Archives for October 2012

Inspired By Feedback

Learning how to ask for feedback is a skill that improves with practice. I’ve gotten better at it by asking more frequently and by asking different kinds of questions. By making feedback a regular event, I began to minimize the charge that feedback, whether positive or negative, had often carried.

Asking for feedback allows me to confront fears about what others think head on and get it over with; this frees more energy for the actual work. Knowing how others react to what I am writing has helped me improve the writing and provided validation, especially when I am working on my edge. Feedback has been a source of inspiration and encouragement.

When to ask?

This is can be bit tricky. When I am learning something new I ask for feedback early and frequently until I feel confident I am on track. Once I am working in a familiar area, I don’t ask too early in the creative process, unless I need to clarify direction. I want to get enough done that I have a strong feeling about where it’s going and what I’ve done so far before I ask.

If I am asking for feedback on my writing this may mean waiting till I’ve finished a complete first or second draft. Sometimes it means asking for one kind of feedback early on and another kind later.

What to ask?

Different writers have different answers, because in each case what you ask will depend on who you are asking, your relationship, and the type of feedback you seek. Using the example of a piece of writing, here are some feedback request ideas for different kinds of readers.

Readers who are writers

  • Ask about the element of the writing that you’ve been working to improve
  • Ask about the element of the writing you think is good
  • Ask what they respond to
  • Ask where they think more work could improve the piece

Readers who are fans of the type of writing you’re asking about

  • Ask what they responded to
  • Ask if they think others will respond to it too, and if so who
  • Ask if it seems to offer something new, and if so what
  • Ask them for their favourite part and why
  • Ask them for their least favourite part and why

Readers who are expert in a field discussed in your writing

  • Ask them if the details are consistent with what they know
  • Ask them for sources of additional information
  • Ask them if they could suggest anything to deepen credibility

Readers who are potential clients

  • Ask them what they appreciated
  • Ask them if this type of writing fits their needs, and if it doesn’t what seems to be out of sync
  • Ask them if anything in the writing suggested something to watch for on this job
  • Ask them what tone and voice they want to see in the work you do for them

Don’t forget

  • Always ask if there is anything else they’d like to tell you. This open-ended question can yield valuable information that just didn’t come up through a specific question.
  • Ask if you can approach them for feedback again (if you found their feedback helpful and constructive) .
  • Thank them for their feedback and their time, regardless of whether or not you will ask them for feedback again.

Join the discussion: What type of feedback is most helpful to you? Any tips on asking for feedback? Share a story about a time when feedback inspired you.


De-clutter Your Online Information

Do you live in an information jungle?

Do you have virtual (or real) piles of files and emails?

Is your favourites list hundreds of websites long?

Do you organize emails, documents and website favourites differently?

There’s hope, but it requires resolve and a system.

Before you start, review current work, objectives and your mission/purpose and values.

The overarching question for sorting:

Why do I need this?

How does this email, document, or website relate to your work/purpose/values/life?

If you aren’t going to use it in the next 6 months, toss it. By the time you get around to using it everything will be different.

Discard as much as you can. Your discard muscles will grow stronger with practice.

Step 1: Look at your current folders

Keep main folders/headings to about 20 (one screen length).

Some folders may become sub-folders with the right heading.

Example: Use Colleagues, Family, Friends, as sub-folders under the main folder People. Add folders for individuals in the appropriate sub-folder.

Once you’ve whittled your folders down, look again to make sure everything is current. Discard old material.

Ideally, your 20 folders can be main folders for emails, favourites, and documents; use the same file scheme in each area.

Once your folders are ready for action you can move on to

Step 2: Sort emails, websites, documents into your 20 major folders and sub-folders

When something doesn’t fit in a major folder, or an existing sub-folder, create a 2nd sort folder and put it there for now.

As you sort, watch for new themes or ideas.

Once you’ve gone through your folders you should have everything either in an existing folder, sub-folder, or in the 2nd sort folder.

Review themes. Could some themes be sub-folders for existing main folders?

Hint: Once you have more than 20 items in a folder, you may need a sub-folder to keep filing and access easy.

