Beware the narrative. Roll up for story time!

It’s a well known proven fact that humans interpret the world around them and their social circles with stories. Humans create narratives in order to make sense of data inputs and ensure the brain keeps the body ticking over, moving you towards your evolutionary goal of survival and procreation. There’s been countless books and studies on it – one of my favourites being The Self Illusion if you’re interested to read more.

So why beware the narrative? We all love a good story, don’t we?

Well, yes and no. Stories are great when we’re looking in, following the protagonist go about their adventures, solving mysteries, saving the day, or perhaps falling in and out of love. But when we’re in the story, and we’re not sure what role we’ve been cast (or even that we’ve been cast one at all!) – both by ourselves and by others, then it’s a bit harder to enjoy. Especially when the story doesn’t work out the way you wanted it to, the way it was supposed to. But it was always just that, it was always your story that you created. Sometimes they have happy endings, sometimes they don’t. Depends how your brain decides to process the data it’s been given, and how you chose to let it.

Every interaction you have in your life is part of both your own narrative, and that of the person (and community groups) you’re interacting with. In the smallest way on Twitter or a blog post for example, it could be with a tiny shared moment as they flick over your post and hit love (or don’t) and without even knowing it, for that fraction of your life you were part of theirs. It’s almost entirely inconsequential. But when you’re interacting on social media (or you know, anywhere – on and offline) and it’s a bit more than that – you’re creating social circles where you give and take information on a more ongoing basis, things start to get more involved.

The narrative you’re giving out may not even be one you realise you are – are you often posting things that are positive, negative, open, closed. Do you care about other’s feelings, or rather interact in a way that serves the self more? Do you promote happiness, desperation, emotional unavailability, neediness, love, excitement? Whatever you’re putting out there is building on the story of you in those who surround you. Your role in their narrative is built on the data you provide. Not providing any data? You probably don’t feature in too many narratives. That could be a good or bad thing, depending on your preference.

And what are the stories you build around others? You see their photos, their writing, their interactions. Do you see them as kind, needy, happy, sad, giving, loving, jealous, scary, angry etc – think about how that affects your interaction with them, based on all you have to go on (which is obviously the only evidence you have). Interesting to step back and consider that that might not be who they actually are, but just who they are in these moments in that platform, or place.

Then comes the narrative that I find the most fascinating of all. The narrative we weave around other people and what role they should play in our lives, based on the story we want to see play out at that given point of time in our lives. And that’s fluid – it moves and changes as we do, as does the role of the character we’ve cast on them. Those where the character matches the role given tend to work out well in our lives, and so long as they change as our casting does, tend to stick around. Those who were never cast correctly in the first place, or don’t turn out to play out the role you’ve deigned on them (whether you realise you did or not) tend to disappoint us, to some degree or further – and may find they cease to feature. They get written out, or worse, they get cast as a baddie. The more someone acts in a certain type of role the more ingrained it gets – hence things like “friendzoning” or “love of my life” or “bastard ex”. Iterative feedback loops that create stronger bonds in certain directions.

Fascinatingly the brain also post processes memories as stories too, sometimes with a slightly different filter than when you first experienced them – depending on your current state of mind vs the mind you had at the time. So you can’t trust a memory to be a true reflection of what once was. Also, brains (and eyes, interestingly) have another reality processing mechanism that allows them to infill gaps of data with what it expects to see/process. With online or distance relationships/interactions (time or physical) particularly this can lead to exaggerated pockets of feeling like people really get you. Your brain is basically infilling with what you’d like in the voids that don’t exist. Dangerous territory when forming any important emotional attachments.

So, yeah, beware the narrative – acknowledge that it’s there, and whether you like it or not (or think you do it or not!), you’re casting your own story right now and others are about you – who can you see are the heroes? Who is the big bad wolf? What role are you playing, and what role would you like to – are they the same? If not, make the changes in your life to get the role you want. It’s your movie, you be the star. And be mindful of others you cast in their roles: they may not be able to deliver what you expect of them. And maybe neither you nor they realise the role they’ve been cast as, and therefore why they’re failing. Perhaps the role you’re playing out – with or without realising it – isn’t one others want in their stories, which is why you feel like sometimes you don’t belong.

