Tales of a Cat Wrangler

 A Frank and Personal Look into My Foray Into Project Management

Sometimes, people see more in you than you see in yourself. And, when fighting low self-esteem is a constant battle as it is for me, what someone with low self-esteem sees in oneself is almost always going to be less than what we’re really capable of, as my husband on occasion reminds me.

Recently I was asked to take on a slightly different role with the digital marketing agency I’m on contract with, in part because my “boss” was working full time and in part, I presume, because he saw I had the “chops” to do it. I was asked to become sort of a project manager/team lead to finish off a website for a mortgage broker. This involved co-ordinating the work of others as well editing and writing content, and sourcing free photos.

Putting on the big girl panties while at the same time, leaning in and feeling my apprehension at the prospect of this new role, I accepted the challenge. Typically, I’m more comfortable as a follower, not a leader. (It was also comforting to know my “boss” was always a phone call or text away.)

Naturally, there have been a few hiccups along the way, including the challenges of working with an international team, issues with the site itself, my lack of experience as a leader and knowledge on how much direction/guidance/communication/ to give.

My boss reminded me of the importance of:

  • to be available on a daily basis,
  • monitor the project daily, and
  • communicate, communicate, communicate

As a writer you’d think I’d know this last one but it wasn’t instinctive. One can’t just parachute in and give the directions, and then take a hands off approach thereafter. In my defence, I felt like if I prompted too much by checking in with the team as to how their various tasks were proceeding, I was hounding them. (We are all adults here.) However, I underestimated the value of being present for my team. Interestingly enough, the more I communicated and was present for them, the more was accomplished.

Project management quickly felt to me like herding cats. Check out this hilarious video produced by The Fallon Agency for computer giant EDS on herding cats:

Micheal Hyatt, in his article Project Management and Herding Cats makes the connection between project management and cat-herding:

  • Cats are solitary animals. They aren’t naturally part of a herd. People can be like that too (including myself). As leaders, mentioning the benefits of collaboration and getting more done collectively as a team is required. Otherwise, according to Hyatt, people are “lone rangers” and projects can start to unravel.
  • Cats are seemingly aloof. People can appear to be so as well. Leaders are needed to drive engagement about the project and get people on the team to buy in, and connect emotionally with the project.
  • Cats are easily distracted. Unfortunately so am I, especially since I work from home! (Possibly not the most stellar quality in a leader.) There are plenty of distractions everywhere for everyone. Leaders need the ability to keep others on their team focussed and on-task. (Oh look… squirrel.)

Hyatt emphasizes the importance of  leaders becoming who they need to be to their team, in order to model the behaviour to their team. If I’m distracted, and aloof (and, in taking more of a hands-off approach, this may have been the perception), I can, according to Hyatt, foster a culture of distraction and a lack of personal engagement to the project from the team.

In any event, the end is nigh. The website’s almost done and my role will likely then transition to providing content writing and social media on an ongoing basis for the site.

I’ve gained valuable experience in a short amount of time and learned a lot along the way, and I am exceedingly grateful for the opportunity, but I’m still not certain I’m a cat wrangler!

One Year Ago Today

One year ago today my husband was laid off. This was waiting for him when he came home on November 18, 2015.
amarula

Here are the positives of the past year:

  • My husband had worked for this company for over 10 years, so he received a good severance package.
  • We were able to spend 37 days in our RV (a record for us) on vacation.
  • We were more able to be there for others, such as my mother-in-law, who needs assistance at times.
  • Bianca and Laid Off Calgary.
  • For both of us, as often happens when in a period of adversity, there’s been a time of extreme growth. Mostly this growth was all good, as:

You never know what you’re capable of, until you have to be capable of it.

There was much to learn, and much to do.

My Journey

I graduated with honours in 2014 from the University of Calgary with a Certificate in Professional Writing (PR and Marketing concentration). I’d been looking for work since, albeit somewhat languidly, as my husband was working. My love of, and natural affinity for, writing is such I have several passion projects on the go and have volunteered my writing and editing skills. Wanting, and now needing, to get paid for my skills, my husband’s layoff was the kick in the pants I needed to take looking for work seriously. I got my ass in gear.

