mark_zoe_me

Goodbye dear friend

The first time I met Mark was in his flat in Bromley. It was his birthday party, and he had invited me along with other bloggers and friends to celebrate it with him. He cooked a huge spread: there was this excellent beetroot, roasted in balsamic and rosemary. I remember thinking at the time that it was one of the best things I’d ever tasted. In the years that followed, I was always pestering him to make it for me again (he managed to just once, though he often poked fun at my general obsession with food and eating). That evening we were packed into his tiny flat in Bromley, with an odd mixture of music journalists, ex-Warwick Alumni, and bloggers, many of whom I only knew by their blog names.

I was struck by Mark, whose stature was so much smaller than the power of his writing implied. He had a nervous energy about him, and his eyes would dart from side to side when he was animated, which was often. We talked at the party and arranged to meet again afterwards. It was the start of one of my most enduring friendships.

Mark has been a touchstone throughout my adult life, as a writer but mostly as a friend. Much has been written about his influence as a writer since he passed on 13th January. I’m not going to add to that, since it has been done so eloquently already, but you can read Simon Reynolds both on his personal blog and on The Guardian and David Stubbs in The Quietus.

In the years that followed our initial friendship in London, career-wise we went our separate ways, but our friendship did not. I spent many weeks and weekends in Suffolk, both in Woodbridge and then later in Felixstowe. His house always felt like my own: we would sit around on camping chairs, drinking coke and watching daytime tv or horror movies or reality shows, walk in the flat Suffolk countryside or beside the decaying boats in Woodbridge, and cook food from the nearby Budgens (a shop I will always associate with him).

Boat decaying on the river in Woodbridge

Boat decaying on the river in Woodbridge

It was while he was living in Woodbridge that he started seeing Zoe. The start of their relationship was a turning point in his life. Despite the huge readership on his blog and his growing profile as a writer and theorist, he always lacked confidence and he always felt like a fraud. He was amazed that someone as beautiful and intelligent as Zoe had fallen for him; he told me “it can hardly be believed.” I think he had long ago written off the possibility of long-term relationship. But here she was and she transformed him. Her love gave him the strength to be more completely himself. His confidence grew and he became more comfortable in his own skin.

Zoe was the reservoir of strength and love that enabled him to endure the bleak periods of depression that came with tidal regularity; with her he went on to do some of his best writing. She provided him with stability, warmth, and laughter, never letting him taking himself too seriously but always letting him know how important he was. They have faced unimaginable challenges but they have always faced them together. It is tragic that Zoe now has to continue on without him, that she has been left without his companionship and support.

I recall the day Mark and Zoe got married. It was in Aldeburgh, the setting for A Warning for the Curious, a ghost story by M.R. James who Mark very much admired. I was honored to be asked to read at their wedding, a poem by Margaret Attwood. Halfway through reading the poem I glanced at Mark and saw his unabashed tears of joy; it made my own voice break and I struggled to finish the reading. It was a day so full of happiness, surrounded by people who cared about him and his future. I recall thinking that he had arrived where he wanted to be and I didn’t need to worry about him anymore.

Mark with George at Haven Holidays

Mark with George at Haven Holidays

The next turning point was the birth of his son George. Myself and Darren went to visit them in their flat in Felixstowe shortly after George’s birth. Zoe and Mark had the faces of frazzled new parents: tired, worn out, but in love with the new little creature who had disrupted their life. During our visit Mark, despite being an excellent chef, cooked one of the worst meals of my life: a risotto to which he forgot to add stock or wine…. truly unforgettable. D and I ate what we could, not having the heart to tell him how awful it was.

It was then we got to know Mark the father. Having a child can expand you in ways you didn’t know was possible; for Mark, George brought out a softness and tenderness that I had never seen in him before. He was totally dedicated to his little boy, singing him silly songs and giving him pet names, taking him to swimming lessons and reading to him every night. When we went out George always sat on his knee, sharing his ice cream or the foam from the top of his cappuccino.

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waxwork barrymore

I have so many good memories of Mark: hysterical laughter at the Michael Barrymore waxwork in Louis Tussauds, watching x-factor finals, list shows on New Years eve, going to see Spider Man at the cinema and being amazed at how far he jumped out of his seat at even the slightest scare, browsing in second-hand bookshops, an intense and far-too-long game of late night monopoly, seeing the world-class Roxe perform Wind Beneath My Wings at Haven Holidays, dancing at his 40th birthday party, getting lost in a Suffolk field in the rain, walks on the beach in Aldeburgh, and many, many days hanging out with Mark and Zoe, at their home, just talking and being together.