Just a thought.

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You’re my type

I hear a lot of other people talking about what their “type” is. Thin, fat, big bums, small boobs, flat stomachs, BBW, muscles, hair colour/style.. eyes. I’ve never gone in for physical attraction. I can see it, and understand it, but that isn’t what makes my type.

Let me tell you about my type.

My types are the people who make me smile, have a joy for life and having fun. They’re the ones who like to laugh, who live life to the full. They enjoy adventures, and stay inquisitive all their life. It’s those who have character, and individuality – those who aren’t afraid to stand up and be counted.

My types like to avoid drama, and instead communicate clearly, openly and without judgement.

My types are those of you who have faced adversity and had the strength and tenacity to overcome it, and let yourselves have happiness again. My types are those who don’t let their life be determined by the will of another, or “what has gone before”. The ones who follow their hearts and minds equally, even if it means it sometimes hurts – knowing and graciously accepting that is the price you pay for living your dreams and not giving in.

My types are the ones who are there for me even when I’m not just giving them something they desire. They’re the people who let me in, get to know them, and find out and enjoy my quirks too. And though they’re not afraid of their emotions and allowing them freely and openly, can manage them too. My types are the ones who care about my emotions as well, and treat them with respect and kindness.

My type are those who seek to better themselves on a daily basis, who won’t settle for mediocre. They’re willing to push themselves and their boundaries in pursuit of growth and personal evolution.

But most of all, my types are those who really care. The ones who don’t just say words but follow through with the actions to back it up, the ones who are there for others. The ones who remember the details, to ask how you are for no reason other than they care. They don’t run at the first sign of hard times within a friendship or relationship. You know the type, the ones where silence doesn’t feel awkward, but instead promotes comfort and deep peace.

My types are the ones who make you feel good to be you. All of you.

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What it feels like to Just Be Yourself.

BE YOURSELF! But just, not too much, ok?

Be creative! But.. just not with your clothes, or hair, or writing. It can be threatening, you know. Or make you deserving of unkind behaviour from others, why must you always be the troublemaker? You bring it on yourself.

Be proud of your body! But not when you look like that. No-one needs to share in that. And when you do look great, don’t show it off, that’s just posing.

Be queer! Good for you! But not too loudly, you’ll make people think you fancy everyone. All the time. Predator.

Be poly! Super brave and unusual. But could you just do that quietly without threatening  my (in-most-cases-false-or-broken)monogamy? Ta.

Be sex positive! Just not in my general direction, you massive perv. You’re not supposed to actually have or enjoy sex after 30, didn’t anyone tell you? Ugh.

Be open! But actually, wow, TMI. A little less, perhaps? Super unprofessional. You’re supposed to hide your private life. At least, the bits that aren’t on Instagram. No one needs to know the bits of you that makes them uncomfortable. It’s not our fault you don’t know which bits those are. Try harder.

Enjoy being a mum! But don’t talk about it too much. Or share. God, what’s wrong with you? Making everyone else feel uncomfortable for being spawnless, or bored with your genetic lifeboats.

Speak out about things that aren’t ok in society! But, please don’t count on people to stand with you. It’s great you do it, really it is, but why should they have to rock the boat? Your head looks better above the parapet, thanks. And anyway, if we all stay quiet there’s always Someone Like You ready to take this stuff on, it’s so much easier to just leave you to it.

Have opinions! Just, you know, not THOSE ones. And can you have them less strongly? thanks.

BE YOU! But can you just be a little more what the world finds comfortable? Thanks.

