Cutting the Cords of Communication and Dealing with Consumption Overload

We’ve all got a little bit of a problem.

We’re constantly connected.
Some of us are more connected than others.  Some of us value our connectivity over most everything else.  Some of us do not view this as a problem at all, but a gift.  A gift or by-product of our high levels of productivity.

A simply beautiful drive through the Rockies.

We carry our connectivity close to our hearts, in our shirt pockets, jeans pockets, attached to our ears and the constant ding of our in-boxes and rings of our smartphones make us feel wanted.  Needed.  Special.

But others loathe this constant connectivity.  Others view it as a curse of modernity.  A burden.  A chore.  Others see this constant tethering to our devices as a deterioration of our communities, of our ability to hold a conversation and the ultimate destruction of our society.

And others view this constant age of connection as a fracturing of our minds, a biological rewiring of our brains- never seen before in the history of our species.

Personally, I feel as though I’ve gone full circle in this age of connectivity.  In 1994, I almost failed a college course because I refused to retrieve my homework assignments using this new thing called “email” because you had to log in through the UNIX system (think MS DOS and dial-up) and it took too damn long and was insanely inefficient.  In my college days, if I wanted to see what my friends were up to, I walked over to their houses.  There were no cell phones and no one ever answered the land line.  I eventually evolved into a cell phone, but it took a while.

Then one sunny day 3 years ago, my five year old flip cell phone fell on the concrete and shattered.  Damn!  So I traipsed over to my carrier and took the leap into the world of the Crackberry.  At the time, I was juggling several major commercial multimedia jobs, helping teach classes at UNC and my in-boxes runneth over.

So, I went there.  And it was fabulous.

I felt on-top of things, in the loop, connected and productive.  That lasted for about a year.  Then I found myself rolling out of bed and grabbing the Crackberry to see what was happening in the world and in my inboxes- before I even brushed my teeth.

Does one really need to scroll the NYT first thing in the morning?

I found that my morning muse- the little voice that produces many of my articles, was being squashed by my need to address the flashing red light on my smartphone that told me someone wanted to communicate with me.

My smartphone was making me dumb.

So, I cut the cord.  It took a while.  I had that thing for two and a half years.  But I did it.  Done.

And though I was no longer coddling the Crackberry first thing in the morning, I was shifting my communication addiction to the social media beasts.  And yes, I was working and marketing and I value the connections I’ve made through social media to a great degree.  But I found myself flitting about obsessively on these outlets looking for information and connections that would further my work.

And I found them.  And I consumed.  Alot.  And now I’m tired.

Yes, my brain has reached its capacity for consuming information on the internet and all it really wants to do is read Harry Potter books and ponder the Tao of Abundance.  My internal hard drive is full.  And luckily I live in a town where I can now so easily cut the cord of communication and begin my recovery from my consumption overload/communication addiction.

Here’s a glimpse at the Detox.

I live in the highest town in the country now, and the internet is questionable.  I researched home internet access and the process was exhausting.  Then, we asked the plumber who was wedging himself into the crawl space under our house about the best option.  I mean, there are 3 satellite dishes attached to our rental home- which is all of 300 sq ft.

He said that the only one worth a damn has been down for about a month.  Apparently, the internet has a virus- or the tower does- or something insane like that.

So, I now hang out at the local bar at 9am because they have wifi, bottomless cups of coffee, pancakes bigger than my head and the local banter is priceless.  The morning chef now yells her greeting to us from the kitchen based on our breakfast order.  Love it!

I work until lunchtime, when the place starts to fill up and the booze begins to flow.  Some mornings the weed is fired up early too and the bar smells like Christmas.  That whole medicinal marijuana gig in Colorado is treating this town pretty well.  I had to check for an important email the other afternoon and figured I’d be OK, it’s only 3pm.  The bar was filling up and was getting rowdy by 4pm, so I had to quietly exit.

