Today I signed a book contract with Repeater Books. My book, with the working title Life Lived Remotely, is about how the internet has changed how we work. It’s based on my experiences of working remotely, and the experiences of other people doing it. It collates my thoughts from the past five years, since I took my first tentative steps to working remotely, to today, when I can’t conceive of doing otherwise. It’s a book about how the internet has changed our day-to-day experience of work, about the way that technology has become totally embedded in our lives, and the implications this has for our relationships with others, both online and offline, and with ourselves.
On Thursday 17th September I produced a human: Benjamin Bartleby Ambrose was born at 18:47 and weighed 7lbs 7oz. He was delivered by emergency caesarean section when, at the very last minute, we found out he was breech. Having a c-section was a very strange and unexpected experience, but I can safely say that it resulted in the loveliest baby in the world.
Everyone is getting honest about the WordPress community. Everyone is telling it like it is, calling the community out for generally being an asshole. What an asshole community (not pointing fingers at anyone of course). What a bunch of pathetic people, what a lot of meanness. You’re a bad community, a nasty community, a naughty community. Isn’t it great that everyone is getting so goddamn honest?
I wanted to play along. So time for me to bring in some hard-hitting, hard-facts. Are you ready for it? Can you handle it?
Here are some of my truths:
A few months ago I quit my job. I didn’t announce it on my blog. I just did it quietly. I was ready to move on, I was happy about it, but I didn’t feel the need to post about it. What I do in my job is my business and besides, I didn’t think that anyone would really care. A few weeks afterwards, I started getting emails, DMs on Twitter, and messages on Slack. “Are you okay?” they asked. These were people that I don’t see very often, but who were genuinely concerned about my wellbeing. They didn’t pry into my reasons, they just wanted to make sure that everything was alright. I didn’t think that anyone would care, but they did, and I was moved by that.
Two weeks ago, myself and seventeen other people pulled off one of the biggest WordPress events in the world. We were eighteen people from different background and cultures, who spoke different languages and who had different ways of doing things. We didn’t always agree, and sometimes things got heated. But when we all arrived in Seville, we greeted one another like old friends and we pulled off an amazing event. Nearly a thousand people joined us for that long weekend; for many of the attendees it was an opportunity to rekindle old relationships, for others was the start of new friendships, and who knows what could come of them?
At the end of 2014, a friend to many of us, Kim Parsell, passed away at her home in Ohio. This was a huge shock to many in the community; it was so deeply sad. There was an outpouring of grief across the project, on Twitter and on Slack and on our public blogs. I received many emails and messages checking on my welfare, asking if I needed any help. I remember one in particular, from someone I greatly admire and respect, saying how shocked he was and how it reminded him of the importance of keeping in touch. I spoke with community members then about the need for being vigilant, to make sure that no one just disappears, to check in to make sure that everything is okay. These lines of communication between us are fragile. We all have lives outside of this online community, lives that we keep to ourselves. It’s easy for someone to just drop off the map, but there are people around who won’t let that happen.
Here’s some more honesty: there are things that piss me off about the community, the snark and the backbiting, and the poisonous people who dominate conversations and make it so that I feel so uncomfortable that I can’t even raise my voice. I don’t particularly like how the project is structured, and I have problems with how it is run. Problems go from root to branch. But, to be honest, I don’t dwell much on those things. What I value is this: the email from New Brunswick that bears the gift of a quilt, the friend who jumps on a plane to spend a weekend, the messages of support and care when suddenly I’m not around as much anymore, the out-of-the-blue emails to keep in touch; the people around the world who support me through the many changes in my life, those who have taken a chance on me and are supporting me in my future; the big get-togethers where I make new friends, and the quiet dinners when I can slip away with old(ish) ones. The constant surprise that there are people who live in more countries than I can count on my fingers and toes who actually give a shit about me.
Write your posts. Wring your hands. Join comment mobs. But the sheer number of posts of late that are overly critical and snarky and angry gives the wrong impression. When all we have are posts about the bad things, it’s easy for the good to get lost. Banking Every community is both, and we should celebrate the good as much, if not more, as we bemoan the bad. Otherwise we misrepresent ourselves, we misrepresent this community, and we misrepresent those that we care about.