 

 

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How I use Twitter – OMG WHY DID YOU UNFOLLOW ME – a rough guide

Every so often, I unfollow lots of people and tighten my stream back to a bare minimum. I’ve always done this since I first started using Twitter – it serves me best as a platform where I only see those closest to me and then expand it out little by little over a few months then repeat the reduction and start again.

Every time I do this, I get a few messages from people, asking what they did wrong, or if I’m upset, or something similar.

I’ve never followed many people, I find the noise drowns out people I really want to hear from. As one of the first uptakers I’ve always used Twitter as a place where I talk to my friends. It’s never been about “growing my network” or having a personal brand. I think that’s why I’ve received comments in the past about my weird social media approach – it’s always almost TMI, and if I’m angry I share it. If I’m happy, I share it. If I’m sad, I share it. It’s a chat room of my good friends, but anyone is welcome to join in too. Some people from my Twitter have become my best friends both off and online. Others are people I know in real life that I like to keep up with. Others still, people whose opinions really matter to me, or from cultures and backgrounds I’d like to understand better. Some accounts I just follow because the content (often art) makes me feel happy when I log on to Twitter.

The main reason I’m writing this post though, is to explain that if I don’t follow you, or unfollow you for a bit, it doesn’t mean anything. You haven’t upset me, your content is great (you do you!) and you shouldn’t take it as a personal sleight. I just prefer to keep my stream stream-lined (!) and changeable.

“Can’t you just mute me/people so not to hurt feelings?!” I’ve had a few times in the past. Well, no. I don’t want to. I like unfollowing and re-following. I find mute is a bit of a lie. I don’t want people to THINK I’m following them and not joining in on their conversations or lives, but actually I’m not. Seems like an ego stroke that serves no-one. I’m annoyingly and often irritatingly transparent in who I am and how I live my life and what’s happening in my head, I don’t change that online. Also, whether I follow you on Twitter or not is zero indication of how much I like or dislike you. I once followed a group of Trump supporters for a week to try and understand their interactions and viewpoints. THAT WAS A HARD WEEK. But yeah, I didn’t like them. Following (or not) is no endorsement.

Lastly – I drop in on people’s streams a lot, even when I’m not following them, so don’t think because I’ve unfollowed I’m gone for good – and I often re-follow people, sometimes multiple times a year. I’m just making sure what I see when I log on to my feed is curated tightly to what noise I can handle at any one time.

You’re all amazing. Keep doing you. Don’t stress if someone on the internet follows or unfollows you. If you have a thing that tells you when people do, do yourself a favour and turn it off. *kisses*

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A Code of Conduct only means something if it’s enforced.

First of all, some very important context caveats, as I’m well aware a lot of your reading this won’t know me, or the conference.

