Why I love Dark Matter

My most favourite heroes were in science fiction they’re usually misfits.

When I was growing up I patterned myself after characters in books and on TV. Stories raised me. I had gone through 30 plus homes by 14 or so, caregivers or approximations thereof came and went and I didn’t model myself after any of them.

The crew of the Raza’s like that, and it’s misfits that have become family. Their ‘real’ families, for the most part, were shit. Hateful stepmothers, that want to take your birthright, an experimentation tank of sadistic scientists, a slob pile of thieving cutthroats who killed a loving childhood, unintended abandonment by accidental parental death? Maybe only Six had a great upbringing. Or maybe Android, because she was created as an object of love and out of love or respect, given a chance to have her own existence. And she was wanted.

Those kinds of characters I can relate to. Those kind of characters are real to me.

When I was in my twenties I worked with street kids – ‘good homes’ loving parents all that kind of stuff, is PURE FANTASY. Home as a safe place? Is. Not. Real.

As an unprotected toddler to teen, the world is a dirty, lonely, sometimes breath-holding scary and dangerous place. And often the only freedom is getting lost in books, comics, TV, and film. Science fiction and fantasy create a safe place, even if it’s only a mental safe place.

I like that the crew of the Raza is trying to be better. Sometimes trying to be heroes. And they’re not good at it. I like that. It’s just how it is. You think you’re gonna stop a war and you blow a hole in the Universe and let the aliens in. It happens. I get it. If you’re on your own, or guidance is poor you make some howler mistakes. So…okay, pick yourself up, face it and move on.

Trying to be more than what people think, say or feel about you, is – so hard. I love the Android for that reason, she wants to be more than her programming. She wants to be human. In my culture’s ethos/religion the core of it revolves around one question:

“You ask me: What is the most important thing in the Universe?
I tell you, it is to be human, to be human, to be human.”

(In English it doesn’t translate, an emphasis on the different syllables for the Maori word ‘human’ changes the meaning each time; human; the full maturation of body and spirit,  human; connection to an infinite now, human; connection to all things that are related to you -which is for us, like every single living thing there is or ever was.)

The scientific discussions lately about what makes us, ‘us’, is not a debate around nature versus nurture or even the interplay of nature and nurture. Lately, it’s that our deliberate acts, deliberate choices can rewire us. We can create ourselves.
That’s why Android is so cool. She’s creating herself. So can we.

When you’re young and come from a really shit place. You hope for the heroes that never come. When you’re older like now for me, you can BE the heroes – or at least a really good sort. A guide and pointer for people who are going through bad places and times that you’ve travelled through yourself and got all the way through.

I love Dark Matter it creates a family out of misfits and bad guys. They’re not perfect. They’re not Star Trek Next Gen’ squeaky clean. People aren’t, but they’re still worthy of love.

I love Dark Matter for the really good story it is, for Joe Mallozzi’s infectious enthusiasm and embrace of the fans. I love how a great story creates a community. I love, love, love the show.

I love how a great show creates a sense of family and for some of us in some important times of our life that really is the only sense of family we know.

The Resilience Tree

resiliencetree

Saturday I went with Fatima, to the land we are planning to have a little Eco-Village of Tiny Houses for Women Refuges and Homeless. The women come from all over, different cultures, places, ages and religions. They gather over a few days, get to know each other, share food, sleep and get to be around people going through the same things as they.

When they have a women’s retreat they go to this tree it’s called “The Meditation Tree’. They’ll sit around it and on it and meditate.

But it’s also called the “Resilience Tree”. Fatima pointed out the tree is broken, like many of the women. It was completely knocked flat. If you look closely you will see that much of the tree is dead, stricken and bare. But there are 3 big fat roots that hold onto and dig deep into the ground – and it still lives. The top branches have reached up again – this tree has been knocked over but she’s not out for the count!   🙂

The women gather round this tree to tell their stories, but it’s a place where they leave the bad feelings behind – broken or not. They get back up, they move on – and they live.