Over the past week I’ve had the great pleasure of hanging out with my friends from the WordPress community at WordCamp Europe. The event was a huge success and I’m really proud of everything that we achieved. One of the things that people kept asking me is what I’m doing next.
Two months ago I left Audrey Capital. I was ready for something new in my life and I didn’t feel that I had any room to grow in my current job. So I decided to move on. This post will answer some of the questions I’ve been getting, and also give you information on how you can work with me.
Are You Reviving Words for WP?
No. I spent 18 months researching and writing a book about WordPress, and for two years before that I wrote content and documentation about WordPress. The niche is still there, but I’m not interested in filling it. I am done writing about WordPress. Besides, I’m not one for moving backwards, only forwards. If you do send me a request for writing WordPress content or documentation the quote will be eye-wateringly large.
That’s not to say I’m giving up writing. I love to write; I’m just done selling my pen. When you write for a living you spend all day writing stuff that other people want you to write. This saps you of any energy for writing things that you actually care about. I don’t want to write marketing content or documentation. Writing for other people eventually becomes soul destroying. I have some writing projects in the works that I genuinely care about and any creative energy I have will be reserved for those.
If you were at WordCamp Europe 2015 then you know that I’m good at organising events. Or if you were at WordCamp Europe 2013, or WordCamp London 2015, or WordCamp London 2013. Or even WordCamp San Francisco 2014 (where I wrangled speakers). Those are some pretty big, and some pretty successful, events.
Outside WP I’ve organised research seminars, workshop series, academic conferences, graduate conferences, public lectures at the British Academy and British Museum, parties at diplomatic embassies, retreats, and (my own personal favourite) my wedding*, which was amazing.
Not only do I enjoy organising events, but I’m good at it. I like tiny details that make people happy. I like getting people together and giving them a memorable experience. banking I like orchestrating something from the background and watching it coalesce into something awesome. Best of all, since organising events uses a complete different type of energy and attention than writing, it leaves me with mental space to pursue things that I care about outside my working life.
Working with Me
I am available to start work on projects starting in January 2016, so for events to be scheduled from May 2016 onwards. This may seem like a lot of lead time but my schedule is busy with projects that I’ve already started working on (more on that later) and from September -> December I’ll be pretty distracted with the birth of my son (yay!).
If you’d like me to organise your event, let me know now by sending me an email. We can have a chat, and I can make sure I have space in my diary for the early planning stages in January.
Here are some ideas for things I can organise for you:
- tech conferences of any scale, from 20 people to 2000.
- company retreats. I’m particularly interested in working with remote companies and communities who want help building their remote culture.
- community retreats – for getting away and working on something together
- business retreats – for getting people together to brainstorm on business
- networking events – for creating connections.
- community building events – either for broad OS communities like WordPress, niche communities, or for a community associated with your company.
- workshops with a strong educational focus.
- hack days, charity hacks, parties, lectures, seminars.
If you want to work on any of the above with me, or if you have any other ideas, send me an email. I’m available for working on interesting projects, with interesting people (which might just be you ).
*That doesn’t mean I’m available to organise weddings. I’m not that crazy.
To Firefox: does the contextual help for different platforms ever hinder users? For example, someone may be on a Linux machine but be fixing the Windows system beside them.
When you’re logged in you can grab the instructions for a different platform, but not if you’re not logged in. They did have that option but more people were confused by it than helped by it.
Linux questions – are there local communities that form within it?
There is traditional forum hierarchy but there is a tagging taxonomy for navigation. There are 7 distributions supported but input from 35 distributions.
What are you doing specifically in wikimedia help?
The “oh shit” graph shows a big decline in people contributing. Some of it is a technical issue, some of it is a social issue. If you come to Wikipedia and write an article, often the best thing that happens to you will be that you are ignored. More often than not, someone will come and yell at you for doing it wrong.
They are looking at different solutions. One of these is looking at how they support new contributors. They had a help desk for that but no one was friendly, no one really answered questions. There are 6 different places with 12 different ways to contribute.
