My Piece of the Puzzle

by Megan M. on January 13, 2010 · 2 comments (Blog) |

So, you know my life mission, right?

My life mission of the moment, that is. I don’t think I have enough hubris, right now, to think that this life mission will always be my life mission. (Though honestly, I can only imagine it being similar.)

It’s something like this: To stay engaged. To fill my work with meaning.

And then there’s this other part…

This part where I understand how human beings are pack animals. How deep down, we are social and need connection to survive, and even more than that, how we are creative, every single one of us, how we crave new ideas and new experiences. Yes, we fear change. But we still build. We still dream. We push forward, even as we feel our safety is rooted in things staying the same.

But our safety isn’t rooted in things staying the same.

Maybe that was true when we lived in the wilderness, and staying out of a predator’s territory was a protective impulse. Maybe it was true when there were warring tribes, keeping each other at bay. Maybe it was true when we were without reliable ways of sharing and disseminating information, learning (by ourselves!) at astonishing rates, or when we weren’t capable of connecting with one other person across the planet with a few clicks of a mouse or the whir of a webcam (or an IM, or a text, or a poke).

Now we do. And we can. And so now, the game is changed.

That creative nature we’ve been driven by is at the forefront now. We are free to grow ourselves without the consent of any institution the minute we have access to the internet. With that one tool, we can build anything we can imagine. The steps from living on the street with a laptop to standing on the roof of your very own highrise are quantifiable now. Every journey is different, and every person has their own strengths. But we are so very much more powerful now than we’ve ever been, in the history of the world.

Now, safe means letting ourselves tap into that. Safe means learning and growing and changing and becoming better people, helping our communities become better, letting the tide rise so that everyone experiences some kind of positive impact.

I’ll bet you can imagine how that makes me feel. It thrills me. It fills me with this crazy, deep, abiding meaning, this feeling I don’t entirely understand and have often been driven by without really knowing where I was going. I still don’t know where I’m going, and this thing is still driving me.

It was that feeling that made me build That Idea Blueprint Girl, even knowing that it was just a step I was taking in the grander scheme of things. And so this next step—Ideaschema, which you may already have come across in the last few days—may also be just a step I’m taking in the grander scheme of things. But this step, by God, is scalable. And I have such plans.

I’ve explained already that I wasn’t expecting it to move this quickly, but who can predict something like this? It’s like an act of nature. It is an act of nature, it’s a result of somehow being tapped into the bigger picture in a way that maybe human brains aren’t even meant to entirely comprehend. (Or maybe I’m not that enlightened yet. Who knows?) This sort of event is what fuels me. This is what I live for. So when it wants to happen, I help it happen. Maybe it’s fate. Whatever it is, it makes me profoundly happy—keeps me engaged, gives me meaning, makes my world turn.

So I have all of this going on in my head… and I look around me, and all I see are unhappy people.

They’re everywhere.

They’re unhappy and they don’t know why. They’re unhappy because they feel stuck, they feel like they don’t have options, they feel like they must follow a particular set of rules in their work and living out their lives and they expect to continue doing that until the day they die. Even in people behaving normally, smiling, talking, I see these little signs of unhappiness. Little echoes that tell me these people are resigned to following the rules, because that’s all they know. Their innate creativity has been quashed. They are people in chains, going through the motions, living in some kind of freaky real-life Matrix.

And maybe throughout human history those people mostly just had to stay where they were, but that’s not the case anymore. Maybe throughout human history the percentage of people who could rise out of their ruts was tiny, maybe it was infinitesimal. Maybe that’s why we have famous historical figures, people who did the unexpected. But now is so different. Now is so different, now we have this one tool we never had before, and the things you can do with this tool, if it’s not already blowing your mind, I promise it will.

This silly internet thing, we go on and on about it but we never really understand what it means.

It means that you’re free to do that thing you wanted to do when you were twelve.

It means you can say to hell with your job because you can make a new one. From scratch. By yourself.

It means—this amazes me, I still haven’t gotten used to this—it means that if disaster strikes enough times to put me out on the street and broke, all I will need to build myself back up is a laptop, an internet connection, and a friend’s couch to live on for awhile. I have never been more sure in my life of that statement. I can’t even get used to typing it, it amazes me so. Because then I wonder why I’m ever afraid at all, if that’s true. And then I know it’s true, and the fear goes away.