I now only check my email, Twitter/Facebook and RSS Feeds once a day (or every other day) for about 2 hours in the morning.
That’s it.  And there’s no real in-depth work being done in a bar, sorry, that’s just not gonna happen.

The anxiety of such a limited access to everything internet related was a little overwhelming at first.  I logically know that there’s nothing in my in-box that will implode my world if neglected and I know that such matters can wait until the next day- or a few days from now.  My clients who need to reach me have been informed of my schedule and they have my cell phone.

But there’s this fear of being out of the loop.  Fear of losing audience for the blog and all the hard work that has gone into her so far and there’s a fear that I’ll like this disconnection so much, I might not go back.

I spend more time walking my dog, taking in the amazing mountain views and reading.  I do my work when it needs to be done, but then there are these vast blocks of time that are free.  At first I thought I’d have to spend big money on a special wifi rig for my computer or get another smart phone.  But now, after a few weeks of this routine and surviving the digital detox, I don’t think that’s necessary.

I believe this cutting of the cord is a fabulous occurrence in my professional evolution.  The down-shifting back into life is a welcome transition.  And it feels nice.  I can move back into production mode, creativity mode and contemplation mode.

I’ll leave the communication mode on hold for now.  Communication will happen, as it should, but more on the 1994 terms of my youth, than the communication on steroids of my thirties.  And I believe the information consumption will stop for some time.  I have my choice outlets for consumption, but my frequent visits will occur no longer.

Welcome Free Time.  Hello Productivity.  Nice to see you again, Creativity.  It’s been too long, Contemplation.  Good to see you all again, I’ve missed you.

Organic Twitter Growth- Free of Pesticides, GMO & Growth Hormones

Like it or not, the Facebook redefined some core terminology regarding the basics of human relationships.  The Twitter took it one step further- redefining the actual dialogue structure and the sheer number of conversations a person can conduct in a day.

If you lived on this mountain in rural NC, Twitter might be a connection to the outside world!

Step back and process that for a second- the fundamental methods in which we define and interact with people throughout our day have undergone a metamorphosis brought about by a handful of genius Gen Y & X’ers, who- as The Social Network points out- might not be all that capable of quality relationships in the real world.

Real offline relationships still lie at the core of our society and the irreplaceable values of face to face interaction and true in-person conversations will never die.  But, in today’s world, it’s possible to take the conversation online and connect with people who you would not have interacted with 6 years ago- due in main part to geographic restrictions.

As my time online increases and I continue to make meaningful connections using social networks, I have to take a step back and look at the methods in which this online conversation occur and how to build a network that truly reflects who I am- in the “offline world”.

Work/Play Balance

The Internets, at least for me, serve the purpose of helping me build and promote my passion skills- my photography and writing.  If I had to categorize my online time, 85% of it is professional and the remaining time is spent catching up with my offline friends through online communications.  And, of course, grabbing the occasional episode of Greys on Hulu, should my Thursday evening have an unavoidable appointment.

My journey through social media has reflected this as well- my online community surfaced around my professional interests- photography, visual communications, writing and biz dev (I’m going to replace the term entrepreneurship with biz dev- business development b/c for the life of me I can not spell entrepreneurship- ever).  My networks are filled with people who have an interest in any of these areas.

A little playtime while the adults build a greenhouse at Maverick Farms, NC.

I try to keep the work/play balance to that ratio.  For if I begin to have my play time online, then my day would be spent completely in the online world- which can’t be healthy.  Unless you’re Steve Jobs or Bill Gates.

Building a Network

The other day I broke 500 followers on the Twitter.  Woo-hoo!  I felt rather special.  As I proudly tweeted my meager accomplishment a conversation ensued around building a network.  A fellow blogger who I communicate with rather regularly made the comment that he bet my number came about organically.  And well, it did.

If you build it...

But I’d never really thought too much about that.  He mentioned that he has used an auto follower to generate followers in the beginning of his Twitter building and wished he hadn’t done so.  I’d heard of such tools, but never used them.  In my beginning growth days, I would use the search twitter option and find people with similar interests and if they were posting interesting comments, I’d follow.  But after my growth started on its own, I stopped doing this.