Launched Teahouse as a way to get new people involved. People would be nice to you and take you seriously no matter what. They wanted to surface people and show off profiles. They wanted to show off that there was real people. Set this up as an experiement. Does this encourage new people? Does it keep new people?
When you were talking about people who make tutorials and you moved them to a wiki, the rationale for people not wanting to contribute makes sense. Discussion forums provide feedback, there is someone who provides feedback
If forums are like a watercooler, stack exchange is the opposite of that. It’s not for fun.
Is there a way to better feed your Q&A into your documentation?
Inspired by Scott publishing the WordCamp London assets, here are the slide backgrounds that I created for WordCamp Europe last year. The theme was vintage book covers. I’ve been meaning to publish them for a while. All of the images are licensed under Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial. Please link back to this website if you make use of them.
Here I am presenting with them:
Free software, by its nature, attracts self-driven people who like to be involved in diverse and challenging projects. I know, I am one of those people. I work with those people, I hang out with those people. But there’s a danger, when you’re a self-driven, motivated person, of over-committing to too many projects, and burning out.
Free software projects are places where burnout can happen, moreso than other places. The bazaar style model is fertile ground for burnout. There are always new projects starting up, always exciting things going on. New projects always need volunteers and, with a limited number of contributors available, it’s unlikely that a project will turn down someone who has the requisite skills and who is enthusiastic. This is particularly a danger when a contributor first comes to the project. You want to make a big impact, are super-excited, and think that the best way to become enmeshed in the community is to do everything. Continue reading →
I’ve been doing some writing exercises to get myself going in the morning. I’m trying to write without too much direction, just to see what happens. Standard fare for writing teachers is the “first line” prompt. The aim of this exercise is to provide a first line that the writer then follows on from. I found a first line generator that generates first lines such as the following:
It would only be a fling – she wasn’t about to break up the happy home
She clung on to the piece of driftwood, praying for daylight
He knew he must keep very still while he waited
His voice had never sounded so cold
The aim of the writing exercise is to take the first line and just start writing. However, the first thing that come to mind are clichés – the first an affair, the second something like Castaway, the next someone hiding from pursuers, the final one a breakup. But, in the attempt to write about something not cliché I find myself getting into an unending cliché loop.
What’s wrong with cliché?
A cliché is a “is an expression, idea, or element of an artistic work which has become overused to the point of losing its original meaning or effect, even to the point of being trite or irritating, especially when at some earlier time it was considered meaningful or novel.”
Our minds are filled with clichés – we say them every day, we live them. I’m a cliché – I married my much older philosophy lecturer (see: Little Women). We say things like “the end of the day,” or “to be honest.” And, you know, clichés do have their place – they’re a shorthand way of getting across something that is culturally understood. I might want to convey that someone really is a stuffy old academic who wants to be cool by putting them in a jacket with elbow patches. I might signal a millennial by the constant pinging of their smartphone.
But in order to make something that isn’t just a rehash of shallow ideas that pervade society, it’s necessary to fight with cliché.
There has never been more clichés than there are today. The world is filled with image and clichés of every single kind. One cannot turn on the television without being faced with a cliché: show formats that are all the same, presenters that are carbon copies of one another, advertisements that have perfected appealing to the clichés inside us. Just going on Twitter you can see the proliferation of hashtags, mannerisms, and turns of phrase that circulate.
Fighting with Cliché
Our brains are packed full of clichés. When I to a page it is already filled with them. How do I avoid rehashing them? How to I write something that gets at the thing itself, without all the built-up shit? That’s what I haven’t figured out yet, and those first line exercises made me think of it this morning. I was going through each first line, as soon as I’d read it I’d have an idea and then think “ugh”.
Some thoughts I had on how to deal with it:
– write through the cliché and see what happens at the other side. There might be something of value, or it might be shit, or maybe the cliché will become something else
– don’t do writing exercises like that
– note down ideas on a list and if they are cliché strike them out
I am aware that all of this thinking ignores the fact that a writing exercise is what it says it is – an exercise, a way of exercising my writing, and I should probably just treat it as such. Maybe tomorrow.