Tiny Houses | Women Refuge Retreat

First Tiny House from Sydney's first Tiny House Building Course
First Tiny House from Sydney’s first Tiny House Building Course
I find myself the owner of a sunny little Tiny House, which I’ve called the Rad Pad. It came about because earlier this year late March, I organised Sydney’s first Tiny House Building Course. – I’m proud to say.

There was such a diverse mix of people attending; young couples, middle aged professionals, students and married couples. People came from all around Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and one brave Kiwi flew in from Singapore. I can’t speak for everyone, but it’s true we have a few things in common; we value having more life, than we do using a lot of that life to get stuff. We pretty much knew nothing about using a hammer or a saw, let alone able to build a house from scratch. Lastly, we pretty much had a blast, it was exhilarating to know we can in fact build our own homes.

Part of our course was filmed by the TV station SBS Living Tiny check it out, unlike a lot of media commentary of late, they did a fair job of tapping into what’s happening here in OZ with the Tiny House Movement.

It would not of been as successful as it was, if I hadn’t brought over the talented, creative and well known Tiny House Builders ‘Deek’ Diedricksen and his brother Dustin (of Relaxshacks.com) all the way from Massachusetts, USA to lead the course. Here is little tutorial he recorded from our course . Do subscribe to his channel – it’s the bomb. I also got the invaluable assistance from Rob Scott a Melbourne House Truck builder and Trainer and a local community college (TAFE) building instructor Anthony kept everything to Aussie standards.

The whole project for me was a real challenge and to be honest; stressful to get everything and everyone organised, particularly as I had no knowledge at all of how to put a building course together. There were a few times, my ignorance could of landed us in serious trouble with the Sydney Council and the training centre. But hey, the Universe is kind to fools, (seriously there were a couple of lucky coincidences and meeting extraordinary helpful people that meant we came through unscarred). Thank you Universe.

The journey is not over though. I want to make some kind of dent in the housing situation for women refuges, kids at risk and the homeless. I’m travelling to Canada and USA this year to look at Tiny House Communities on the other side of the planet. I also donated the Rad Pad to a lovely lady called Fatima as the first of five Tiny Homes we are going to build providing temporary accommodation for women refuges when they come to her beautiful grassy property in Goulburn. Moving forward, we’ll continue to run the training courses, because we one provide training to people wanting to build their own homes, two cover the cost of a new Tiny House’s materials and three in effect have ‘free’ labour building a new Tiny for the Refuge Retreat. Therefore far less money is required to pay for additional expenses; off grid solar power, electrician etc.

If any have done this sort of thing before, I would certainly like to get in touch, network with you for support and ideas. My email is Catherine@peepsweave.com. As per usual, I am working all this out as I go along. Wish me luck.

Dear Felicia Day…

“Inevitably when I get the ugliest comments I click the profile and look…oh this guy doesn’t make anything, so like the dude doesn’t make anything so he doesn’t know what it’s like to be vulnerable and create. Because, but at the end of the day if you don’t create and you’re not vulnerable then you’re just a drone, in a sense ’cause you’re not really sharing what is special about yourself…”( See whole talk here) Felicia Day

Dear Felicia Day,

You inspire me. Strangely, you also comfort me. Your insecurities do. You’re the only person I’ve come across that seems to have had a similiar experiences to myself. I wasn’t home-schooled like you. But I went through numerous homes as a kid before 14, so I was responsible really for my own education in everything.

My social skills I learnt from TV; “Get Smart”, “The Brady Bunch”, popular shows like that back then, Sunday afternoon black & white movies and early morning childrens stories on the radio. And of course books. One of the homes I lived in from the age Seven onwards, the old lady I lived with used to buy me a book each week when she went to town, she ended up by getting me all the classics; Little Women, Black Beauty, Oliver etc.  I also got the Encyclopedia volume ‘C’, everything to do with C; clowns, cats, clouds, Canada, you name it, all things starting with C. She couldn’t afford the whole alphabet, so she got me C, as my name started with C; Catherine. If there was ever a quiz show that tested you on C, I would kill it.