The thing is, I want those unhappy people to know. I want you to know. I want you to feel this way. I’m only a few steps into this bigger journey I’m taking, and the effects it’s having on my life are so astonishing. I have never felt so free or so powerful. I’m not making gobs of money. I’m not living in a ranch house in the country. But I feel incredibly alive, and I know that the part where it gets easier—where there’s a little more money available, where we’re not constantly pushing forward to make sure the rent gets paid—is very close.

It’s close because it all depends on me, and because I care enough to do something about it.

It’s incredibly important to me that you understand this part.

You can do this too. Your neighbor Arlene can do this too. Your son can learn this as he grows, your father-in-law can start a business in his garage, and goddammit, if you’re unhappy, you can find the thing that makes you happy and you can do it.

All you have to do is believe you can, and try!

So I made this thing.

I did it in three weeks. I busted my ass to get it out before I left for New York. (I only mostly succeeded—I’m writing this from my Aunt’s apartment in Chelsea.) And I think, I hope, oh man, I really believe it might be what you need to get yourself started.

It’s a way for you to remember how creative you are, and a system you can use to generate the kind of ideas you need to move in the direction you’re craving. It explains how to generate those ideas, and how to plan them, and how to put them together so that they’re ready to be expressed, and how to actually express them, whatever that means: A business making felt flower hats. A copywriting service. Your dream of running a salon, that band you wanted to put together, or that one evening when you got together with friends and had some beer and suddenly realized that if you worked together, you could really make something of yourselves. Any of it. All of it. You can actually do it. Don’t let anyone else tell you that you can’t.

If there is any chance it will help you, you can look at the Idea Catalyst Kit. It launched yesterday and today, and a lot of people I respect have said some pretty amazing things about it. (Some of the testimonials that came in honestly surprised the hell out of me, but it was very gratifying.)

It’s discounted so that anyone can afford it, and I’m waiting to see what else I can do to help. Because this really means something to me, do you see?

Whatever all of this is, it matters to me.

It matters to me that you have what you need to act.

That you get out there and do that thing you’ve been wanting to do.

And then you can be happier, you know?

That’s what I’m waiting for.


Nostalgia Scrubber Bar

by Megan M. on December 29, 2009 · 2 comments (Blog) |

I’ve been migrating my mail to Google Apps, and watching mail download into the new account is amazing.

I started using Gmail in September 2005 (apparently!) and seeing Google drop sheaves of old mail into my new inbox is like watching my life fall past—or having a scrubber bar. There’s 2005. There’s something new, something now. Hey, there’s 2005 again. Hop forward, hop back, like watching a video. I can go anywhere I want in this incredibly complex linear record: Remember this conversation. Remember that blog entry. Remember that time you fought with so-and-so over something stupid. Remember the vow you made and the rules you set and the people you talked to every day. The brilliant realization that though some of your hardware is on the way out, in some cases in pieces, it was purchased three years ago or more—see, there’s the receipt. There are all your Amazon purchase confirmations. Every comment you ever received on a LiveJournal entry, ever. Every kooky Craigslist inquiry you ever made.

It’s all right there.

To a certain extent, I’m relieved to be moving it all to a new account—something I’m paying for, instead of relying on Google’s good will and the value of my information to their data mining and advertising ventures. Maybe now it will last longer. It’s so nice to have it all there, even if I never look at it. It’s nice to be reminded of something concrete, especially when I don’t usually remember these things—when something happened, who it happened with, what we said about it, how I felt. I don’t remember any of that. Until I see the email.

And then, wow, my life looks so interesting.

Like a little ant hill.

With a scrubber bar.


Where is your happiness?

by Megan M. on December 24, 2009 · 2 comments (Blog) |

This morning while searching for something to listen to while I showered, I stumbled on a TED Talk by Martin Seligman, the author of a book called Learned Optimism that I’d been looking at fairly recently. I thought, hmm, why not? And I put it on. (There’s a sidenote here about the sheer glee it gives me to stream TED Talks from the internet through my iPhone without having to do anything more than download an itsy bitty app—but I’ll save that for later. It’s bound to last, so it’s not like it will be old news in a month or two.)