  • I am quite easily triggered at the moment by misogyny in technology after my short tenure at Cloudflare earlier this year. They insta-fired me and flanked me off site (with no warning) a few days before my last cancer surgery in March this year, due to my being entirely unhappy about illegal interview questions and processes that prejudiced against women, and amongst other things happening there. I am sick to the back teeth of how women are treated for standing up to misogyny in this industry, and so I am bringing proceedings against them. This means I was triggered and reacted stronger than normal, I genuinely had a strong physical reaction (I have been shamed for shaking and crying, at the conference. I feel zero shame for having these emotions).
  • I’ve organised and run a conference myself. I know how hard and stressful it is, and understand the moving parts.
  • I love boobs. This is important. I also identify as queer/pansexual, and a bit of a perv – I adore bodies of all types and sizes and shapes, and all body parts. My point is: I am in no way a prude or in any way offended by the human body, as my tweets frequently show, BUT I WILL DEFEND the right of any human to feel comfortable and welcome in the technology industry (or in fact any profession) regardless of my own comfortableness with a pair of boobs on a tshirt – and this is the context of what I want you to understand. This was a professional event, where a man was wearing a tshirt of a naked, sexualised (that sexualised bit, also super important) woman. The messaging from this is deeply unpleasant on both how it frames the speaker and conference’s acceptance of women being there for the sexual pleasure of men. For women (and men, and enbies) who find sexualised imagery uncomfortable, and our upcoming youth who are watching up and how we conduct ourselves in our profession, this is terrible. This is why we have problems with diversity. This is why kids like mine (who both program, and excel in maths) take one look at tech and think, nah. I’d rather do something where I don’t have to feel uncomfortable. This is why I made a stand and left the talk.
  • Thinking Digital is an exceptionally good conference in Newcastle, that’s been run for 11 years, and apart from yesterday’s kerfuffle: seamlessly. I have nothing but respect for the team and Herb who founded and runs it. This is not a cry for pitchforks at them, and I’d prefer it if everyone kept their conversations kind and civil. Dealing with a crappy incident like yesterday is awful for everyone involved. What I’d like this post and experience to achieve is conferences thinking about whether they really mean their Code of Conduct and if so, what action they’d take if something like this happened at theirs.
  • I’ve been called out for being shameful for making this public, and not taking the speaker & event organisers to one side personally. Firstly, this is a public event that was being livecast, and photographed live. Therefore, the only way to deal with this is publicly. This was not an ok thing to happen in public. There are plenty of other people who would have felt very uncomfortable about this but didn’t have the voice for whatever personal reason to speak about it. I speak for them, I speak for those watching at home, I speak to raise awareness and I speak for my daughter’s generation who may find this content in future and wonder wtf. If I don’t speak out publicly, then it becomes normalised. It appears accepted. This is not acceptable. It is actually even harder than ever to speak out on this specific occasion because as I’ve said time and again on Twitter: I see Herb as a good friend, and wish him no ill at all and yet I know this will be an unpleasant situation for him. The easy and socially best thing to do would have been not to mention it at all. BUT, that wouldn’t help anything. Secondly, I did speak with both the speaker and the organiser personally, as well, at the time.

So, on with what happened. This, basically:

I was sat in the second row of the conference, and the speaker got up with a tshirt on that has a sexualised woman, with an open top, sat back on a bed with her breasts and nipples out looking rather provocative.

This made me feel very uncomfortable that this was happening on a conference stage (as I said before, boobs are fine, I have no problem with boobs, but in this context this is extremely inappropriate), and no-one was batting an eyelid. So I made a stand and left the talk. I also directly @’d the conference organiser and the hashtag on Twitter to make sure that the conference knew asap this was not ok in real time.

Other than my twitter feed blowing up with mostly super kind and supportive humans (thank you, this really helped me feel supported), nothing else happened. The talk continued, went over in fact, and then the break. No one from the conference approached me or him, either on or offline, so I decided I should leave as I was very upset and disappointed.

As I went to leave, the speaker was outside having a smoke, next to the exit. As I walked past him I let him know very calmly I’d found his tshirt inappropriate, I felt seeing as I’d called it in public it was the right thing to do in person as well, to attempt a conversation. At this stage it got immediately pretty nasty, without letting me finish even my first sentence the speaker very aggressively told me to “FUCK OFF” and his entourage joined in. My friend Dan was on a call about 15 metres away so I shouted at him to come over (I wasn’t sure if I was about to get duffed up, to be honest) and so he at least saw the tail end of the rebuttal.

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And at which point the speaker responded thusly (worth reading this linked to tweet thread) < — sadly this has now been removed because he’s ashamed of what he said. Happily, I have at least some screenshots. He blocked me immediately after my reply below:

By now, I’m feeling pretty shitty to be honest. Bear in mind as well, I’ve never once said I was offended.

  • I’m sad that the guy wore the shirt.
  • I’m sad that the conference organisers thought it was acceptable to wear on stage.
  • I’m sad that no-one else at the conference left the talk, or commented on it (props to Dan Hett who called it online though after seeing a live conference photo)
  • I’m sad that the speaker felt threatening behaviour was acceptable and appropriate.
  • I’m sad that when I then reported the incident of abuse to the organisers and team, there was no action taken – despite a code of conduct.