I still don’t have the words for how I felt when I found out that Mark had taken his own life. There is a huge absence where he once was. The last time I saw him was Friday 8th May, 2015. We were in The Alex in Felixstowe. None of us had much sleep, though Mark had been up all night. We had come over to watch the general election results. The beginning of the night was characterised by Mark’s usual sense of hope, then disbelief as the exit polls predicted a Tory victory, then incredulity, face-in-hands, as we realised the exit polls were right and we had a Tory majority government. The next morning we shared a subdued breakfast together, facing a bleak and impossible future. A sleep-deprived Mark could barely string together a sentence, but, in typical Mark fashion, he went home, took that feeling, and did something productive, producing a mix he called “all the straws we have clutched burst into flames,” a perfect summation of that evening.

Since then, we have emailed bath and forth, but a few months after the election I gave birth to my own son and became wrapped up in the domesticity and tedium of having a small child. I am sorry that I didn’t make more of an effort to see them in the past year. It felt like Mark would always be there, that things between us would never change and remain as easy as they always had.

I am trying to come to terms with the fact that he is no longer in my life. I have been obsessing about it, thinking about the things we did, what we could have done, and what we will never do. I am thankful, however, to have known him: he was someone I could always rely upon for hope in the face of hopelessness, who brought lightness to serious things and seriousness to things that were light, who could find humour almost anywhere, and who was generous with his time and his friendship.

I feel privileged to have known Mark Fisher, k-punk, the writer and theorist, author of Capitalist Realism, he has undoubtedly influenced my writing and thinking, and it saddens me that he won’t read my own book; but what I regret losing the most is Mark the husband, father, and friend, the Mark of “Mark and Zoe”, the precious person who loved greatly and was greatly loved. He is irreplaceable. I miss him desperately.

There is a memorial fund for Mark, to support Zoe and George through this time. Please give what you can.

mark

Looking for people to interview about remote work

I’m working on a book about remote work and I’m looking for people who work remotely to interview for it. The book is based on my experiences of working remotely but I’d like to include more varied viewpoints than my own. I’m looking for:

  • freelancers
  • people who work for distributed companies
  • people with children
  • people whose partner doesn’t work remotely (and those who do!)
  • people who have just started working remotely
  • people who have been doing it a long time
  • anyone with insight into their own experience of working remotely and the impact it has had on their life.

Some quotes from the interviews will be used throughout the books. I’m happy to maintain anonymity if you request it.

If you’re interested drop me an email and we can chat about it.

Speakers, sponsors, attendees, and volunteers, gather for WordCamp London 2016 #WCLDN

WordCamp London: A Parent’s Experience

A few weekends back I had the pleasure of attending the third WordCamp London (and the first one that I haven’t organised! ). The organisers this year had a big focus on accessibility including live captioning, hearing loops, a multi-faith room, a lactation room, and a creche. These things are usually an afterthought but they were placed right at the heart of the organisation this year.

At the last WordCamp London I was four months pregnant, and so this time around I had a six month old baby, Benjamin. I knew I wanted to attend the event, but since I’m breastfeeding it’s impossible to leave him for longer than a few hours. Without a creche, my only way of attending the event would have been to have him with me all day, and he’s not yet a big fan of presentations about WordPress. Continue reading →

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RIP David Bowie

When I was a teenager we used to get high and listen to Andy Warhol; at nineteen, in my gap year in Canada, one of my go-to minidiscs was Young Americans; in University I started reading Nietzsche and nothing summed his thought up better than Life on Mars; during my a summer in France I discovered Low and wandered the streets of Lyons with it on repeat; the soundtrack to my master’s thesis was the bootleg A Lad in Vain; on a roadtrip with my husband one of the few CDs we had was Station to Station, which we played constantly. So many moments in my life are accompanied by the songs of David Bowie, so many memories are evoked by listening to his albums.

Today, D and I are listening to Blackstar, which is a sore reminder of what we had and what we’ve lost. But it comes at a time of immense change in my life, shortly after the birth of my son. I’ll no doubt listen to it a lot over the coming weeks, as I hang out with B and watch him discover new things and learn new tricks. And one day, when baby B is just a memory, I’ll listen to it again and it will bring back oh-so-vividly, like so many Bowie songs, a happy time in my life.

RIP David Bowie. Thanks for the soundtrack to my life <3

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Working on a new book for Repeater Books

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.

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Welcome Benjamin <3

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.

An Honest Post About the WordPress Community

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. 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.

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Want to Work With Me? Here’s How…

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.

Organising Events

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. 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.

 

 

Open Support: A Panel Discussion

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?

 

 

 

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Slide Background Images

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.

Final slideshow:

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eyes-black

eyes-line

beige-lines-swirl

yellow-orange-arrows

up-arrows

triangles-perspective

swirl

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squares-and-triangles

simplicity

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pyramids

ppl

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middle-stripes

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lines-and-circles-1

ideas-ideals

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heads

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freedom-0

coloured-triangles

chatting

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blue-triangles

blue-dots-white-lines

black-squares-one-red

black-lines-swirl

yellow-squares

face

decisions

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Here I am presenting with them: