Finnemore Fridays: Messengers out of Sync

This week my kitchen remodel Project Manager put the lead carpenter in charge of “day to day” for my kitchen remodel. At first, I thought this would be great. The guy doing-the-doing would be the guy organizing what gets done. No middleman.

But that isn’t how it worked. The Lead would have a conversation with the PM and would ignore something he said, and I would remind him, and then he’d have a conversation with me, and then the PM didn’t seem to know about it, and maybe the electrician was coming, but maybe he wasn’t, and maybe kitchen layout needed to happen first or maybe cutting drywall…

This week has been extremely stressful. A game of telephone or, perhaps, a John Finnemore sketch about messengers out of sync:

Series 2, Track 4, 3:20




Finnemore Fridays: Interesting Job

In light of yesterday’s post, I thought I would share that I apparently have the Most Interesting Job in the World as an Audiobook Narrator. Seriously, it is great fun telling people that is what I’m doing for a living. People are fascinated. That never happened when I said I was an Education Services Manager for a SAAS PLM company. I wonder why…

At 13:32 minutes you can hear Finnemore’s take on the real problem with asking someone what they do for a living.





The Unasked Question: Emily Randolph-Epstein Asks Why

It seems the safest question to ask when you meet anyone new: “So, what do you do for a living?” Did cocktail parties of the 50’s give us this dreaded question? Because I wish it would die already, or become as much tongue and cheek as “How about those Dodgers?”

I do so many things.

Do I talk about how I make money today?

Or the thing that I’m studying that I plan will someday be the way I earn a living?

If I tell people about my last career or my current actual consulting business their faces display flat incomprehension. And though it’s useful for avoiding blank stares, nobody enjoys, “It’s complicated.”

Emily Randolph-Epstein has a system for answering.  (High five and you-go-girl for making this work for you!) She inspires me to give this issue more thought, especially because right now I am at the Jane Austen Society of North America Annual General Meeting, meeting new people. And I’ll have to tell them something.





Finnemore Fridays: The Human Condition

Finnemore Fridays: The Human Condition

Identifying habits is hard but rewarding personal work. For example, I know I can be irritatingly stubborn about things I “know” are “right.” I recognize this is a bad habit, but it makes me feel safe. At a young age, I felt that no one listened to me or believed me when I had an opinion. I watched my parents make some (I thought) bad decisions. I saw them suffer, so I stubbornly avoid certain things.

Knowing what my faults and failures are, gives me a chance to change them. And as a writer and performer, I can recognize them, and add them believably into characters.

I’m plotting for NaNoWriMo and my protagonist has my stubborn streak. He is very motivated to follow the rules, pull his weight, do his job. Today my exploratory writing revealed that his stubbornness is the result of him wanting unconsciously to atone for something. He grips his work and his goals stubbornly tight in an effort to keep himself from addressing perceived faults.

Parts of his journey are uncomfortable, like looking into a funhouse mirror that distorts your image. My nose is big, but is it THAT big? I’m stubborn, but am I THAT stubborn? Plotting out his “life” for the duration of the “novel” has included determining how his stubbornness will help him through the book…and hamper him, which reminded me of this sketch.

Mr. Finnemore has written a perfect example of stubbornness hampering his characters’ lives. Their story has a moral. I’m hoping my character can figure it out, and tell me what it is.

(I have the CD collections. If you do too, this is Series 3-4, Track 5, 0:00)



Finnemore Fridays: When in Rome

Impostor syndrome has me down today. Worry that no one will ever like anything I write, because I’m not a real writer (or not a real good one), and everything has been done, and I should bin it all and get a ‘real job.’

As the sketch points out, Rome wasn’t built in a day. So when my dog took me for a walk, I asked myself, as I often do, “If you decide to have fun, and enjoy writing very bad stuff, that never ever gets sold or published, for the rest of your life, will you be happy?”

My answer was still “yes.” Yes, I just enjoy the sounds of words in my head. Yes, I am not going to stop describing things internally. Yes, wondering about the in-progress stories all around me, constantly entertains and entices me. Yes, I trust that one day I’ll get good enough to translate my intentions to the written word.

But not by following anyone’s footsteps, doing what’s always been done, or trying to be anyone except who I am. I am someone who is a little down today, so I’m taking the afternoon off to focus on something else.

Something Funny.