So, my method for organic growth is rather simple. When someone follows me, a notification pops up in my email along with their avatar.  If they have a human face or an interesting logo, I click on their link and visit their page.  The next part is key- I see what they are saying!  I look for a balance of RTs, link posting with relevant copy and I see if they are having actual conversations with people.

If a happy balance of all three exists- then I follow back. If I stumble upon someone’s online content that kicks ass or is powerfully relevant- and their Twitter icon is on their page- I follow them as well.

Simple.  Natural.  Organic.

Picking out the weeds- one at a time!

Interaction

Interacting with your network is HUGE!  That’s the point, right?

But, there are ways to do this and ways to get your ass un-followed.  I really don’t un-follow people unless they are spammy, slimy or just incessantly posting things that I don’t interact with.  I try not to follow such types in the first place- hence the organic growth thing.

I lurked- for over a year- on Twitter before I dove in.  And then, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing or why it mattered.  I opened my Twitter account when it first came on the scene- and it sat dormant for a while.  This winter I fired it up when I launched the Storyteller- just seemed logical.  But I still didn’t use it right, I posted quotes, blog articles and a few RTs, but that was it.  And the actions were not a regular occurrence.

This summer I dove in headfirst.  I found people who were posting interesting questions and I answered.  I retweeted articles I felt could benefit others.  On occasion, I would just send a shout out to the person if I just spent an hour watching their keynote speech online or spent all evening with their podcasts.

I gave feedback on things that really had an impact on me and my biz perspective.  And a few of these shout outs gave interesting replies.  Conversations ensued and now we interact regularly.  In fact, I’ll be crossing paths with my online network in person this winter as I go on my western Walkabout.

That’s the power of the Twitter.  That’s why this shit really matters.  You’re building real relationships with real people using an online platform.

Building relationships, both offline and online, spreads a little joy in your life and hopefully some laughter too.

And as my blog and my network grows, people are reaching out to me in conversation and I just couldn’t be any happier about it! I love getting real feedback from people about my work and then I am able to engage with their work as well.  Which makes it all worthwhile.

So, to recap on this rambly Twitter article.

  • Organic growth on the Twitter can be the most rewarding because you are engaging in real conversations with real people.  Reflecting your offline interactions.
  • Choose your follows with a little bit of care. You don’t have to follow everyone who follows you.  If they look slimy or spammy don’t open the channels of communication.  If some creepy guy driving a chester-molester van slinks over to me in a parking lot and tries to strike up a conversation- I’m gonna politely walk away.  Same thing goes for the online world.
  • Don’t just look at the number of followers the person has- we all started off with one follower. But if they follow a gazillion people and don’t tweet anything, beware. Or if they are following a gazillion people and none are following them back- yet they are Tweeting their ass off- well, I smell a little spam in the air.
  • Don’t use auto-finders and auto responders on Twitter. Unless the sheer number of follows matters to your ego and your balls need that type of inflated support, just let your growth happen naturally.  As Twitter has evolved, so have it’s users.  So let your network find you and spend some time finding a network that reflects you, as a person.  And if you keep building fabulous content, people will find you!
  • Provide a valuable conversation. Just like in the real world, conduct your conversations as though you’re sharing a coffee with someone. Provide answers, ask questions, give information and provide a little moral support now and again.  People respond to real people- so keep it real and keep it interesting. It’s not all about your blog posts or your marketing.  It’s about everyone you interact with and their lives too.
  • Check your Mentions regularly and thank people, give them feedback and strike up the conversation. When I first started really using the Twitter, I sent a quick thanks to GaryVee to thank him for posting all those keynotes- they were quite inspiring.  And damn if he didn’t say a thanks back.  That’s impressive for someone with almost a million Twitter followers.  Same for Chris Guillebeau @ the AONC. He responds as well and I’m just amazed that these guys are able to devote their time in this manner to the people who engage with their content.  It truly speaks to the transparency and authenticity that is transforming business in the online (and hopefully the offline) world.

