Embarking on writing

What’s it for?

For as long as I’ve been recording podcasts I’ve wanted to figure out how to learn more, and retain more, from the conversations. An audio recording of a good conversation can be a good experience for the listener; It can be good experiential learning. But the conversations contain so much more—facts sure, but also connections to other people, projects, stories, new perspectives, insights—which I know I’m missing. If something prompts my memory, I can recall the experience of the conversation, but everything else is either never learned, or if it was, I’ve subsequently lost it.

I’m reminded of…

If you remember what an author says, you have learned something from reading him. If what he says is true, you have even learned something about the world. But whether it is a fact about the book or a fact about the world that you have learned, you have gained nothing but information if you have exercised only your memory. You have not been enlightened. Enlightenment is achieved only when, in addition to knowing what an author says, you know what he means and why he says it.

~ Mortimer Adler, author of How to Read a Book, 1972

There are multiple levels of understanding and learning, contained in each conversation. At the root of my feeling that I’m missing out is the knowledge that I’m only retaining the most-superficial level of the experience.

Who’s it for?

It’s obviously for me. But by doing the writing in public everyone who finds a specific episode interesting would be able to capture and retain more of those “levels of experience” for themselves.

What does success look like?

As I mentioned, my urge to do something more with the conversations is not new. In the Movers Mindset project, I have already experimented with ways to enable others to get more from each conversation. Two efforts in particular are worth discussing.

First, I’ve pushed the concept of episode notes to the limits of sanity. We have guest images, embedded audio player, guest pull-quotes, transcript excerpts, highlights, and the entire thing is organized by chapters—the audio files have embedded chapter information if your player-app supports it. Each section is cross-linked to the corresponding part of the full transcript; The transcripts are organized into sections which are linked back to the episode’s page. This takes massive effort involving myself, Melissa, Rev.com, custom software, and hours of time. Here, take a look at, Selene Yeager: Menopause, Health, and Writing.

Second, I’ve created a tool which enables exploring the episodes. If you were looking closely at Selene’s episode notes, you’ve seen one part of this already. The tool enables choosing a perspective, (for example, how did they answer the signature, three-words question,) and that perspective is dynamically inserted into the page that you saw. There are many other perspectives which you can interact with. (Imagine an old-fashioned, twist-adjustable kaleidoscope; the tool I built is the kaleidoscope and you’re pointing it at the entire Movers Mindset project.) If you want to try something mind-bending, take a look at, Exploring the Movers Mindset Project, where I explain it in more detail, and which includes embedded controls for playing with the current perspectives in real time.

Beyond those to efforts, I’ve always wanted to write something based on the Movers Mindset conversations. Unfortunately, they’re quite long adding to the difficulty of finding a “chunk” to work on. One of my goals in creating the Podcaster Community, was to create a short-form-conversations companion podcast. (Look for Podcaster Community wherever you listen, or you can play the episodes via embeds on the community’s forum.) Those conversations are targeted at 20 minutes which usually leads to a single, clear thread appearing in each episode. This gives me terrific material to work with as I explore how to get at the deeper levels of learning within each episode.

On July 15, 2021 I put up an article, On Storytelling, which is based on the first episode of the Podcaster Community’s companion show. That article was an experiment, and based on the responses it was a successful experiment.

Just figuring out how to write that article was an experiment. First I spent hours talking to various people about how to write an article from a conversation, and about what style, format and voice should be used in such an article. I tried a variety of tools for writing; Not simply “which text editor” but rather what process should I use. I tried: Listening and then starting with a blank page; Dumping the transcript into a spreadsheet (transcript in one column with a cell per block of dialog from each speaker) and converting each cell into corresponding prose in a second column; Working conceptually outwards to an outline of principles or topics, and then working back inwards to create prose. I eventually settled on a way to directly transform the raw transcript into a finished piece. Even though I’ve settled on a way to do it, it remains hard work. It took me three hours to write that experimental article. All of that to say: I’ve only done one, but I’m confident I can now do many more.

How many could I write? There are already 40+ episodes of the Podcaster Community’s show. I estimate there are 300 pieces of Movers Mindset episodes that could be articles. (Many episodes have 3+ threads of discussion, each the size of one of the Podcaster Community’s entire episodes.) I’ve also begun recording short-form-conversation episodes for Movers Mindset. With recording continuing across multiple projects, I have an effectively unlimited supply of raw material.

What’s the problem?

To free up enough time to write consistently, to make meaningful progress, my projects need to become a source of income for me. Movers Mindset has some patronage revenue, (you people are awesome,) and the Podcast Community has a core group of supporters, (also awesome,) which are covering its costs. But neither of them currently supports my life and creates space for this new writing.

My questions are…

Are the conversations valuable?

Would it be valuable to create articles from the conversations?

Would you be willing to support my writing efforts by supporting the Podcaster Community, or by supporing Movers Mindset?

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Campfire, marshmallows and conversation

Many moon ago, Movers Mindset had a weekly team meeting with 5 people. It was simply a video call to socialize. Work-related discussion was allowed, but mostly we were just talking about training, sharing instagram videos, discussing news and events in our sports and its surrounds, … that sort of stuff. Just hanging out with people who have a shared interest.