For example, I learnt how to punish myself from watching the Brady Bunch. One time, when I didn’t like something I did, I decided to ‘ground’ myself. We didn’t really have that as a punishment in New Zealand in those times. Basically if you did something wrong, you got a hiding. Which is getting hit with a strap around your legs. I could never manage it myself, as I didn’t own a belt.  But the idea of limiting yourself to a place, seemed novel. So I sent myself to my room. Useless punishment though, as I would then read or draw  and quietly end up having a good time. I pinpoint that as the time, that I stopped having absolute faith that tv had all the answers to life.

So as you can imagine, I wasn’t particularly socially skilled, there was too much moving around; 30 plus homes. But I think like you I got to take charge of my own education and didn’t feel limited in what I was supposed to learn. Or how I was supposed to learn it.

But, since I was on my own most of the times, there are a lot of social skills that I never really got good at. People in the business world, would find that surprising. I can sell and that takes people & communication skills. If I’m working full time, I complete 3-4 jobs a month that gets me $15-22 thousand on average per job. That I think is good, but that type of work actually has a game mechanic to it. It’s a numbers game, it’s a recognition of certain scenarios, responding accordingly, funnily enough it hasn’t got much to do with people. It’s very much a bunch of game mechanics, I play a personna and knowing all the scenarios so well, run on an auto-tactics mode to complete a job. And the ‘mechanic’ aspects of all that really doesn’t have a lot to do with me, that’s operating under the persona. Or maybe thats just me because my Aunt said, Doctors said; I was a little bit autistic as a kid. I operate in the world like it’s a game to figure out, discover the rules, rewards and then work out the talents, skills, abilities and tactics I need to play to win.

But getting back to you, what makes me hope, or encourages me in my new endeavors, is that you don’t seem certain about everything, you stress about stuff, but I see you (as much as a stranger can see you) get stronger, more assertive and sure of yourself as time goes on. It’s the continuing on under uncertainty that I find inspiring because I think what that is all about; continuing. I greatly admire you because I’m sure it’s not an act that you have been at times – truly open and vulnerable. I love you for that.

Of late, I’m doing a lot of stuff that I don’t know how to do. I was supposed to die a few years back. Not surprisingly as these things go, it was something that made me decide to just give in and die if my life had to stay the same. Or live a life doing things that gave me a reason to want to be here. Things I have a passion for. One of those things is having kids learn in real world settings – rather than book ‘learning’, rote ‘learning’, template ‘learning’. All those things I don’t think have much to do with learning at all.

So one of the projects I’m involved in right now is going into that unknown – to make that happen. Although I am bringing to the role a lot of my skills, I’m very good at. I’m on a different terrain to what I’m familar with and I care intensely about the outcomes, I have goals that I think are quite epic but I haven’t figured out the rules of this new game. I don’t really have a persona to rely on. It’s  scary, sometimes as I have no other option other than to show up as me, not someone I know or like a lot really. Therefore success or failure isn’t distant from me anymore.  Sometimes if I think about it, I feel really vulnerable and wonder who I’m kidding. I can feel lonely, but reading, watching experiences that you and other women I have as heroes share (Janet Tamaro, Jane Espenson, Sylvia Ashton-Warner) I recognise patterns and I intuitively know things will be okay.

You’re a complete stranger, I don’t know you. But, it doesn’t matter. Being you is encouraging me to be me (sort of). Hopefully that works out, or I figure out a new persona, either way – I’m cautiously confident that everything will work out okay.

(There was an hour twitter challenge given by Jane Espenson to write something in one hour, above is what I wrote, If btw, you don’t know who Felicia Day is do yourself a favour and go here: http://feliciaday.com/about/ )

Seeing the real you…

Have you ever been put in a corner by a friend? They ask you to give them your honest opinion? Sadly you’re dumb enough to give it to them?