I had to stop hiding my light under a bushel. Moreover, I had to stop thinking I didn’t even have a light to hide.

I had to learn to put on my big girl panties and suck up all my fears and insecurities.

I am super grateful for those  I’ve met along the way, and so thankful for the part-time writing contract I secured this fall, as well as other possibilities waiting in the wings.

Our Journey

We had to make ourselves climb out of our comfort zones, at times kicking and screaming. In some cases, we went way out of our comfort zone such as the time we were filmed for an appearance on the news, while in the midst of a photo shoot for laidoffalberta.com.

We had to learn how to network, how to develop an *elevator pitch, revamp our resumes countless times, study interview techniques, attend presentations, sell ourselves, get out there, and talk to strangers. I’m a shy extrovert, and my husband is an introvert, so meeting new people is difficult enough for us, never mind talking about ourselves and our accomplishments. Networking is a work-in-progress for both of us. We both had to learn to do what works for us. In the world of networking, one on one is more our style.

We had to learn to ride the emotional rollercoaster of job-hunting.  As our applications for positions were ignored,  we’ve had to remind ourselves, over and over again, of what we have to offer companies.  When interviews were granted for positions we were a strong fit for, yet the jobs went to someone else, the feeling of “always a bridesmaid, never a bride” emerged.

As someone mentioned the other day, in this economy, “there’s a lot of sellers, and not many buyers”, which makes it difficult to remain positive. “It’s not me, it’s the economy” soon became our mantra.

We had to be there for each other in countless ways to keep our relationship strong.

And our faith? Oh, our faith, to be honest, it’s been a challenge to trust that God’s got this.  He may have it, but He’s sure taking his time delivering it.

*My elevator pitch:

I am a self-starting, results-driven writing Ninja with a breadth of writing experience.
Put your idea in front of me and I’ll bring it to life.
I’m an excellent story-teller with the skills to creatively communicate
your ideas, product, business or service.

*My husband’s elevator pitch:

I am a Business Intelligence Specialist with 20 years experience in providing advanced problem-solving analysis, specializing in data analytics and data /system integration. I have the ability to break down complex data and/or system related issues by redefining them in ways that are solvable.

I am looking for an opportunity to help the business to improve their ability to manage their business processes.

Bullying: A Success Story

baw_logo_med

I wrote this fiction piece, which is based on a true story, for a course I took approximately three years ago.  I present it here, for Bullying Awareness Week 2016.  Tips on dealing with bullying are included within this short story. Full disclosure: As a pre-teen and teen, I was both the victim of bullying as well as one who bullies.