If you still have items with no home in the 2nd sort folder, rename it 3rd sort folder and move to

Step 3: The 3rd sort folder (this one requires the most thought)

Take another look at your main folders and sub-folders. If there is no home for the item, ask yourself again why you need it. If despite everything you just feel like you want to hold onto it consider a “Likes” or “Investigate” folder or sub-folder and file it there so you can review it again later.

Try really hard to keep it to 20 main folders, with no more than 20 sub-folders under each. It will be much faster and easier to remember and use. Once you blow past 20 it’s just harder and takes more time to use.

You might need a break if you have been working through the first steps in one time block. Give perspective a chance to return.

Once you’ve finished disposing of your 3rd sort folder you are ready for

Step 4: Scheduling your next de-cluttering session

Keeping the flood of information moving smoothly is a challenge. We accumulate much more information and it decays much faster than it used to just a few years ago. Regular information de-cluttering can help you stay current, be more productive, feel less overwhelmed, and become more sensitive to trends.

Want more? Here’s a favourite post from Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits blog with 72 Ideas to Simplify Your Life to take the whole process further.

Join the discussion: What do you do to keep the information flood in check? How do you organize it? When do you discard? What kinds of information or sources seem “evergreen” What’s your biggest de-cluttering/simplifying issue?


Discover Your Themes

April 1968, that’s when I mailed out over one hundred photocopied pamphlets of my poetry, Ensemble: The Gratuitous Act . I mailed it to a list of people that included pop stars, poets, philosophers, actors, writers and friends. In October 2012, more than forty-four years later, I can’t recall why I included some of the names on the list. And there’s a bit of a cringe factor; I am profoundly grateful the internet wasn’t available for decades. Still, it was a first poetic effort, and as much as I shake my head at some of them, I feel enormous affection for that romantic, blithe spirit on the verge of womanhood.

Here’s a poem for now made from some lines from then.

Reading early poems

After more than forty years,

Still writing for those concerned with life, with love;

Still offering poems freely, as a gift;

Still wanting to taste, savour and enjoy each moment to the full;

Still subject to the restless, gusty winds of mind’s night;

Still listening for my own song rising from deep within;

Still know love, dying, can find resurrection in another’s face;

Still know feeling has power beyond the passing day’s ability to define;

Still marvel at that love holds the key to unlock treasure in each moment;

Still see love doesn’t shield us from life’s woes, only makes them more bearable;

Still spellbound by the glory of each soul’s light.

Reviewing early work; finding life themes

I’ve kept journals and written scraps of poetry, story and memoir for a long time. A friend recently asked me to share some early poetry as we worked through more current work.

It was a great request. Something interesting happens when you reread writing put away for longer periods. You are sometimes able to rediscover the one who wrote then and gain the brilliance of hindsight.

Send some loving kindness

Before you begin to read, remember what was going on in your life. Look at old photos. Remember family, friends, your view of the past and hopes for the future. Surround that early writer with wishes for happiness and well being. From here and now, appreciate the contribution of the past. Forgive, if forgiveness is needed. Now reading with a kind eye, look for:

  • What was alive in you then that still sustains you?
  • What has disappeared that you want to mourn?
  • What do you want to celebrate and name as a theme? Why?
  • What was a challenge then that still challenges you now?
  • How has your understanding of the challenge changed?
  • What were you learning then?
  • What advice or encouragement do you have for yourself then?
  • What are you learning now?
  • Does your earlier self have any advice for you now?

Join the conversation: How do you discover the themes or questions that you carry through your life? What do you discover when you review earlier work?

Dreaming of Community

I’ve discovered I read some favourite authors (Maeve Binchey, Marcia Willet, Katie Fforde ) because of the dream of community that’s often a part of the story. Learning how a character moves from outsider, dispossessed of her old identity through circumstance or choice, and forms a new community, is a tale that never grows old. The community is the context for all the action. I feel silly even mentioning it in a way. Goodness it’s always there, that tension between the individual and the community, the dilemma of being in or out, the challenge of being accepted or winning membership.

How could I have missed this theme?

North American culture emphasizes the individual and individual relationships. The novels often have an element of romance. Family stories are sagas, or comedies, or tragedies with an individual at the centre. Shifting my focus to the community, I see the stories differently; learn new things.

In Vancouver, where I live, recent research revealed that many people in the city feel lonely and disconnected, and yearn for a greater sense of community. We have many immigrants who are far from family, are from across the world or across the country, drawn to the city from another way of life; sometimes people are disconnected from their family for other reasons.