In this talk, Seligman is talking about three kinds of happiness and how they work in human beings: A pleasurable happiness, where you have good feelings and good things happen to you. A “flow” happiness, where you are engaged with your environment in a productive way. And a meaning happiness, where something you are doing or involved with has a higher meaning that drives you. I don’t know if he’s written a book that focuses more on the material in this talk, but man, it blew me away. It was all I could do to keep soaping up, because I kept forgetting that I was supposed to be getting done with my shower and back to all the other stuff I had to do today.“>” type=”application/x-shockwave-flash” allowscriptaccess=”always” allowfullscreen=”true” width=”540” height=”335”>

What this imprinted on me was something I’ve been noodling with for a long time; happiness is not necessarily made of leisure, and it doesn’t have to only be made of meaning—it can be made of engagement of self, something that I’ve always found intensely rewarding and enjoyable, and often wondered, in passing, if there was something wrong with me. Meaning is the most powerful part of any pursuit, and pleasure is pleasurable, but engagement is no can of beans—in fact, Seligman says that in terms of producing significant, lasting happiness, meaning is first and engagement is second. Pleasure produces happiness, but it just doesn’t hold a candle to the other two in terms of effect and results. This fascinates the hell out of me, as it ought to, since I get a lot of flack for not relaxing enough.

Not to say that I shouldn’t relax more—I should. We need balance. Our brains need recharge time. But still, interesting, right? My happiness is primarily in meaning and engagement, like he says, though engagement for me is the thrill of the chase—I sometimes think it’s more important to me than meaning, but of course that’s not true, since the only things that truly engage me are the ones that have great meaning to me. It’s just that the meaning is not always the most overt part of the equation.

Where’s your happiness at?


Control Freaks (On Their Knees)

by Megan M. on December 12, 2009 · 3 comments (Blog) |

It sounds like reverse productivity porn, but actually it’s more literal than you’re expecting. Unless you know about my knee injury, of course, in which case you’re either cackling in amusement or groaning in pain. I’ll take either, it’s all good. ;}” type=”application/x-shockwave-flash” width=”540” height=”443” allowscriptaccess=”always” allowfullscreen=”true”>


Mindfulness Under Fire

by Megan M. on December 11, 2009 · 0 comments (Blog) |

(Originally written for Social Work prn.)

There isn’t anything in the world that forces you to be quite as mindful as a knee injury.

Okay, I might be wrong—but since I have a knee injury, I feel comfortable making that vast, sweeping statement.

My chiropractor told me the pain I had to watch out for (the under-the-kneecap pain) and said, if you feel other pain, see if you can work through it and keep moving. So that’s what I’ve been doing; working through a lot of pain.

Spectacularly, most of the pain that I’m experiencing gets better the more I move around. I never would have guessed that this would be the case; I thought pain was something to be avoided by sitting perfectly still for 48 hours—waiting it out. This is apparently a completely different situation, which boggles my mind a bit.

Some of the pain is still to be avoided, though. That sharp shooting zing right in the middle of my kneecap? I am avoiding the hell out of that particular sensation, and that makes walking very… interesting.

You see, I’m used to a certain style of walking. I call it Flinging Myself Through Space And Time. PEOPLE. I’ve got places to be. Outta my way!

But I can’t walk that way now.

In order to avoid hurting myself (worse than I already have), I have to keep both my legs very aligned. When I raise my foot and bend my knee, my whole leg needs to stay aligned. My foot needs to point very forward; and when I set my foot down, I need to set down the back of my heel gently, and role my foot forward without pushing too hard with my toe when I move. If I am incredibly mindful, I can walk like this wherever I need to walk. I could probably walk a few blocks downtown, in fact, though I haven’t tried it. I can certainly get across the big wide parking lot to the car when I need to.

But walking mindfully is something I’m only now learning to do. It’s not something I do automatically, though I expect by the end of this whole experience it might be. For now, it’s an act of meditation to move across any sort of significant space. Even going from my desk to the kitchen is an experiment in high concentration.

This exercise in mindfulness reminds me how much mindfulness is actually missing from my life until I am forced to pay attention to something as simple and important as walking. If I insist on flinging myself through space and time, I’m going to get hurt. It’s like the best electric dog collar ever. And since I don’t know how long it will be until my knee heals properly, I’ve got to get used to walking mindfully.

But I’m not convinced it’s a bad thing.