So, go forth, sow the seeds of conversation and Tweet.  Follow me on the Twitter, if you aren’t already, and let’s keep this party rollin’!

Getting the fields ready for the winter.

These images were taken during my time at UNC.  I was auditing an environmental justice class and as part of our service learning component, the class traveled to a small locally owned farm in the mountains of NC to help them complete projects and prepare for the winter.  Please visit Maverick Farms if you’re near Boone!  It’s both beautiful and delicious!


Ten Steps for Creating an Effective Blogging Workflow

We’re gonna embrace our inner Type-A personality, coddle our little methodical inner gnomes and examine one writer’s blogging workflow. My workflow, to be exact. Not trying to be a narcissist here, I just know my workflow and can explain it best. Yes, I’m biased.

We’re not exploring the creative side of the writing- each individual will have their own path to stir up the creative juju and produce brilliance- but the actual, step by step logistical process to writing.

Buckle up, put on your logical thinking cap and let’s dive in.

When I began writing my blog, I really didn’t have a system and hadn’t stumbled upon anyone elses writing system, so, I adapted my professional photography workflow when applicable and winged it when not. Through trial and error and 9 months of writing regularly my system seems to be working pretty well- when the writer’s block doesn’t take hold. But that’s an article for another time.

Step 1. Frolic with your Muse!

I venture out into the world to drum up my writing material. My blog, for the most part, is based on my personal interactions with people and places while traveling. I keep a moleskin journal handy and jot down notes, headlines or just vague concepts for my articles. This step will vary based on your topics, but be sure to recognize and embrace your creative muse and allow time and space in your writing routine to frolic with your muse.

My Creative Muse- People Watching!!

Step 2. Let the music flow.

Your style may differ, but I can not write without music. And not just background noise floating around all “Sound of Music” like, but serious, techno-style Moby/Thievery Corporation beats. Long songs, complex musical structures, few words and powerful rhythms. And no ordinary headphones will do.  You are entering the zone- hoping to be sucked down the rabbit hole into the vortex of your mind- you need professional grade, noise canceling headphones that immediately send you into a parallel universe. This is of the utmost importance if you work in public locations, like coffeeshops, for every screaming baby and steamed cup of milk will break your concentration and pull you back to reality.

Main point- respect and cultivate your writing environment and be sure you have the proper tools to tune out distractions.

Step 3. Enter the WriteRoom.

No, the WriteRoom isn’t some dark, dank writer’ cave tucked away on the shores of Walden Pond (though that wouldn’t be bad) WriteRoom is my computer’s happy place that sends me into the writing zone and, if I’m lucky, propels me into the Flow.

WriteRoom is a down-loadable computer application that, when opened, turns the entire computer screen black and your computer becomes a word processor- circa 1985. It’s gorgeous! The dock is gone, no icons are screaming for distractions and no birds are Tweeting or emails dinging. Nothing. Just a black screen, green awkward font and my thoughts. I actually can’t write without it. Pony up, spend the $30 bucks, buy the software and go to your Flow.

Brings back memories- how can you not love the 1985 word processors?

Step 4. Write.

Yea, that’s a no brainer, but not always an easy thing to do. If I know what I’m writing about, I type in the headline- or a rough draft of a headline- and then write. I do punctuate and capitalize, but some people frown upon this as it breaks the flow of your writing. It’s personal preference- I just do it naturally. I do not correct spelling while typing and I turn off all spell check notifiers. That Red Line is a deal-breaker in my book and you’d be wise to do the same. I suck at spelling, I get that, I’m OK with that character flaw and I don’t need a constant reminder of my inadequacies while I’m in writing Flow.