Don’t say something that reveals a character flaw.  Don’t. Worse yet a flaw that’s true.  I can be philosophical about it and say; pointing out a negative trait is like a pointing out one dot on a piece of white paper.  There so much more white expanse than that small dot. So why should that small mark matter? But hold up that piece of paper and ask people what do they see, they’ll always say “a dot”. It seems most people including yourself just home in on the flaws to the exclusion of everything else.

I do believe that our weaknesses are as necessary as our strengths because they give us a  world where we have a need of one another. We’re flawed. Everyone has something to learn and something to share. It’s others that teach or inspire us not only on what we can become but how to become it. If you believe that then your biggest weaknesses can with openness and a desire to learn become your biggest strengths. And those people who have been a part of your growth usually you bond to.

But if I think about what I suck at I feel small. I focus on a flaw like a dot is the whole page. I label myself based on a few sucky traits. Good or bad though all labels fail. Labels belong on boxes, on static things, not on living, changing or growing people. No label can represent all the things we are now or will ever become.

So, I was stupid with a dear friend in giving them what they asked for an ‘honest opinion’. I hurt them. And it hurt me to hurt them. I spent the next day crafting this poem and put it in a friendship card and stuck it in their letterbox.
‘Seeing the real you..’
“ I view the world through a camera and you’re caught within my lens,
 an ever changing image…caught second to second..in single frames.
 A face of you is attractive. I’ll catch that frame in joy,
 I’ll remove it, enlarge it and soft focus I’ll employ.
 I may choose it over the others it’s to me the essential you, to separate and develop and draw out for me to view…
(And I’ll look, And I’ll say, …I love )
Yet others are blurred.
Images my lens can’t catch.
The inexperience of the eye – can’t place the angle.
The novelty of the movement – can’t place the light.
And in frustration, I’ll lose it, And put the film aside. Losing many precious moments, through the darkness of the eye.
But I’ll move on catching others as they come also to view..
As if in the greater collection. I’d have in composite – you.
And then if I take a moment to study what I’ve seen. I have a kaleidoscope of moments, a myriad of reflections. And yet rare, a whole being.
It’s as if my lens is my understanding hence why the pictures not right,
experience focuses the range of vision,
learning the degree of light.
And it’s a friend though I’d develop..
And hold up for my own. The rare sweet moments of clear seeing..
When I don’t feel alone.
Would my heart in trust, open, and catch God, me and you as One.
To that sweet moment striving please come…and know…Love.”

 

It’s about seeing…

When I was 17, I was looking at some preschool children’s pictures.  I noticed something. These preschool children didn’t make their drawings fit inside the four sides of the paper. It was like the world they were seeing was bigger than the paper (which it is) so that’s how they painted it. When kids hit school, even though it’s not surprising that the pictures they draw would change as they increase in age. Typically it seems if they draw a house, they draw it as a square with a triangle on top for a roof. Two squares representing windows are put inside that square. If they add a sun it’s a circle with radiating lines, trees are brown with a cloud shaped green top, sun; yellow, etc. And everything fitting inside the paper.  I actually remember being taught how to draw like this and wondering as a 5 year old, “Why was the Sun yellow when during the day it mostly looked white?”   I wonder if teaching us as children how to draw this way, has it taught us to not see what’s actually in front of us?

Much older and not so long ago I decided I wanted to learn how to paint.  Little shy about it. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to, because I remember being told artistic talent is something you have or haven’t got. But, I heard of a good teacher, Stephen Wilson and I went to him. He told me anyone can paint. Painting he said is about seeing. When you can see then you can paint. His first lessons included teaching you how to see. Which I think was kind of like seeing things as you saw them preschool.