Makers and World Changers

by Megan M. on December 9, 2009 · 0 comments (Blog) |

(Originally written for Social Work prn.)

I’m reading Cory Doctorow’s Makers as a free digital ebook on my iPhone—truly a state of bliss for me—and I’ve just gotten to the part where he makes me really shake in my boots. Not in fear, not anxiety, not exactly. This shaking in my boots is a precursor to change. The kind of shaking that happens when you have just tasted the beginnings of something big that’s coming. (And maybe the kind of shaking that happens when you can’t bear the suspense of waiting for it to arrive.)

There’s this state of being that I’ve identified for myself, mostly in the past year, as being a large and important part of any person. It’s the state of feeling a certain way without being able to explain it. I often feel, in fact, that there is not necessarily an enormous amount of value in explaining it, or sticking labels on it, or (especially) justifying it. We explain ourselves so often, we forget what we’re feeling and we forget to honor that feeling. I notice this in other people, too—that there is something fundamental going on in their head, and it is diluted and perhaps disrespected a bit when they open their mouth and try to analyze something that isn’t ready to be analyzed.

This from the gal who analyzes everything, I know.

And I don’t think that explanation, or definition, or analysis, are bad things. But I do think that we depend on them more than we need to, and sometimes allow them to overwhelm deep understandings that haven’t had enough time to rise to the surface and start to make sense, all on their own.

This is the feeling I always had in regards to makers: I recognized something in them that was also in me, I was fascinated by the odd and wonderful art and machine work I came across on the internet, I knew that these people were kindred spirits in some way—but I didn’t quite understand how. I could not identify or explain the feeling, and I know now that it doesn’t matter that I couldn’t identify or explain it, because it worked itself forward in my head, and now I think I do. At least, I think I might.

Like me, a maker wants to find a new path forward. Wants to make something better, happier, more functional. Wants to express himself and connect with the world, wants to understand how something works, wants to rebuild it as a new reflection of himself. Wants to make a mark somewhere. Someone who experiences the thrill of tinkering, of producing, of setting something down in front of the world and saying, Check this out. This is really good.

I quoted Dale Dougherty in my blog, ages ago. He said,

“More than mere consumers of technology, we are makers, adapting technology to our needs and integrating it into our lives. Some of us are born makers and others, like me, become makers almost without realizing it.

“Maybe it started when I burned my first music CD … Maybe it started when I got Wi-Fi working, not for myself but for my whole family … Maybe it started when I brought my digital camera and laptop on vacation and found that my slideshow was ready before the vacation was even over.”

~ Dale Dougherty
MAKE Magazine, Issue 1

Don’t get confused—this isn’t just about technology, though referring to makers in the usual sense often does have something to do with tech, or machinery. There is a deeper thread here that I think you’re familiar with too. The first time you realized that you could make a difference for another person’s experience, do you remember that? “Tinkering” can have a negative connotation when we’re talking about people’s heads and lives, but just think about it for a second. What you do, day after day, is building and making better. It isn’t all that different from adjusting a found piece of machinery to easily do a new task. And it’s a hell of a lot more complicated, and you have to be a hell of a lot more careful.

But it’s still a kind of making.

When I got to the part of Doctorow’s book where the main characters felt a sudden important urge to build tech that could directly improve the lives of the homeless people living in the shantytown near their workshop—not just importance, but necessity—it clicked. This is what we do. And we like the work. “Some of us like solving puzzles a bit more than we like solved puzzles,” Mann & O’ Brien sure do have it right. But we really, really like solved puzzles.

So when I’m shaking in my boots, anticipating a shift… this is what I see. The solved puzzles. The ability of a work of fiction (that in many ways isn’t a work of fiction at all) to change the lives of people all over the world, to create a society that looks for the puzzles and works to solve them, that cares about people, and expression, and the sheer joy of making things a little better for everybody… that blows my mind.

And I wonder what else happens when we have a world like that.


Especially If You’re Not a Stanford Grad

by Megan M. on November 24, 2009 · 0 comments (Blog) |

Watch this through to the end. Do not be confused by the cant of his closing: This message applies to Stanford grads, kindergarten grads, recluses on mountaintops, people with wristwatches, and everyone in between.“>” type=”application/x-shockwave-flash” allowscriptaccess=”always” allowfullscreen=”true” width=”540” height=”440”>