On Monday and Tuesday night this week PBS broadcast Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. The stories from the film are different from the tales told in women’s fiction or Vancouver newspaper articles on urban angst, yet they are about dreams shared by the characters in the books and Vancouverites: a woman’s desire for a better life for herself and her children, freedom from emotional and physical abuse, access to education, and a way to earn a living with dignity that will allow her to build a better life and a safe place to belong. The stories of these women are also about the dream of community. The women who take action in the film are able to build community.

Our idea of community, and how to build and maintain a community comes from our dream of it, our yearning for it, as much as it comes from experience.

In 2008 Peter Block wrote Community: The Structure of Belonging.

“Community offers the promise of belonging and calls for us to acknowledge our interdependence. To belong is to act as an investor, owner, and creator of this place. To be welcome, even if we are strangers. As if we came to this place and are affirmed for that choice.”

He emphasizes the need for us all to take up this work, to move from longing to acting, and offers information on building local context and operating guidelines. One of the powerful questions he asks is

“What declaration of possibility can you make that has the power to transform the community and inspire you?

Join the conversation: Do you dream of community? How would you answer Peter Block’s question? What are the characteristics of the community you long for? Share a description of community that inspires you.



Who do you thank?

Thanksgiving is Monday October 8th here in Canada. Have you ever sat down for Thanksgiving Dinner and felt disconnected? There’s the traditional litany of those to thank and what to thank them for: food, peace, freedom, family and friends, health, success, all worthy of appreciation and our gratitude should we be fortunate enough to have them, particularly in a world where so many lack them. I’ve sometimes felt ashamed and ill at ease at the Thanksgiving table when I just couldn’t connect to a feeling of gratitude. If existence itself is grace, then the bounty piled before me shouldn’t result in me wishing I was alone with a pizza and a good movie.

Discover what you are grateful for

Elsewhere war, famine, pestilence, and disaster thrive. Somehow the more aware I am of how badly off much of the world is, the harder I find it to open to receiving, to acknowledge what I already have. I find myself asking what I can do to reconnect with the spirit of thanksgiving.

“I made cranberry sauce, and when it was done put it into a dark blue bowl for the beautiful contrast. I was thinking, doing this, about the old ways of gratitude: Indians thanking the deer they’d slain, grace before supper, kneeling before bed. I was thinking that gratitude is too much absent in our lives now, and we need it back, even if it only takes the form of acknowledging the blue of a bowl against the red of cranberries.”

― Elizabeth Berg, Open House

The dream that is the inspiration for the novel I am working on was a dream of thanksgiving. In the dream a young woman, is intoxicated by the sense of interdependence and abundance she found in meditating deeply on the bread and corn, squash and fruit that were part of her harvest festival. This gives her a sense of the connection between the people who planted the seed for the grain that became the bread, the baker who fashioned the loaf, and the dairyman whose cows provided the milk to make the butter for the bread and her life. The joy that came from her recognition of interdependence is a memory that brings me back to thankfulness, to connection, when I’ve forgotten who to thank and what I am grateful for.

Starting with my current feeling of restlessness and discomfort, because that’s where I am, I settle into my breath, into the present moment, and reflect on thanksgiving, and on the dream’s gift.

“We are here to awaken from our illusion of separateness.”

― Thich Nhat Hanh

Reconnecting to your bounty

Good news! Gratitude is a practice that starts with simple actions.

  • Say “Thank You”

Whether you are saying it to your body, to the rose that offers its bloom, to your family, to the author of your favourite book, or the cook who prepared the thanksgiving feast, expressing your thanks changes what’s going on.

“If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.”

― Meister Eckhart

  • Open to what you have and concentrate on what is positive and present in your life

By acknowledging and appreciating what we have we cultivate a sense of abundance and grow closer to realizing that existence itself is grace. Don’t forget to include your strengths and your experiences in what you have.

“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”

― Epicurus

  •  Remember the people in your life

Kindness, compassion and support can come from family, friends, co-workers, acquaintances or strangers.

 At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.

― Albert Schweitzer

Join the conversation: What awakens thanksgiving in you? What traditions and rituals help you keep that holiday alive?