Gasping for breath, I glanced over my shoulder. The Bully Bitches were in hot pursuit. I sped up. I could hear my heart pound in my ears. Even though the day was cool, sweat began to drip into my eyes. I heard the Bitches yelling.
“Luma, you fat cow, where are you running to?” one screamed.
“I’m surprised you can run that fast given how huge you are,” another shouted.
I spun around: “Shut the heck up” I screeched.
“Fat pig,” the Queen Bully Bitch said.
I covered my ears with my hands and kept moving. Saying something back only makes them bug me more, I thought; when will I learn.
I reached the school doors and I raced to my locker, spun the lock, pulled open the door, and grabbed my backpack. I slammed the locker door and raced to the classroom. I sat down at one of the desks and tried to catch my breath. The teacher looked at me.
“Luma, you ok?”
Ratting them out will only make it worse, I thought and answered, “Yes, Mrs. Laughlin, I’m fine. I was just running in the school ground and I’m a bit out of breath.” Safe for now, I thought and opened my Language Arts textbook. I hated being in the same class as the Bitches.
I half-heard Mrs. Laughlin talking about nouns, but my thoughts raced: If only I had a friend, then those Bitches could go suck eggs.
I doodled on my notebook. I drew little hearts with arrows through them. I imagined they were the Bitches hearts.
I jumped when I heard a rap on my desk. My classmates giggled at my reaction. Mrs. Laughlin stood right in front of me.
“Luma,” she said “what is a noun?”
“Um..er,” I stuttered “it is a person, place or thing.”
“That’s very good, Luma, Mrs. Laughlin said. “I thought maybe you weren’t paying attention as I saw you doodling, but I’m pleased that you were.”
“Yes, Mrs. Laughlin,” I said.
“Stupid cow,” I overheard Queen Bitch whisper to one of her subjects.
“That’s quite enough,” Mrs. Laughlin said to the Queen.
The bell rang. I stuffed my binder and textbook into the backpack. This was my last class and I dreaded the walk home. It never changed; day after day the Bitches followed me. “Fatty, fatty two by four, couldn’t get through the bathroom door,” was their favorite insult as they walked behind me. No matter how fast I walked, they always managed to keep up with me.
Today was no different. As usual, the Bitches waited for me. I fantasized as I walked home, their shouts in my ears, about a long, slow death for Queen Bitch. Her followers would disband, and I’d be free. I’m so tired of their crap – the name calling, the hair pulling, the bra snapping – I thought, I’m going to speak to the Parental Units again tonight about changing schools.
I finally reached the block my house was on. The Bitches had stopped following me about half a block ago. I figured that was because they didn’t want to get caught by any Units.
My shoulders sagged as I entered my home. “Hi, Mom,” I said. I didn’t wait for her reply. I trudged up the stairs to my bedroom. My backpack and jacket landed with a thud on the floor. I flopped on the bed and tried not to cry.
I clutched my throbbing stomach as I found the Tums in my backpack. I swallowed a handful and sighed. I had homework but didn’t feel like doing any of it. I crawled under the bedcovers and closed my eyes.
“Luma,” Dad bellowed “supper’s ready.” Startled, I sat up and rubbed my eyes. I glanced at the clock; the red numbers glowed 5:30. I’d been asleep for nearly two hours.
I dressed and joined them at the dining room table. I pulled my chair out, sat down and said, “I’m not that hungry Mom, my stomach is hurting.”
Mom passed the roast beef to me and said: “Just try to eat a little, darling.”
I stabbed a piece of meat and put it on my plate. “Okay, Mom I’ll do my best. Please pass the mashed potatoes and gravy.” In between mouthfuls I said, “Mom, Dad, can I transfer to another school?”
“I don’t know why you keep asking us this – it’s a good school.” Dad said.
“I just don’t like it there.” I said.
“Buck up,” Dad said “this is the only junior high in our community.”
I was afraid to tell my parents the whole truth. The words of Queen Bitch kept ringing in my ears: “Keep your dang mouth shut. You won’t like what happens to you if you tell anyone.”
I feel sad that the Units were no help, I thought. I guess I’ll have to handle this on my own.

*****Two weeks later *******

“Fatty,” Queen Bitch said one morning as I approached.
I scurried past her and her minions, and ignored their taunts. I’m so sick of this, I thought. It’s time to take action.
After school that day, I picked up a community map at the 7-11 across from the school.
“Whatcha need those for, you can’t read,” one of the Bitches had followed me into the store.
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” I said as I stuffed it into my backpack.
Once home, I spread the map out on the dining room table. I highlighted with a marker all the different routes I could take to and from school.
For the next two days, I changed my route. I studied the Bitches habits. They’re so predictable, I thought. I decided to arrive at school before they did and leave after them.
In the lunchroom one day the following week, I noticed no-one bothered the kids that sat by the adults. Maybe these kids have been bullied too, I thought, as I sidled up to their table with my food tray. I plopped my food tray down, pulled out my chair and sat down. No-one said a word. I picked up my fork and began to eat.
After lunch, I went to my next class and sat down. Oh, no I groaned, seeing another Bitch come into the room.
“Weirdo,” she whispered as she walked past me in class on the way to her seat. I ignored her.
The next day, I ignored all the insults, the taunts, all the crap the Bitches dished out. I noticed they didn’t want to bug me as much. I guess I’ve taken all the fun out of it for them, I thought.
Two days later, I’m reading my book in the lunch room.
“Hi”
I look up and see Megan, a girl I know slightly from science standing by my table.
“Hi” I said.
“Can I sit down?” Megan said.
“Okay,” I said. I wonder where this is going, I thought, she’s never said two words to me before.
Megan said, “So, like, yeah would you like to hang out and stuff”?
“I’m not sure,” I said.
“You see,” Megan said “I’m getting bullied. I want to know your secret.”
“What secret”?
“I need the secret to getting those girls to stop bullying me.”
“What girls”?
“The same girls that bullied you are now bullying me. I used to see them bugging you all the time but I was too scared to help you.”
It sounds like she might want to be friends too, I thought, and felt a smile spread across my face. “Oh, you’re talking about The Bully Bitches! Well, I’ll tell you what happened….”
The principal of the school then came up to our table.
“Luma, he said, “I couldn’t help but overhear. I’ve been hanging out in the school yard more often and I’ve noticed the bullying. I’ve been watching things out there very closely these last two weeks. I hate what I see. Girls yelling insults at each other; I’ve even noticed fighting. It’s unacceptable. I’m going to be instituting an anti-bullying policy. Also, I’ll be punishing those girls who bullied you and Megan. And, yes, I know who they are. I’d like you to tell the whole school how you got the bullies off your back at assembly tomorrow. I think the other kids need to hear that. Would you be willing to do that?”
I gulped nervously and said, “Yes, Mr. Smith.”
“Thank you, Luma,” Mr. Smith said and walked away.
I glanced at Megan. “Maybe the rest of the year won’t be so bad after all.”