Now, if you are staring at a totally black screen and no words are coming out of your fingers, then just write gibberish. Write about what you ate for breakfast. Write about the dickhead that cut you off on the way to the coffeeshop then tossed his cigarette out the window. Write about the next door neighbor trimming the hedges in her silky nightgown yesterday morning while the old timer sat on his porch across the street taking it all in. Whatever- it matters not- just write. After some time, you’ll find an article or a theme starting to rear its little head. Encourage the little theme to surface, nurture it out into the open and let it morph into your article. And whatever you do, DON’T STOP WRITING. You’ll know when you’re done.

Step 5. Save it!

Again, no brainer. But really, save the document- usually in a text format. If you’re not using WriteRoom (shame on you) write this draft in a text document program. The lack of formatting and options helps the words flow out. I use a naming convention based on the date and a slug related to the topic (YYYYMMDD_SLUG.txt). The file is saved in a folder with the same naming convention and the folder lives in a Category Folder that reflects the categories on my blog. Here’s a screenshot if that last sentence sounded like Mandarin.

My Folder Structure. It works. Use it.

I’ve used this naming convention for years with photography and it’s a necessity. Why, you ask? Why the anal file naming convention, oh work-flow-nazi? Well, when you use the following naming convention- 20100822_WRITINGWORKFLOW.txt (and yes, it must look exactly like that- YYYYMMDD_SLUG ) then your files will automatically order themselves chronologically in your folders. And when you’ve been writing for months- or years- and are trying to scan through hundreds of articles to pull out an old post for your portfolio, you’ll know exactly where to find it.

Seriously, I can’t stress this enough, if you don’t organize your writing files, you’ll have a train-wreck and your blog and writing will suffer eventually.

Step 5. Copy and Paste.

Now, WriteRoom is not the best for editing and does not format your text, so copy the writing and paste it into your word processing program, such as Pages for Mac or Word. I save the file using the same naming convention as above, IN THE SAME FOLDER, and then I hit my trusty friend, the Spellcheck! I like to knock this out right away so I don’t start off my editing with a reminder of my character flaw. Save it, close your computer up and go get some sunshine.

Step 6. Edit.

After some substantial time away from your article, three to five hours at a minimum, return to your computer, open up the word document and start the editing process. Just like writing, everyone will edit differently. Some will harp on the AP Style, others will obsess about it’s versus its and others will just gut the piece like a red snapper fresh from the sea. One of my professors at journalism school, a brilliant writer and historian, would print out his articles and physically cut sections together and tape them back the way he wanted them to flow. He’s in his 70s, so he learned to edit before computers!

Know your voice, know your writing style and edit accordingly. I know that my voice is unique and my grammar blows- at least for my blog articles- but that’s a more natural, conversational tone that I strive to maintain when editing. I know that my voice can reflect my years of bartending and my discovery of Eddie Murphy’s Delirious at the tender ago of 13. My vulgar use of the English language is one reason I don’t have my mother proofread my articles (and yes, my mom is a professional proofreader).

Step 7. Re-read it! Read your article. Read it again. Go on, one more time.

Step 8. Format for the Web.

Go through your article and find any points in the writing that might be well-served by a few hyperlinks, find them on the web and paste them into the article next to the actual place you’d like to place the hyperlink. This little step saves you time once you’re entering your article into your blog platform and will keep you from flopping around on the internet like an ADHD 7 year old without your meds when you’re supposed to be focused on publishing.

Step 9. Photos and Graphics.
Choose your photos or graphics and add them to your folder with the articles. Be sure the pictures are formated for the web (a 72 DPI resolution and sized no bigger than 900 pixels wide) and, for the love of god, be sure you have permission to use them.

DO NOT grab a random photo off the internet and make it your own. Not only is this tacky, disrespectful to the photographer and just cheesy- it’s also illegal. Illegal to the tune of $125K per copyright violation. Just don’t go there. Use Flickr’s Creative Commons section for free photos (with attribution) or learn how to take your own photos.

And don’t use sucky photos. We’re a visual society and we take quality images for granted- meaning- your readers expect quality photographs and if they come to your site for the first time and see shitty pictures, your words might not be strong enough to keep their eyeballs on your site. OK, I shall step off the photographer’s soap box now.