The W-X Factor Part 1: Writers and Peers

TL;DR (aka executive) Summary: Episode 2.29 of Write Right Podcast spurred my thoughts about how the Writing Excuses Cast and Staff got it right and created a learning community on the WXR Baltic Cruise. From modeling, to clear agreements, and creating safe space, they facilitated strangers becoming a team, and ultimately, peers.


In my goals list for September is a note that says, “Blog about the W-X factor, the most interesting thing you observed at the Writing Excuses Retreat.”

And in typical fashion, it turns out I can cheat on that assignment in the best way by introducing you to a new resource: Elan Samuel. Elan is a fellow writer (NEW FRIEND!) who I met attending the Writing Excuses Retreat Cruise and Worldcon 75 in Helsinki.

Elan Samuel

The bestest thing about new friends is that you are continually learning exciting things about them. Because they’re new!

You just met them!

Things like…they are podcasters!

Even better, when new friends get on their podcast to talk publicly, they say things that encapsulate the shared experiences you had, or make points that allow you to better organize your own thoughts.

I’ve included a link to the entirety of  Episode 2.29 – Worldcon and Writing Excuses at the bottom of this post. Here at the top, I quote the heck out of Elan and use his experiences as a jumping off point to share my own.

The Write Right Podcast is just over 26 minutes long and in my next few posts I’m going to call out three time stamps. The first is at 04:35, where Elan eloquently defines what I call the W-X or Writing eXcuses, factor:


This community really is friendly…is deeply interested in what everyone has to say. Is welcoming in a way that I hadn’t expected…When you’re a writer, for lack of a better word ‘alone’…you can sort of start to build this idea that the traditional publishing world is very siloed…like an insider’s club. But I just showed up. And everyone was so nice, and so welcoming, and so warm, that I was blown away.”


I am 100% with Elan on this one. When I was on the cruise I was astonished at how much I felt that writers are the crème de la crème of humanity. The very nicest, smartest, and most stellar beings on this planet.

That *could* be true.

But it’s also a bit suspect.

Maybe we were all just our best selves.

But why would that be?

Whether the sense both Elan and I took away is true of Writers, WXR Writers, or is the result of a third magical catalyst is what I want to explore here, because I suspect my former life as a facilitator provides one answer.

So, how do at least 100 people come together to be their best selves for 7 days straight? Selves that are so wondrous and compelling that warmth and welcome outshines any other quality about them?


1. Modeling. The participants who attend the Writing Excuses Retreat are self-selected fans of the podcast or one-or-more casters. And the defining quality of the podcast is humility, which some argue is the new smart.

“15 minutes long, because you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart.”

What the tagline of the podcast accomplishes is pure human-magic. It makes listeners laugh, which John Cleese says is, “the fastest way to go from closed to open.” The fastest way to get a learner open to new material, new experiences.

This openness, the humility that the hosts model, is the foundation of trust. Participants trust those in charge and believe they are in good hands, which frees them to learn, to be open, and to extend the safe space to all the other participants.


2. Clear Agreements.

“Readthepacket. Read the packet. Read. The. Packet.”

– Mary Robinette Kowal

It’s a given that we had all bought tickets and were there to learn. That is the participant’s agreement.

The hosts and staff then provided an orientation. Provided materials, including a code of conduct. Defined acceptable, unacceptable behavior, and consequences. Together, this is the definition of a clear agreement, which sets people at ease. Goals, structure, and consensus (what, how, and yes, we’re on the same page), are critical elements to building a team.


3. Safe Space.

You are a Writer. We instructors are Writers. We are just a little farther along the path than you are. We are all Peers. Remember that, all week long. Treat us like Peers and that’s how we’ll treat you.

– paraphrased from Mary Robinette Kowal’s introduction, (errors are mine and mine alone)

A level playing field is a safe space.

A level playing field where everyone is rooting for everyone else becomes something different: A Playground. A place for rampant creativity, ideas, thoughts, games, learning, risks, and FUN. And by fun, I mean writing. By having safety officers, Persons of Color (POC) safe spaces, and opening the retreat with a lecture you can read about here, the instructors and staff did all they could to ensure the group could be their best selves for the duration of the cruise.

Just a few steps. I’m sure a helluva lot of planning.

And it worked. And I for one, (Elan for two) appreciated it.

Episode 2.29 – Worldcon and Writing Excuses


Melanie Marttila: The Writing Excuses Retreat, part 3

Melanie lapped me again on the track of travel blogging, so I’ll share her version of Part 3 to keep your appetites whetted.

