Archive for January 2011
You’ll get a break from my long rambling blog entries today, necessitated by the schedule here at On Co-op. With multiple projects underway here (video work and a large mailout coming up), coinciding with a couple of well-deserved vacations for On Co-op staff, my cup of work runneth over. I’ve heard the same from one of my blog colleagues (blolleagues?) from Co-blogeration recently too; perhaps the early part of the year is some kind of co-op crunch that I wasn’t aware of.
Regardless, you can think of this truncated blog as the calm before the storm. Soon you’ll be hearing plenty from On Co-op, and I’ll have my fingerprints on the finished result.
Have a great week, internet!
I talk a lot about the new skills I’m learning here at On Co-op. One of the skills I haven’t mentioned much, one of the most valuable and hardest to learn, is balance.
I’ve mentioned before that I’m a new father. I began my job here at On Co-op before my son was a month old; needless to say, between full-time working hours and parenthood, I had plenty to fill my time. At first, balancing work and family took some practice. I spent a few weeks bringing tasks from work home in my head, and I would wander away into my thoughts regularly to figure things out. But babies are strict schoolmasters, and my little boy quickly taught me that he needed me present and attentive–nicely reminding me at the same time that my much less demanding wife required the same thing. I started being able to focus on the different parts of my life, and found that my work for On Co-op improved along with my family life, as I approached it with more energy during the appropriate hours.
At least, for a little while.
What had been neglected in this early learning process was my creative writing. Those who have been following my blog have probably figured out that my writing is important to me; I bring it up regularly, and I try to apply the same care for language and audience in my corporate writing as I do in my personal work. But for the first months of my job, I stopped writing; I simply felt I didn’t have the time. After a while, my mental feet started to drag, I felt constantly beleaguered, and my social skills took a turn for the worse. It took me some time to realize that the problem was not merely exhaustion, but the absence of one of the central facets of my life.
The (rather tired) metaphor of juggling often comes up in subjects of life-balance. As someone who can juggle literally as well as metaphorically, another aspect of this symbol occurs to me: when juggling, it’s extremely awkward to juggle with too few balls. Trying to juggle with only two balls is, in many ways, harder than juggling with three, because finding the right timing for throwing and catching is nearly impossible. When you introduce a third ball (and many hours of practice), you can fall into a steady rhythm, your reflexes can take over, and it can become quite comfortable. For me, juggling family and work was like juggling with two balls; the absence of writing was always felt, and it kept me from finding my rhythm.
With the help of my wonderful (wonderful, wonderful) wife, I’ve found ways to put writing back into my daily life. And once again, the addition of another task to my list has made me better at my other responsibilities instead of worse. My work is better, my father/husbandhood is better because I’m writing again. I sleep less, but I feel more rested.
What I’ve learned is that balance isn’t always about limiting or decreasing your tasks; it’s about making sure the right balls, no more and no less, are being kept in the air.
This morning, I put up a section of the website that I’m quite excited about: the Hire a CIEP Intern page. This page includes brief bios of some of my fellow interns, and will be updated regularly in the weeks to come.
Obviously, I’m glad to put it up for some selfish reasons, since my bio is included among the others. But I’m mostly happy to be working on this because some of my favourite tasks in my job have been collaborations with other interns–the CIEP workshop series and Co-blogeration stand out–and so another chance to work with/for my CIEP colleagues is a boon.
When I think about my own uncertain employment future in isolation, it’s daunting. But when I consider the fact that there are nineteen of us out there, with our variety of talents, interests and aspirations, all asking “What’s next?” it becomes rather exciting. Who knows what we’ll all do, what we’ll all change?
I have a couple of news items to suggest this week too. First, check out the Be Remarkable campaign from the BC Credit Unions, which used Facebook photo tagging to allocate $100,000 in donations to local charities. A pretty cool use of social media.