And lastly, I’m sad that although Herb made a very personal and heartfelt apology on stage, it was to me directly and used my name and Twitter handle. I understand this was done in the best intentions and for that I am touched and thankful, but that made me feel even more uncomfortable and very vulnerable. I was already in a state, so being called out and having people look for me in the audience was pretty terrifying. I felt extremely awkward, and the victim blaming started up shortly after on Twitter from other conference goers. I would rather the conference apologised for it’s behaviour and on behalf of its speaker to everyone because what happened was not acceptable. This isn’t about me – this is about our industry and the ability of those in power both on an off stages to shape how inclusive and welcoming we are.

I sense tested my thoughts on my 9 year old daughter this morning.

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If you want to see if I’m being overly sensitive, try this yourself on your own kids, or any children you know. Try it on most adults, even. And you’ll see.

In conclusion, I want people to come away with three things.

  1. If you are in a position of power either on or off stage it is your duty to make sure the messaging we send out about our community is one of inclusion, and respect for all.
  2. If someone lets you know your behaviour has been inappropriate, just take a breath and listen. You’re not being attacked, you’re being given the respect of someone who would like to help you be better. They could easily not tell you and people will just think you’re a wally.
  3. If you run a conference and have a Code of Conduct, it literally means nothing unless you are prepared to act on it in the moment when a situation happens. Make sure you have a run through pre-conference of exactly what should happen if there is an incident of someone being harassed or threatened. Doing nothing is not acceptable.

EDIT – update, 29th May 2018 – I noticed someone say something very unpleasant and personal to Paul on Twitter that made me really sad, today. This was never about attacking Paul as a human – just a point about what tshirts are acceptable on stage, and what to do when you need to deploy your code of conduct. I realise Paul’s part of that story: but we are all human and all can react in ways that aren’t becoming sometimes thanks to our own baggage and back stories. Anyway, long story short – I reached out and let him know that was never what I wanted to see happen to him, and he came back receptively and with lots of genuine apologies via personal message. We’ve shared stories about why each of us approached this how we did to better understand the other’s viewpoint and shared a virtual hug. 

Herb has now asked me to help him proof read and edit his post, which is a great step forward for collaborating and making sure this is dealt with as a joint force instead of at odds to each other, which I am very grateful for. I will do this tomorrow (30th May 2018).

A HAPPY ENDING. Huzzah.

<Jerry Springer final thoughts/>:

Change and open debate can be really painful (for all involved) but when the result is collaboration and new understanding it’s totally worth it. 

Thanks to everyone for all their support to me along the way with this.

 

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INTERNET! Let’s give someone a leg up!

Ok. I need a HUGE favour, one that will warm all our hearts and show that the internet is still amazing.

One of my best friends since I was 15, a guy called Olly, is one of the best model makers I’ve ever come across. After a crazy tough heart problem that required AWAKE open heart surgery every few years in his teens and stopped him going school after A levels, he managed to drag his sorry arse back to Uni in his twenties and self fund himself to do that art he’s amazing at (see portfolio below).

He has struggled to find a job in this area as they’re super hard to come by (especially if you don’t have a top University degree and most likely you’ve had a privileged background with connections), plus the usual “No experience, no job” thing. During the last decade he has worked in preschool childcare, supermarkets, kitchens, and been on benefits whilst looking for a break into model making. He has four lovely kids and a wife, and lives near Oxford. He is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. His heart is FAR from broken, I can guarantee you that.

He would LOVE a break, to do his passion (which he’s crazy good at) for a living. Can anyone help him/me out? It is my mission to get him a job this year that will lead on to epic things. He is brilliant, hard working, and deserves it so much. Please email either me thayer@thayerprime.com or Olly on ollyduffy@hotmail.com if you have any leads at all to give him a leg up.

We talk about diversity a lot: now’s your time to help someone who’s been socio-economically excluded all his life get a chance to be included in the workforce 🙂

His portfolio is here.

