My mom asked me to make an influence map. Here’s my first draft:
The map is an index for the stories I want to remember and share, and I hope to flesh them out in time.
Memory: When I was in grade school, my dad once asked me what I had done that afternoon. I tried to tell the story, but as I told it, I realized that I couldn’t remember the events clearly. I remembered things out of order, and there were pieces that didn’t make sense to me. When my parents tell this story, they often focus on how I used computer metaphors–“delete delete delete”. They might’ve thought that I was making things up. I didn’t think I was, but I couldn’t make sense of what I remembered. Were the parts that didn’t make sense figments from my imagination or were they were simply missing the in-between pieces that could connect them to the whole? What I remember from this story is the embarrassing unreliability of memory. Are other people’s memories clearer? I don’t know, but this early experience helped nudge me to write more things down, and to tell fewer stories verbally.
Story: Later on, I remember telling stories and being corrected by other people. I knew my memories were fuzzy, and I trusted it less after correction. It was only later that I realized that memory and perception and storytelling are all fuzzy, and maybe it wasn’t just me. Watching my dad and my sister exaggerate their stories for dramatic impact, watching my mom disagree with the occasional detail, I learned that storytelling could be flexible. I tried to keep true to what I remembered, though.
Books: I turned to writing whenever I needed to figure something out, drawing from the words and ideas I found in books. The books I read helped me recognize the situations I faced and think about alternatives. I found it to be easier to think on paper than in conversation. Face-to-face, my family’s strong personalities overwhelmed my thoughts. On paper, I could think more clearly.
Change: One time, for example, I felt upset when my dad ate food off my plate and drank from my glass in front of my friends. It didn’t seem like a big deal, but I felt uncomfortable regardless. If I were my sister, I’d probably have had a quick retort that jokingly asserted myself, and all would be resolved then and there without loss of face. I wasn’t like that. Instead, I shelved the feeling for later exploration. That evening, I explored it on paper, narrowing it down to being embarrassed by the way my dad took without asking. It would be better if he had asked, and best if he got himself another serving. Once I had understood the reasons why I felt bad, I could plan what might be changed and how to raise the topic. In this particular case, I didn’t have to start the conversation – my dad happened upon my notes, read them, and apologized. After that, he asked me before taking anything from my plate.
Kaizen: Perhaps this was how I learned that I need the space to think through things, that writing helps create that space, and that thinking through possible changes makes it easier for resolve a situation. I did a lot of this introspection when I was growing up. Looking back, I think it was my way to help people learn how to deal with me, just as I was learning how to deal with them. I listened to those odd quirks, those momentary reactions, and I followed them to find the roots. I enjoyed experimenting, trying different approaches and seeing if we could make life a little better.
For example, I realized that I came to dread being paged with, “Sacha, come to our room, we want to talk to you,” particularly when my dad sounded grumpy, as he often did. Although most of the time I wasn’t actually in trouble and my parents just wanted some family time, it was hard to deal with that instinctive oh-no. Having pinpointed this distress, I told my parents about it, and we agreed to announce it as ice cream time instead. (Naturally, with actual ice cream, to sweeten the deal.)
See? Pavlovian psychology can be useful in real life. Not only that, but ice cream – both the treat and the sound of the words – go along way towards diffusing tension. It cools and slows you down, and the words–well, try saying “ice cream”. It’s like “cheese” – it encourages you to smile.
Yes, I thought about these things growing up. I blame my mom’s books on communication and relationships. :) They showed me that there’s more than one way to connect, and consciously looking at how we connect can help us shift patterns.
Also, I remembered my mom’s story about the naming of “Kodak” – choosing the kuh sound, using it at the beginning and end… I learned that the subtleties of language and behaviour influence us a great deal.
I thought a lot about these kinds of things growing up. Relentless improvement, that was it. Little tweaks, experiments that could make life better.
My paper notes weren’t really private. I didn’t bother developing a code, although in retrospect, I wish I did — perhaps I would have written more, and I might’ve gotten good at mentally decoding something along the way. Perhaps this lack of trusted secrecy that’s what made the shift to public blogging easier for me.
Research notebooks: In high school, we learned about how inventors kept research notebooks to document their progress and defend their patterns. I thought that was interesting. I tried keeping continuous notes, but I never managed to keep everything in a single notebook. I used the idea when I got my first laptop, though. I started taking notes on that, and it worked out well.
Blogging: When I got into open source development with the Emacs Planner, I used the same tool to share my notes. I wrote about what I wanted to do. I wrote about why, then how, then so what. It was an unexpected thrill to get comments from strangers around the world.
I started writing about other things. Typing class notes was a way for me to keep myself awake and paying attention. Writing about ideas and thoughts helped me explore.
In my own space, I grew to trust paper again – loose sheets that could be slipped into the recycling bin or shredded, or thoughts interleaved with mundane notes in my sketchbook. I went digital, too, sharing more of these thoughts online in both words and drawings.
I asked more questions and shared more of what I learned. The more I learned, the more I could learn about life.
Conflict resolution: Introspection through writing and drawing has become an invaluable tool for puzzling through situations and figuring out how to move forward. When W- hinted at his interest, I mindmapped my thoughts and feelings on paper before responding to him on paper. When my family expressed their strong disapproval and there was a lot of strain, I wrote and drew to understand what I felt. Whenever I needed to consider my options or get a handle on what I could do, I turned to paper, my computer, or my drawing tablet.
I like hearing people’s stories and learning from even more people’s experiences through blogs and books. I still talk to people sometimes in order to sort things out, but thinking things through on my own helps me figure out what it is I need to understand, and how I feel about all the input I receive.