Some things were different for me:

  1. I didn’t wake up at stupid o’clock because I spent two days in Vienna, adjusting to the time zone shift.
  2. I thought the gorgeous islands on the approach to Stockholm looked like Lake Tahoe, and suddenly comprehended, deep in my guts, why one of my favorite historical sites, Vikingsholm, was given that name.
  3. Melanie held back on the intense drama of having an off-the-rails tour guide in Stockholm. NOTE 1: Groups need water and snacks on a tour that starts before lunch, and ends mid-afternoon. NOTE 2: If there are children on your tour, and you are not going to see the reindeer DO NOT MENTION THE REINDEER. NOTE 3: NEVER SPLIT THE GROUP NOTE 4: Don’t be a racist jerk.
  4. Melanie was ON IT: Sunsets! From a boat! AWESOME. Never occurred to me. I was probably to busy trying to describe ‘washcloth’ to some poor steward. Again. (Yes, EVERY. DAY.)


Melanie Marttila:





Wien…er, schnitzel

Wien…er, schnitzel

Overcoming jet lag by adding a quick two-day visit to Vienna probably wasn’t the best plan. It just made me sad to leave. The visit was relaxing, welcoming, and left me desperately wishing I had more time to spend.

Mark and I waved goodbye to our driver in CA on a Tuesday afternoon. We arrived midday Wednesday to the most user-friendly airport ever. Look at the couches!

Vienna Airport Couches

We took a cab to our hotel, which turned out to be near the Russian consulate and within view of a beautiful Russian Orthodox church. As a result, the walk to downtown  Vienna and back to our hotel felt very secure: We had security guards and video cameras watching out for us on all our walks. Awwww.

The Church across the tracks from our hotel.

We were determined to stay awake until “bedtime” by doing the Rick Steves’ Vienna Walking Tour. We found the Mozart cafe and watched it’s umbrellas be blown over in the wind, injuring a bald man. DRAMA!

Mozart Cafe















We only got lost briefly (twice), which doesn’t really matter at all when your goal is just to walk until your dinner date calls. If you get tired, have tea and apricot crepes to perk you up at Cafe Tirolerhof, a quintessential Viennese Cafe.

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There are little stories everywhere, and when you are on the first leg of your travels to a Writing Retreat they become especially obvious. Like the last two images above: Did she know him? Why couldn’t she get her own paper? Was she simply desperate for news? Checking frantically for the date so she knew when her on the fritz time machine had dropped her off…so many possibilities.

We found J&L Lobmeyer and the secret glass museum. Every direction held an artistic sight too gorgeous for words.

J&L Lobmeyer

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We found the church holding the crypt of the Hapsburgs at about the time we had to meet our friend for dinner.

We ate at Cafe Imperial, and I learned to be very careful when telling waiters they can “take the bread course away.” Here’s a picture of the odd, fancy butter tube and the delicious looking roll I was going to eat.

Before I could even taste it, we ordered, and the waiter asked if we were “done with the bread.” Greg said yes, but instead of taking away just the bread basket, they bustled away my lovely buttered bread too!

Dinner more than made up for it. We tried Wiener Schnitzel, breaded veal that is light and fluffy, and Tafelspitz, beef with lots of delicious side dishes. We had a lovely evening and Greg came back to our hotel with us for a cocktail.

Mark slept all night. I awoke at 3AM and couldn’t get back to sleep. As a result, I was tired and extremely out of sorts the next day. I found myself wanting to just lay in bed and sob because I was in a beautiful foreign country and felt so tired that I couldn’t move. I think Mark got some tea and food into me, and I felt better.

We wanted to finish the Rick Steves walk we’d started the day before. We had a little trouble finding where we’d left the walk, which was good, because if we’d found it right off, we would have missed the Nasch Market!

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Following the walking tour we also would never have seen some of the most beautiful Deco architecture of Vienna.

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By the time we got back to the church we were just in time for the “English” tour, so we told our friends we would take the U Bahn to their home outside the city a little later than planned.

Since there were only four English speakers, the guide did the tour all in German…and then all in English…both (which took a very, very long time). We were VERY late, but we did get to see the beautiful and tragic tombs of the Hapsburgs.

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I do think my plan worked, even if it made me sad to leave friends who live so far away that I don’t see them often enough. We were able to iron out some annoying bank issues in a relaxed way, knowing that local friends were there to help. We figured out local transport and started the trip off on a very high note.

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