And the United Communities Credit Union is up to some cool things too; they recently held their fourth annual Farms to Food Banks program, in which they and other donors purchased food from local farmers to give to local food banks. Supporting social assistance and local food at the same time? I’m a huge fan of this.
As I learn more about social media, I’ve begun to appreciate the kind of paradigm shift that resulted in my contributions to this blog. Since I would be taking over a blog that was already in progress, my first instinct was to read what had come before in order to match my voice to the general On Co-op blogging voice. Mark’s reaction was telling: “Forget what we’ve done before.”
I did so, but of course I still wanted to know what I was stepping into. Previous contributions to the blog were certainly valuable, but they tended to focus on the imparting of information. There’s something to be said for this–to this day, a post done by my precursor announcing that MEC would be opening a new store in Barrie is our most popular post, visited only slightly less than the homepage of the blog, demonstrating both the popularity of MEC and the effectiveness of blogs-as-news-releases. I do try to share news as well, but most of my entries are about my personal experiences, and even news items often include a few reflections and inanities.
The fact that I’m encouraged to write this way suggests that rather than using social media as a traditional marketing venue, On Co-op has started to use it as a way to let people see inside the organization. Personally, I love the way that this breaks the facade of a company, reminding people outside of On Co-op that all those slick publications and programs are made by a bunch of people, rather than an unassailable (and inaccessible) company.
It’s a great move in the co-operative sector, too. Co-ops are about their members and their communities, after all, so creating divisions between the company and people is counter-productive. Being professional is good; being so professional that one hides the fallible, lovable human hands behind the work isn’t.
And here I am, reaping the rewards of that paradigm shift.
I’m learning, during this internship, that it’s the invisible tasks that take the most time.
I have a task list that was created close to the beginning of my internship and then updated continually. At the top of the list is one ongoing task with no definite end-date (save the end of my contract here in March): website updates. Reading and responding to emails doesn’t even appear on the list, as that task goes without saying. Since these items are always there, sitting quietly on my proverbial plate, I don’t think about them much when I make my miniature task list for each day.
Today, for instance, I had two projects in mind: I wanted to take the next step with my CYL Prezi–final updates and creating a working video version of it–and write up my Monday blog post. Not overly burdensome tasks, leaving me with plenty of time for the errata of working life. But by the time I caught up on emails and updated the website information discussed in those emails, I had only an hour left in my working day. Those demure little tasks apparently staged a coup while I wasn’t looking, overthrowing the current order of my task list; all that could be salvaged was a small corner of time for this blog.
Even realizing that these invisible tasks dominate my day, I wouldn’t change them; I take pride in the website, and I know that a site is only as good as its information, so updates take priority, and emails–well, again, they go without saying. But I do wish these tasks were more predictable. It would make tomorrow’s list much easier to craft.
A couple of months ago, my supervisor Mark said, “I’m thinking about having you create a series of promotional videos for us.”
It was said as part of a larger discussion of my tasks here at On Co-op, and spoken lightly, so I imagined that it would be a side-project–something creative enough to mix things up when tedium set in with my other work. But that brief statement has sent me and fellow intern Paul Skinner around southwestern Ontario with a camera to conduct interviews, gotten me working with Prezi seriously for the first time, and had me brushing off my neglected filmmaking skills.
I’ve been at work on one aspect of this for some time now–I mentioned it briefly in my previous post, The Digital Sandbox–but in the new year it’s taking a much more prominent role in my working days. I’ve been working on the initial two videos in tandem. The more time-intensive one is for On Co-op’s petition, which will feature co-operators from a variety of organizations. The second is a prezi that I will be turning into a promotional video for CYL. Both are coming along nicely.
No release date has been set, but there should be more news on these videos in the near future (after all, I’m only here for another two and a half months). It’s interesting to look back at how this task began, though. One simple sentence, one assignment in the midst of many…
I spent the majority of my day updating text on the website–posting new information for the next round of CIEP-ers, an informational page on On Co-op’s Guide to the Act, updating directory listings, etc. Other than days spent on the e-directory, it’s actually been a while since I’ve spent this much time on the site, and it’s a welcome return; Barking Dog has done a great job, creating a site that’s easy to use for both visitors and administrators like me.