Step 10. Send it to the Web.

Finally. We’re ready to publish!! Open up your admin panel for your blog, click the new post and copy and paste your text from the edited version into your article. Cut the hyperlinks and paste them into the Hyperlink dialogue box, add your photos in the appropriate spots and add whatever special excerpts, thumbnails and formatting your blog requires. Then, hit publish. Go on, don’t hesitate! You’ve gone through the steps, your writing is brilliant and people will love it! Go for it!

Are we done yet??

No. Time to let the world know your life-altering prose are available for them to consume.

Go to the Ping.fm , visit the Facebook, fly over to the Hootesuite and send your article out to the world. In 140 characters or less, tell the world why your article matters and why they need to read it. Use Hash Tags to get your article in front of the right eyeballs and let it fly!

One more thing- BACK UP YOUR WRITING. Yes, back up your blog folder structure on your computer to an external hard-drive and send it to the cloud.

Now, you’re done. Uncork some wine, pop open a beer, brew some tea, sit back and take in your work. Revel the accomplishment of a fabulous article sharing your unique knowledge with the world.

Go forth and write.

Finding your Workspace in a Sea of Neon- The Value of a Coffeeshop and its Reflection of a Community

Sad to say, I have returned to the land of neon and consumption.  Its bittersweet really, I’m with my mom and my dog, so I really have nothing to complain about.  But once I leave the little bubble of my mother’s home, I’m thrust into this daunting world of neon, big box stores, Wings and Eagles “everything here is made in China and you really don’t need it” stores and a plethora of fast food joints.  I am in Myrtle Beach and they don’t call it the “Redneck Riviera” for nothing.

So true!

So true!

After 4 days of searching in vain for a spot to work that meets my requirements, quiet- but not silent, has a sprinkling of character, locally owned, has decent espresso and is within a 5 mile radius of my current dwelling, I believe I may have found my squatting location. (Disclaimer here- My favorite Barista is probably reading this and she has by far the best coffeeshop on this island, but I burn through almost a quarter of a tank of gas to get to her place- I will be working there too- but can’t afford to make it a daily occurrence-Barb, if I could afford a place in your neck of the woods- you’d see me every morning!) Granted, this new spot isn’t 5 miles away, more like 8-10, but, its a compromise to keep my sanity.

On a mission this morning, I pulled up to the little house by the highway which is covered by artwork. I open my truck door and was greeted by a lovely older dog who seemed to say, “hello, welcome.” I opened the door to the shop and was greeted by another furry friend, a beautiful weimaraner.  He checked me out and said “welcome, your espresso is just over here.” Now I’m sitting in this old little house, sipping on my espresso (yes, Luca, I can not function without my espresso) which is also an art cooperative.  I’m tucked away in a little room in the back and surrounded by beautiful artwork and right next to a window and the four legged friend checks on me periodically.  I think I may have found my spot. I was beginning to feel like a caged animal with no close to home coffeeshop to save my sanity.

Ahh, yes, glad we have those thumbs.

Ahh, yes, glad we have those thumbs.

This brings me to an important point, even if it has taken three grafs to get to it.  If you’re a location independent professional or just a creative being, having your workspace is imperative. It’s not an option, its a necessity.  Like water, food and vitamins.  We must have it. And you have to know what you must have and what elements of your workspace you can compromise on when you land yourself in a non-conducive environment. Rural, southern, East Coast communities do not do espresso.  The only shops are run by folks who came from another location and brought their culture with them.  Obviously, that’s not a universal statement, but just my observation from living in communities like this for many years.  When you know you are entering an unfriendly work environment, what do you do?