Animals as Healers

Our cat Punkin who passed away 2010
Our cat Punkin who passed away 2010

 

The summer issue of Geez magazine is out and my article is on page 8.  I’ve reproduced it below Dexter’s picture. Can I just say, seeing my name in print never gets old.

Our cat Dexter who passed away in 2013. We are on a pet hiatus at the moment. Too many sick pets put down in too few years.
Our cat Dexter who passed away in 2013. We are on a pet hiatus at the moment. Too many sick pets put down in too few years.

Animals as Healers by Kathy

 

“You’re as ugly as a mud fence on a rainy day.” Forty years later those words still ring in my ears. When I was in my ‘tweens, I lived in a situation where I was physically and emotionally abused on a daily, or near-daily, basis by every other home occupant.

 

This “home” had rabbits I would play with. Looking back, I realized that this play was an unconscious attempt to find respite from the abuse, self-comfort, and obtain from animals the love I didn’t receive from the humans in my world.

 

Cal Henze, a self-employed therapist in Calgary, Alberta, comments on animals as healers. He says, “Small animals provide something for the child to care about, a place to invest and a place of safe and unconditional intimacy. They provide a physical companion for the child to cling to and trust as he or she faces the darkest places of emotional pain.”

 

One might even call child-animal bonding a form of therapy.

 

“Cats and dogs, unlike other complementary therapies… are not ‘therapeutic tools.’ They are in the truest sense of the word ‘co-therapists’ in their own right,” says Avshalom Beni, founder and director of Humans and Animals in Mutual Assistance, a non-profit animal rescue organization in Israel. Their philosophy is that animals and humans help and heal each other.

 

Shortly after I moved to Calgary, I took a role as a dog-walker for the Calgary Humane Society. I’m not sure who benefited more. It was a lonely time in a city where I knew only one other person, but walking the animals helped.

 

Another type of animal companion is the PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) service dog. PTSD symptoms include re-living the traumatic event through flashbacks or nightmares and avoiding event reminders. Survivors are often nervous, anxious, and hyper-vigilant. They sleep poorly, startle easily, and experience physical symptoms like digestive disorders and chronic pain.

 

Evidence has shown PTSD survivors with service dogs report symptom reduction and decreased reliance on medication. In fact, according to Effectiveness of Psychiatric Service Dogs in the Treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder among Veterans, psychiatric service dogs (PSD) given to PTSD survivors help in a variety of ways, including practical tasks (such as finding keys), emotional care in stressful situations, and companionship both at home and in social settings. Having a PSD, according to this study, is not merely another therapeutic tool in the PTSD symptom management toolbox, but rather a combination of treatment, companion, and caregiver.

 

A person with PTSD struggles to feel safe, comfortable, grounded, and believed. PTSD service dogs help in these struggles. Further, the dog’s training enables it to respond to flashbacks by giving a gentle nudge to bring the person back to the present.