I remember having an epiphany (which is going to sound far-fetched) – but walking out of the studio and looking at a tree – and suddenly actually seeing it, like it was the very first time I’d seen a tree. The dapple of the grey to black shadows hitting the bark, the crevice shadows outlining the peeling bark. The graduation of off-whites, off-yellows, off-greens, browns, greys lightening as they circled up the height of the trunk. The deeper harder more dense shades of colour around the base.. and more. I drove home, looked around and suddenly the whole world felt like it verged on being magical – and realer than it had been before. And I felt a palpable sense of awe.

 2014-12-06_2150
Here’s the first painting I made.

What informs learning?

This is not the typical type of experience that I would share with the kind of people that make up the majority of my main twitter feed, most being developers and testers who I tend to think pride themselves as being scientific, rational and most seem agnostic or atheist in their beliefs. But still in the words of Nicole Kidman this experience ‘is what it is’. My attitude towards science is that it’s a subset of truth and that’s what I’m sharing here.

When I was seventeen or eighteen I spent a whole Saturday surrounded by books, magazines and essays (this was before the internet) sifting through them to find quotes and insights to use for my first speaking engagement. The topic was ‘the importance of education’. No biggie, it was just a church talk, but it was to be in front of a few hundred people and that kind of thing is scary.

So I wanted to nail it and besides, getting an education really was the most important thing for me at that time. I’d left home earlier than most and paid my own way through the last two years of high school. I was now working 30 plus hours a week, apart from a grant I had won, paying my own way through a full University year.

Education also was a topic I was conflicted over. A lot about school and University education system angered me, particularly how much of it I felt was irrelevant, various unfair flaws in the marking system, the disconnect between what I was learning and what I could see myself using. And the feeling you get from school that getting a C, B or A made you a “C”, “B, or “A” person.

I’m not surprised that the day probably influenced the dream I had that night. I dreamed I was walking through a church and a minister stopped me in the hall and said; “I want you to go on a mission”. Hello? He wanted me to go wandering around knocking at stranger’s doors interrupting their dinner time, wearing clothing that looked like it came out of the 50’s, live 24/7 with a perfect stranger and worse -stall a University education that I had invested so much in? Even though I was just dreaming, my chest felt heavy and my heart sank to the floor of my stomach. Whilst thinking more such thoughts, a calm voice spoke right in my dream ear and said; “The most important education in life, is the education of character and all other forms of education are towards this end, or secondary to it”.

It woke me up. And I lay quietly mulling that over for some time.

Now, here’s the interesting thing. Whilst I lay there, the dream started to replay while I was still awake. Literally it was like a slow screen flare that opened to display a 3d see-through movie image, right in front of my eyes and below the ceiling above me. I froze and I stayed very very still, stilled my breathing, stilled my body and thoughts, I didn’t allow myself to think or analyse what was happening. It was just the most curious thing and I didn’t want to spook it. When the hallway reformed, I heard again the same words, but this time the voice spoke not just in my ear, but clear and audible from all sides.

Throughout the years thereafter, whether teaching kids, mentoring young adults, coaching candidates for job roles or getting to know the number of people I’ve interviewed for high tech roles, I’ve seen how much character impacts on your ability to learn and grow. I’ve met quite a few PHDs who have worked more than 20 years in factories and a number of Bachelors, Masters and Doctors of Academia that live sour lives in low paid work far below their intellectual capability and their career expectations. In contrast others I’ve met who’ve succeeded without degree or other academic qualifcations.

In recent times, when I’ve explored in interviews the whys or wherefores of either group. I’ve seen or heard that their ability to have success, has depended more on traits like resilience, passion, courage, ethics rather than their formal education alone. Resilience to knock-backs & upsets. Passion, enthusiasm or curiousity that fuels ongoing learning and improvement. Courage to attempt at things that they could fail at, or courage to take a risk when problem solving requires it rather than be hand held through to a solution. Open mindedness to open themselves to ideas outside what their past which informs them on things they don’t actually know. Ethics; that gives a person a pride in producing quality work.. and so forth.

An academic education is a boon, but I’ve seen for myself that much of our capability to learn and grow is rooted in character.