Compromise. I know I have to have people milling about and socializing in order for me to be creative when working at a coffeeshop (also highly-recommended are a pair of quality, noise-canceling headphones.  Helps turn any noisy establishment into your private writing studio).  I’ve tried libraries, I really have, but there’s something so sterile and controlled about these workplaces that just doesn’t stir the creative juju. In an act of desperation, I went to the local library yesterday, took one look around and walked out.  Not an ounce of beauty, serenity or even comfortable workspaces.  But, I ventured over to the Atlanta Bread Company and accomplished some meaningful, paying, work while watching people order bagels all day.  I normally don’t work in places like this, but I had to compromise or miss a few deadlines.

Character.  A place must have character.  Some artwork on the walls, comfortable furniture that reflects the owner’s tastes, dogs, a good color palette and some decent lighting.  Ambiance is a necessity. Prior to my friend purchasing the coffeeshop in the next town, the owners had decorated the walls with overt religious symbols and played christian music all day long.  While I feel we all have the right to whatever religion floats our boat, I got the heebie-jeebies every time I went there and had to sit at the table underneath the concrete ten commandments.  I had to do a mental check and be sure I’d been a decent human being that morning so those damn tablets wouldn’t fall onto my table and crush my computer. The irony would have been well received though.  My friend took over, painted the walls and added her own personal touch.  And while she is a woman of faith, she created an environment that is calming and welcome to all.  Thanks lady!

While on the topic of character, sometimes, the character can just be the people who frequent the coffeeshop.  While in Richmond, I spent many an hour at this fabulous coffeeshop in the city and the regulars were wonderful.  A group of 4-6 men would gather everyday, sit on the porch and read the paper, debate the headlines and talk about their latest endeavors.  After some time, they welcomed me into their circle and I would spend my mornings listening to their conversations.  Fascinating.  My recent espresso office in Quartzsite had a slew of characters.  Granted, the building had lots of character- I mean, if you were over 100 years old, you’d have character too.  But it was not your ideal urban coffee establishment- the espresso came in a packet and hold onto your hats if you order a cappuccino.  But the people were wonderful.  They had drama, they had a bone to pick with each other, they had children and lovers wearing guns wandering about and the occasional soap opera would be on the TV some afternoons.  They had character, which made going there an interesting endeavor.  I never knew what I would find when I walked up to the front door, new friends, crazy drunk musicians or shiny new Airstreams.  Random is wonderful.

Quality Drinks.  Yep, this is a big one.  Having quality espresso is a must, I drink it straight, so it can’t taste like ass.  Now, sometimes I’ll compromise on this, if I have to, but it is imperative.  I need that jolt of espresso to get my fingers flying over the keyboard.  I enjoy that burst of energy that creates the words I publish. (Ask a friend about those novel length emails that happen after my morning espresso- hilarious) And, for those times when I need to drag out the caffeine wave, a quality, yummy soy latte is a god-send.  During the walkabout, spending time in the Northwest was this coffeeshop hound’s wet dream.  Seriously, they have the coffee culture down to a science.  Even Walla Walla, which is not the haven of the liberal, progressive coffee culture, had an wonderful, warm coffeeshop that was filled with people at all hours.  In fact, this blog was born while sitting at the bar in that coffeeshop that faced the streets of Walla Walla.  Staring out the window is always an inspiring activity.

Community.  Coffeeshops should, in a perfect world, be the hub of a community. One of my areas of documentation is communities, and I am totally enthralled with the concept of the “Third Place”.  One of my mentors at UNC told me about the concept and recommended the book “The Great Good Place” and I have always tried to find the third place in a community to get the feel of that community’s soul. The third place refers to the community gathering locations that people incorporate in their daily lives.  The first place is home, the second place is work and the third place is the gathering spot.  Think of Cheers.  Same thing.  And I believe that the coffeeshops are a reflection of the community’s soul.  What does it say about the area I’m currently staying in that the only good coffeeshops, the only coffeeshops period, are at least a 20-30 minute drive?  Speaks volumes.

Well, I believe I’ve made my point.  If you’re a traveling professional or a vagabond artist, always know how to find your workplace and just how many compromises you’re willing to make to be in a certain location.  And, regardless of what you do and where you work, find your locally owned coffeeshop and support it.  Get to know your barista and make a personal connection over the art of caffeine.