From the start we knew we didn’t want to record those calls. That suddenly makes everything too permanent; You have to show up looking not-insane, and you automatically hold back some of your energy to be on the safe side. But we also felt that we were losing something by having no artifact at all. Much of what we were discussing and sharing in the team call would be of interest to others— but we didn’t want non-team-members attending our private call. Thus, no recording. The meeting gave us what we needed, and that was good enough.

Time passed. (And many great team meetings were had.)

One day, as I sat around wondering how to make the already-great calls even better, my mind drifted as it so often does. It wandered back to the 80s/90s and I thought of the seemingly endless hours I’d spent on text-based chat with people in far off places. Stuck underground in some computer lab, (for real,) I’d open a text window and visit some distant friend. It was real-time interaction, but in a restricted medium; Restricted, at the time, because that’s all we had. But still, it was magical to have real-time access to other people. It felt so much more alive than bullentin boards (the online kind), Usenet, and email. Still wondering how to make our team meetings better, I recalled this once-in-a-lifetime experience I had.

It went like this…

A group of friends had all being doing Parkour together for several years. To be clear: We found ourselves doing Parkour together, and wound up a group of friends through countless shared experiences. (Ask me in person and I’ll tell ya’ some stories.) Two of the group eventually got married. The fellow ended up deployed to Afghanistan in a intelligence role with special forces. (I may have the details wrong, sue me.) Suffice it to say: Half a world away from everyone, and while not physically in immenent danger, his day-to-day surroundings drove him to depression. One day he apparently reached the cliff’s edge and in a fit of frustration he sent a message to a dozen-or-so of us, (which included his wife,) with an enormous brain dump of his current state.

He’d sent a Facebook Messenger direct-message—apparently one of the few channels he was permitted. This wall of text arrives in my phone, with a bright and cheery *ding* I suddenly have this giant message from my good friend. I was delighted to hear from him, but all of it was news to me, and frankly none of it was good. Then, two magical things happened:

We promised that we’d do pushups immediately when he wrote to us, if he promised to never miss a day. It had a terrifically witty name—which I’m not sharing because then I’d have to tell you his first name. Every day, around 2pm my time—but it was unpredictable—*ding* and I’d end up doing pushups right in the middle of the super market. Literally. Once I got caught driving, and pulled over to the side of the road to do my pushups, and message back, done! It didn’t take us long before those of us on the dm-list were racing to see who could reply, “done!” first. Our far away friend became a sort of evil pushup assigning drill Sargeant. But there’s a twist. On day one, we all did 1 pushup. On day 2, we did 2. Then 3. Then 4… And yes, we were somewhere above 100 by the end of his deployment. (Spoiler: He returned home safely.) He repeatedly told us that every day he pretty much spent the entire day planning his daily entry in the back of his mind, and day-dreaming about making us all suffer the next number of pushups. Somehow, we small band of merry idiots managed to create a small daily dose of inspiration for our far away friend. (We all got pretty good at pushups too.)

The second piece of magic happened because we were all there for it in real time. We’d each do our pushups—as the numbers got stupid-large, you’d do them in sets and start reporting your reps in real-time. And somehow, the entire thing became performance art. Soon, we were having our friend pick an “animal of the day”, and it had to be different each day. Finished our pushups, we’d try to find and share funny photos, making up our own silly captions. We tried constantly to Rick Roll each other. We did anything we could think of to make our friend, and each other, laugh. Because we were doing this at the end of our friend’s day, he’d eventually “call it” when he was ready for sleep, and we’d all drop off. Years later, we still have in-circle nicknames for each other, and inside jokes that make me giggle even now as I’m typing.

One day, after it was over, I realized how special it had all been. I opened up Messenger on my desktop browser, and I tried to scroll back through the thousands of messages. I wanted to screenshot it all and somehow make a book to give just to those who were involved. But my browser crashed from all the images, animated GIFs, etc before I got even halfway.

Now, back to those weekly meetings I wanted to improve…

Having that story about our far away friend flash through my mind was the spark I needed! In our team meetings, I wanted to capture some of that ephemeral, asynchronous-messaging based, magic. I wanted our cool meeting to somehow also be a little bit performance art that left us with something that others could enjoy, (and even find useful.) My “campfires” ideas was born.

Campfire, marshmallows and conversation! The MM team gets together occasionally in a sort of free-form discussion that’s not quite a chat, and not quite a discussion. It’s a cross between instant chat and performance art.

Each week, as before, we had a completely ephemeral video call. But at the same time, in real time, we would all co-create a long Google Doc. That sounds silly—it is. And it’s hard to do as things move around in the document. But it feels like instant messaging. At the end of the set time, we ended the call, and I simply copy-n-pasted the contents into a Discourse thread.

We eventually stopped doing them as the team shrank. But if you want to see what they were, they’re all still there, in https://forum.moversmindset.com/c/campfires/37 — they still make me smile, and I’m so glad we did them.

What—you might wonder—makes we write all this up now?

I’m bringing back this beloved idea as: Campfires in the Podcaster Community.

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