 

Animals love us, teach us how to love, provide a sense of stability, and provide healing. Because of this, whether they’re trauma dogs, emotional support animals, or the family pet, animals are more than tools, but lifelong, loving companions who are there for us, often in ways the people in our lives aren’t.

 

Behind the Lens

Why I do what I do:

 

Sugar Beach, Maui, C. KS Dueck
Sugar Beach, Maui, taken by Far From Fundie

Behind the lens

or holding a pen,

my pain disappears,

it seems to end.

 

The focus required

for both to take flight

robs my illness of power

it seems to take flight.

 

Such creative endeavors

I forget I’m not

the girl without illness

the girl who’s fraught.

 

A sick chick no more

as I walk through that door

‘cuz a creative i.d.

has a hold of me.

*Research has shown healthy distractions such as hobbies help those with chronic pain and other chronic illnesses.

Connected, But Alone

closed

In a scene from The Big Bang Theory, Raj – who can’t speak to women unless drunk – develops a relationship with Siri, “the intelligent personal assistant that helps you get things done  … Siri understands your natural speech, and it asks you questions if it needs more information to complete a task” (Apple.com).  The producers of the show have Raj doing more things with Siri than just asking questions, such as taking “her” out on a date. Eventually, Raj falls in love with Siri.  Arriving at Siri’s office with a bouquet of flowers, Raj is once again dumbstruck when he sees Siri in the flesh. (The Beta Test Initiation)  Raj was able to speak to the technological version of Siri but not the real person.

Raj’s behavior is not dissimilar to the findings of Sherry Turkle, MIT professor.  Her  TED talk Connected but Alone (http://www.ted.com/talks/sherry_turkle_alone_together.html) reveals how the love of our devices harms real relationships.

Ms. Turkle highlights how technology is “taking us places we don’t want to go.” (Turkle, Sherry.) Ms. Turkle has discovered technology changes behavior towards others.  Texting, emailing, or checking Facebook happens whether people are alone or with others.  Dichotomously, she also learns many of us fear intimacy, vulnerability, reality and solitude.

Cal Henze, a Calgary, Alberta psychologist, responds:

 

The core of this is simple: People are and have always been lonely — and have gotten there because they are afraid of intimacy. They have always devised means of numbing out and of trying to assuage the fear of intimacy — and yet those means are, for a change, also a means of connection. The real problem is that it’s leaving researchers behind who cannot understand and participate in the intricacies of it — them, and the elderly and a few who, likely, years ago would have been named as hermits because they do not know how to connect.

A small poll of family and friends revealed the majority of respondents shut technology off at night and felt texting while in the presence of others was rude or showed a lack of interest in their companions.

My husband summed up by saying: “Communicating solely through social media and texting speaks to how some people don’t want authentic relationships and community, just the illusion of community.”

No Muss, No Fuss

In his article for The Atlantic Is Facebook Making Us Lonely, Stephen Marche states:

… new technologies lure us toward increasingly superficial connections at exactly the same moment that they make avoiding the mess of human interaction easy. The beauty of Facebook … is that it enables us to be social while sparing us the embarrassing reality of society …  Instead, we have the lovely smoothness of a seemingly social machine. Everything’s so simple: status updates, pictures, your wall.

This avoidance of the messiness of face-to-face interaction comes with a price.  In his book You Are Not A Gadget, Jaron Lanier states: “I fear that we are beginning to design ourselves to suit digital models of us, and I worry about a leaching of empathy and humanity in that process.”

“They Don’t Even See Us” 

Brene Brown, a vulnerability researcher, would agree with Lanier.  She wants us off our cell phones, for the sake of humanity.  In her article for The Houston Chronicle entitled Time to Get Off the Cell Phone, she speaks about how the prevalence of being on the cell phone while in an appointment at a day spa, paying for groceries, or buying a fast food item demonstrates a lack of respect towards those who assist us.  Moreover, service people feel invisible:   “Thank you,” the attendant at the Chik-Fil-A says emotionally to Brown when she apologizes for taking a call while at the drive through window, “Thank you so much. You have no idea how humiliating it is sometimes. They don’t even see us.”

