of us realized this world is populated by survivors. Victims are dead.

What word do you find pejorative or inadequate and wish would be dropped from the lexicon?

Trampling Grapes – A Childhood Memory

The subject of my alcohol-fuelled childhood recently came up and not in therapy as one would imagine.

Both my grandfathers were Portuguese and both were winemakers like their fathers before them.  Growing grapes and making wine was never an option for either one of them. It was just something they did.  I don’t recall ever seeing my grandparents buy a bottle of wine just like I can’t recall a time when there wasn’t an open bottle of wine at the dinner table.  Each year at harvest time, my sister and I were brought in to help with the picking and making of wine and since our grandparents lived on separate properties we were really busy.

I guess this was our first experience with work although we loved it so much we didn’t think of it as work.

My sister and I were the only ones allowed to trample the grapes in the winepress.

We had the sense from the way our grandfathers sought us out – and only us – that we added ‘magic’ to the process as we sang our childish songs and trampled those grapes with an enthusiasm I sometimes wish I could recapture.  I seem to recall we would wear the absolute minimum for the job – bathing suits and very short shorts and raggedy t-shirts.  We were sticky and sweet for days :-)

By now you must be thinking my grandparents lived on farms but no, they nurtured their vines in their suburban gardens; those vines offered shelter from the harsh African sun under which we enjoyed extended barbecues and spilled gloriously green and abundant over their respective garages and boundary walls.

There was of course a reason for our enthusiasm.  My sister and I knew what would happen as the grapes were left to ferment in large vats.  Samples had to be taken during the process of fermentation and someone had to be on hand to turn the tap and pour those first drops of sweet nectar.  My sister and I were available.  It’s not like we had anything else to do but attend school.

You may think we were drunk a lot.  I don’t believe we ever were.  We were allowed to drink wine (one small glass each) from an early age and I credit that experience to the fact that I know when to stop.  I have been ‘wasted’ a record one time. And it wasn’t on wine and I was well into my twenties (boring I know).

My question is not whether you started drinking as a toddler but what activity did you participate in as a child that is now frowned upon or considered risque? 

What’s Stopping You?

I was the kid whose stories and poems were read aloud by teachers and whose artwork was put on display and slapped with five gold stars.  Back then I’d write novellas for my friends and teachers and family members alike would describe my work in superlatives.   But as I got older that changed, because when the praise stopped so did the writing – and the drawing.  There were a series of comments made by teachers and family members – none of them constructive – about both my writing and my art that led to increasing self-doubt about my abilities as an artist but it was one particular comment delivered in a flippant manner just before I graduated high school, that sealed the deal for me and, here is the striking thing, the person who delivered said nasty comment wasn’t even a teacher or someone I cared for – yet, the criticism stung and the comment stuck like tar.

What followed was a long, dark fallow period.  Over a decade of ‘having nothing to say’, ‘nothing to write about’, ‘nothing to draw’.  Then one day, about eight years ago, on a trip to a bookstore with a casual acquaintance of mine I was telling her how I had always dreamed of being ‘a writer’ when she turned to me and asked ‘So what’s stopping you?’ and that’s when *lightbulb moment* I realized I had to let go of what people think and write for myself.

What’s stopping you from doing what you love?

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I also realized that criticism only hurts when it mirrors what I think of myself.  The kinds of criticism that stayed with me: the time a group of teenage boys called me ‘thunder thighs’ when I played field hockey, the time the art teacher said my drawings were ‘mediocre at best’.

These comments helped me realize I had serious doubts about my physical appeal and artistic abilities.

What criticism are you holding onto because of a negative belief you hold about yourself? 

I’m not going to pretend I don’t care what people think.  I do – but to a degree.  I am someone who has always valued constructive criticism so that is always appreciated, but I have also learned that receiving feedback tells me more about the person giving the praise or criticism than it does about my abilities.   We are quick to forget that we are all different and that we are blessed with a unique set of abilities and taste.  What appeals to you may not appeal to another. Consider for example a work of art.  Do you prefer a Picasso to a Rembrandt?  or Comedy to Horror? Feedback gives us the facts about the preferences of the person giving the feedback.  It can’t speak to your worthiness or talent.

Yet feedback is critical not only to artists and writers but to everyone.  If you’re tinkering with a new invention or drafting a work proposal or preparing to give a TED talk you need feedback.  You need to know if what you are doing is understood, appreciated or if you need to improve in some or most areas.

Are you seeking feedback from the right people? People you hope to influence or engage with?