This Saturday I’ll be speaking at WordCamp Europe. It is particularly exciting for me because last year I was one of the organisers and this year I get to see it from the other side (i.e. less stress, more sleep, more socialising!). It’s also my first WordCamp in Europe since WordCamp London last November (which I was organising so didn’t really get to enjoy all that much!). It’s wonderful to be back in this part of the world. I missed Europe. I missed cobbled streets and the way the light spreads across crumbling old cities.
Many of the presentations I’ve been doing of late have been focused on the work that I’m doing on WordPress’ history. For WordCamp Europe I decided to talk about some of the ideas behind WordPress and how they came to be on WordPress’ philosophies page. I’ve been working on this aspect at the minute so it fit well with what I was going. The more I dug, however, the deeper I went and I found it hard to stop. My old training as a philosophy graduate kicked in and quickly I was writing about Philosophy instead of philosophies.
This makes my presentation doubley exciting for me, and also doubley nervewracking. If someone had told me two years ago that I would do a presentation at a WordCamp about philosophy, I would have thought it was ridiculous. And it probably is still ridiculous, but I’m doing it anyway.
So if you want to hear what Duns Scotus, Michel Foucault, and Isaiah Berlin have in common with WordPress, come to my presentation this Saturday at 11:30am to find out.
I am in need of a joke. I have just one. I need another. D and I go out with friends, to dinner or for a drink. D thinks that he’s very funny so will crack a few jokes. Then other people tell their jokes. Then the most hilarious thing of all – D announces that I only have one joke, and that I always tell it and that I haven’t got any more.
“Tell us a joke,” he says.
“No,” I say.
“She’s only got one,” he says, giggling.
“So?” I say.
“Tell us it.”
“I’ll tell it,” he says, then of course can’t remember it, his head being stuff so full of his own jokes. “I only know the punchline. You tell it.”
And then I do tell it.
The joke is this:
What do you call a square testicle?
This, I think, is very funny. It makes most people laugh. D, however, has heard it many, many times. He forgets that the lot of a married person is to hear one’s spouse repeat the same stories and jokes ad nauseum until death do us part. He forgets how many times I’ve heard him tell the story about his brother and the lazy cats, or about how he nearly died scuba diving (he didn’t nearly die), or the number of times he’s retold the winning joke from the Edinburgh festival (“I decided to sell my Hoover… well it was just collecting dust.”)
The problem with my joke is that it’s not really mine. A friend told me it a few years ago and I thought it was funny and it stuck in my head. I like the wordplay, the way that the words rhyme with each other. I like the three-syllable sound of the words. I like the image of a square testicle.
But I need a new one, or I need some new friends. Probably a new joke is easier to come by. The problem with jokes is that half of them are racist, mysoginistic, or filthy, making them inappropriate for telling to people who you don’t know all that well (I’m probably already on shakey grounds with my testicle joke, but a least it’s more fit for public conception than 50% of D’s). About another quarter of them are totally lame. The type of jokes our eleven-year old niece tells us, in which she gets the telling totally wrong, giggling like a harpee as she tries to construct a joke in a sort of Burroughs cut-up technique fashion. Or jokes from a joke book that must have been passed down through a hundred generations.
“I’ve heard this one before.”
“I hate you.” Screams. Storms off.
I have done some searching for my new joke. I need one that is short. I have a terrible memory and I fear mangling a joke to be received by stoney silence while D giggles (he does that a lot).
Here are some that I’ve come across:
What has teeth but no mouth?
More of a riddle than a joke.
How do you know that carrots are good for your eyesight?
Have you ever seen a rabbit with glasses?
Why did the man put condoms on his ears during sex?
He didn’t want to get hearing aids.
Good imagery but not very funny.
Why did the cat go to the hospital?
To have a CAT scan done.
The thing about the square testicle joke is that it’s pretty much perfect. It contains so much:
- a play on words
- slightly riské but not over the top therefore suitable for most company
- conjurs up an excellent mental image
However, my telling of it is ruined by D giggling and pronouncing to the world how hilarious it is that I, his wife, have only one joke. It’s not simply that I have only one joke, but that I am the joke. I, in my one-jokeness, have become a prop in D’s box of funnies that he trots out for anyone who will listen.
And so, has anyone got a new one for me?