Working on the site again has also got my brain spinning on whether there’s a connection between the principles behind co-ops and the principles behind the open source programming movement. Both are about creating more democratic processes, and both encourage some kind of community-building in order to fulfill needs. And both suggest that there are goals beyond profit that people should be focusing on.
I think there are some overlapping principles between open source programs and co-ops. I’m wondering if this means that co-ops around the world will be embracing open source software in the years to come. As a fan of both movements, I’m hoping so.
This is a continuation of my Nov. 29th posting, Emphasis! In that posting, I was wondering about the role the exclamation point plays in the promotional writing I do here at On Co-op. After a month of musing, I have a few new thoughts on the matter. (Alert: This is another one of my writerly postings; if you’re not interested weird things like narrative voice and em dashes, you may want to move on.)
I come from a creative writing background, and as such I tend to look at things through that lens. The frequent use of the exclamation point in my promotional writing struck me as odd because I’m not used to using it in my fiction–that is, outside of dialogue.
But the more I think about it, the more I realize that promotional writing is in some ways more akin to dialogue than narration. It’s often formal, but it also tries to be open and approachable. Through tone it attempts to establish a relationship with the reader, ideally with the promotional text becoming a trusted source of information–hence much of what I write is very friendly, slightly casual, because friends are often the most trusted source of information. (I think brochures that can buy you a coffee are the advertising wave of the future.) Exclamation points mark and increase in the volume of words, and since volume frequently changes in our everyday speech, it makes sense to find them in dialogue.
But not all of the promotional writing I do is part of a dialogue; often, it’s more of a monologue, with the text speaking to someone without expecting a response. In that way, this writing moves back into the realm of narration. And even at my most conversational in narration, I tend to avoid strong punctuation, because it often seeks to pre-determine the reaction of the audience. (“Get excited now!” said the exclamation mark.) In fiction, I’ve found that readers respond best when I give them room to form their own response. I want that response to be positive, of course, but dictating feelings too directly to an audience can be considered bad form.
So, I see three possibilities suggested here. One is that I could try promotional writing that attempts to follow that narrative approach, informing and influencing through tone, but not pushing too hard. The second is that I could try promotional writing that really does try to be dialogue–social media makes this a possibility, as most of its best corporate users advocate truly social initiatives, with conversation opened between company and consumer. The third possibility is that promotional writing is a horse of a different colour, and I need to figure out new modes and new styles rather than relying too heavily on old skills.
Once again, I’m left with questions at the end of my musing. Since I’m blogging this, and thus the second option (dialogue!) is open, feel free to comment if you have thoughts of your own.
Welcome to 2011!
This post comes a little late–something I hate to have happen, as I’ve taken to this blogging thing like leftover turkey takes to mayonnaise–but January 3rd was not devoid of blogging news for On Co-op: I and my fellow interns now have Co-blogeration up and running. Co-blogeration is a fantastic project that lets interns from various CIEP postings blog about their experiences in one spot. It’s already lively too, with postings from each of the major contributors up and ready to read. I’m thrilled to be part of the project, working with a team of great bloggers and great co-operators. Make sure to stop by and check it out if you haven’t already.
Meanwhile, the new year is shifting some of my tasks into the realm of CYL, which definitely engages my interest. While I haven’t had a lot of chance to work with On Co-op’s youth camp yet, the children’s author in me has been watching it out of the corner of my eye since I started here. It seems like a fantastic project, and I’m happy that I’ll be able to contribute to something that makes a difference in young lives. We shall see what comes of it.
A new area to test out my communication skills, and a new blog to add to my social media responsibilities; 2011 is treating me well so far. Hopefully the new year will bring you new delights and new opportunities as well!