Conclusion

Technology connects us, but it can disconnect us too – from reality and from the vulnerable, messy, face-to-face interaction with each other.  Concerted efforts can be made, however, to mitigate this by controlling when and how we use our devices, fasting from technology, and enjoying time with each other.

(Note:  this was written in 2012 for one of my University of Calgary courses)

 

My Pitch Is Caught!

Animals can be a life saver for PTSD sufferers.
Animals can be a life saver for PTSD sufferers.

This is cool, my pitch to Geez Magazine http://www.geezmagazine.org/ for their animals issue has been accepted. I’ll be writing about animals as healers for those suffering from PTSD, both the combat & non-combat forms. It’s a long-form piece and first “real journalism style” piece I’ve done for them. The editor called my pitch “well thought out” and she “thinks it will make a strong piece for the issue.”

This was my pitch to them:

The Transformative Power of Animals on PTSD Sufferers and Others

Hi, I am pitching for the above noted issue. I would explore the idea of animals as healers. Included in my article would be the following:

1. Briefly describe (one or two paragraphs, at most) my own healing journey in which animals played a role — from the bunny I played with as a 12 year old in an abusive foster home (which thus provided brief respite from that abuse) — to the volunteer work I did at the Calgary Humane Society as a volunteer dog walker shortly after moving to Calgary in 1993, which helped assuage the loneliness of living in a strange city where I only knew one other person.

2. I would then expand the scope of the article outwards to focus on dogs used as healers and helpers for PTSD. I would (hopefully -to be confirmed) interview Andrew Sprague, who has a service dog for PTSD. His dog’s name is Flicka and, according to Andrew’s website, http://myptsdservicedog.com/about-me/ is the first service trained dog for those who suffer from non-combat PTSD (Andrew is a childhood sexual abuse survivor).

3. I would also weave information about PTSD (both combat and non combat types) and how animals are able to help with healing to the point that, according to http://www.nsd.on.ca/programs/skilled-companion-dogs-for-veterans/ “speed recovery from PTSD and help reduce reliance on medication.”

4. My article would also contain a statement from a therapist on animal benefits to abuse survivors, and a testimonial from a combat vet on how his PTSD service dog has helped him or her.

I believe my story is important to raise awareness that:

1) Service dogs for PTSD are not just for combat PTSD, as Andrew’s story will demonstrate.

2) By highlighting the benefits of having a PTSD service dog to a PTSD sufferer, this will help the lack of understanding and/or education that may exist about PTSD service dogs. This lack of understanding and/or education seems to be demonstrated by establishments such as restaurants and retailers who deny entry to persons with PTSD service dog.

I feel I’m qualified to write this piece as I have a writing certificate from the University of Calgary, I have been published in Geez magazine before, and elsewhere (please see this link for my list of publications: http://ksdueck.com/publications-and-portfolio/

Further, I have some personal experience with PTSD due to my abusive childhood. I have experienced the healing power of animals, having had pets most of my life.

Thanks for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

 

I am excited about writing this article.

Facebook Page or No Facebook Page?

photo via free photo site unsplash
photo via free photo site unsplash

Based on research and my own personal attempts to have a Facebook page for my blog and my photography, here’s five reasons not to have a Facebook page.

1. “Feed filtering” has resulted in fewer pages showing up in individual news feeds.

2. According to Edge Rank Checker.com (“a free tool to check your Facebook Pages’ Edge Rank (or exposure within Facebook)”, page views have been steadily declining, from 16% in February 2012 to 6.5% in March 2014.

3. There’s glut of information being posted on Facebook, and only so many hours in the day for people to view it. Facebook realized this and implemented “feed filters”.

4. . Unless page content is, according to techcrunch.com, “funny, fascinating, and dynamic”, there’s little chance of it being viewed.

5. Further, studies have shown that media outlets that put information on Facebook pages, such as news items, see more “reach” for their pages than companies pushing a product. Source: http://techcrunch.com/2014/04/03/the-filtered-feed-problem/

Do your own research, of course, but fierce competition and declining page views make a Facebook page a tough sell for me.