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On Optimism

I love FutureCrunch, I get in in my inbox and it always fills me with hope. In a recent edition they posted the below, about optimism, and I realised how much I could benefit from these ways of thinking myself so wanted to share this here from their newsletter both as a aide memoir and to share with a wider audience. It is wonderful writing.

“One of the best ideas we came across over the holidays was taking one word, and making it your mantra for the year. As we all know, New Year’s resolutions aren’t very effective (don’t worry it’s not just you, the science suggests it’s impossible for most people).

Having one word is better. It can act as a touchstone for many areas in your life, whether it’s health, relationships, or work, and you can adapt it to circumstances as they change around you.

Our word for 2018 is easy.

Optimism.

We’ll try to explain.

The default attitude for many people who think of themselves as smart, engaged and widely read is cynicism. In a world beset by climate change, environmental degradation, forced migration, political extremism, toxic masculinity, human rights violations, and economic inequality, it seems like the only sane reaction. Especially when the scale of the challenges we face seems to be matched only by the ineptitude of our political leaders. To the well informed cynic, it’s obvious that the human race is utterly incapable of getting its shit together.

You know who else thinks like that? Emo teenagers. They naturally default to cynicism because it’s safe. The world is an uncertain, mean place filled with stupid authority figures and meat heads. Far easier to retreat to your room, cry softly onto your copy of Nietzche, write some dark poetry and wallow in the endless night of the human soul.

However, as anyone who’s gone back and read their teenage poetry knows, teenagers aren’t wise. They don’t really understand what’s going on. They haven’t had enough experience. Their decision to adopt an attitude of cynicism may like feel like an act of rebellion, a way of reclaiming agency in a world that has obviously gone mad. In reality, it’s a decision based on fear, uncertainty and inexperience.

As an adult, you’ve got no excuse. Cynicism is lazy, it’s the easy way out. If you only expect the worst from society, you never have to worry about being wrong, or disappointed. And if you stay cynical for long enough, it leads to what Steven Pinker calls corrosive pessimism. If everything is awful, and politicians are always liars, and business leaders are always greedy, and we’re all on a collision course with a climate change time bomb, then what’s the point in trying to do anything about it?

This kind of attitude is bad enough when it happens on an individual level, but at the societal level it’s toxic. In a time where action is paramount, cynicism creates a paralysing effect. It causes predatory delay, which is effectively the same as losing. It concedes the fight to those whose power and wealth is tied to planetary destruction and the misery of others.

So here’s our idea.

In 2018, how about cultivating an attitude of optimism? Not as a judgement, or a reaction to the world around you, but as a choice, by which you navigate and affect the world around you. In our own experience, the personal benefits of waking up every day and deliberately making that choice are profound.

It’s not just a personal project, it’s a political one too.

We’re not talking about naive optimism, the kind that recycles, sings Kumbaya, grows organic veggies in the backyard and hopes Elon Musk is going to fix all of our problems.

We’re talking about a compassionate optimism, one that bears witness to the terrible things that are happening on our watch, and doesn’t shy away from the pain.

It’s a courageous optimism, one that admits the profound difficulty of the tasks that lie before us, and even the possibility of total failure.

It’s an intelligent optimism, informed by incredible advances in science and technology, and inspired by stories of human progress and environmental stewardship.

It’s a practical optimism, which takes a long, hard look at everything that’s going on around us and says, “we can do better than this.”

Most importantly, it’s a collective optimism, one that recognises that progress doesn’t happen by magic, but is the result of sustained, committed efforts by millions of people over decades, who keep on showing up and insisting that it’s possible to create a vibrant, life sustaining global society that works for everyone.

Try it out – make optimism your filter bubble in 2018, and see how it goes. We’ll be right here with you, trying (and failing) to be funny, dredging up questionable content from every corner of the interwebz, and giving you plenty of fuel along the way. “

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