A new workplace!

A new workplace!

7 Essential Equipment Needs for the Nomadic Digital Photographer & Storyteller

I’ll be placing my digital nomadic visual journalist hat on for this entry.  Whew, a mouthful.

Packing is an art-form and for the digital storyteller, packing is one part art, one part physics and one part miracle.  Anyone who has had to sprint through the Atlanta concourse lugging 40+ pounds of gear in order to catch the last connecting flight home after 4 days of flying from the far reaches of the world can attest to the essential art of packing.

Carrying a Heavy Load in Sangihe, Indonesia

Carrying a Heavy Load in Sangihe, Indonesia

I’m going to look at the essential hardware elements needed to produce your visual content on the road, with weight and space as major elements of concern.

1.  The Still Camera. Obviously, this is one of the most important parts.  Let’s assume that you don’t have the shiny new 5D Mark II which makes this a non-issue. Are you more of a videographer and less of a still photographer?  Then lugging your DSLR might not be the best option for you.  Leica (go to the site and drool, just a little) and Canon both have excellent point and shoot hybrid cameras that can meet your multimedia needs without having to lug the DSLR and all her lenses around in your travels.  The more non-essential elements you can compress into one device, both in size and usability the better.

But for the DSLR shooter whose work is heavily weighted in still photography, the essential hardware will entail the camera (Captain obvious here) a wide zoom and a telephoto.  Or, if you’re shooting heavily for editorial outlets, you’ll want two bodies for each main lens.  Two bodies, a 16-35 mm zoom and 70-200 mm zoom and one portrait lens should do; plus batteries a flash and more batteries. That should fill your bags and your weight limit.  Add your laptop and you’re looking at 40+ lb.  At this point, you’ll want to debate the merits of shooting video as well and the size of your audio equipment.  Or arrange a porter/Sherpa for your destination- not likely.

I often have this camera debate, as I am conflicted when it comes to my DSLR.  I would prefer to shoot my still digital images with one camera at a fixed focal length of 28 mm.  The technology is almost at an acceptable level with the higher end point and shoots and smaller 4/3rds SLR cameras that this goal of one small multimedia device is almost attainable for me.  I would prefer to shift my limited weight capacity and space for my film SLR, my 28 mm and 20-50 rolls of BW film.
2.  The Video Gear. Assuming you’re shooting heavily on the stills, I’d stick to a small consumer camcorder that shoots HD.

I use a Canon Vixia HV30 that shoots on HD tapes and it fits well in my bag and is very light.  I am about to use this for stills as well and test out its ability to shoot small short form street multimedia videos (the Crackberry is only so fulfilling as a multimedia tool).  This topic is open for debate as is its still camera brethren.  If you are a heavy video shooter, you’re video gear will go beyond the scope of this article and you may not have any room left for all the fancy still gear from the above point.

3.  The Audio Kit. This, for me, is almost as essential as the still camera.  If you are a heavy still shooter, you can almost eliminate or minimize the video footage as long as you have excellent audio gear.  Audio is key.  Because no, you can’t just slap some music to your documentary images and have a story.  You need to put the audience in the room with your subject.  And this is done through sounds and the subject’s own words.

Marantz is still one of the best audio device producers with the Olympus Zoom running closely behind.  I have worked with both of the Marantz devices used by most journalists today and chose to invest in the smallest version.  Its not perfect, but the size is.  You will also want some excellent headphones and a shotgun mic.  These are not cheap and they take up valuable space, but they are essential to capturing quality audio.  I always bring two backup XLR cords plus adapters and a cheap backup mic.  And if I’m traveling to the remote jungles of Indonesia, I bring a backup Sony MD recorder.  Just in case.  Seriously, if you’re a multimedia storyteller and you don’t have the audio, you don’t have a story.  No, narration is not an option.  Well, it is, but not the best option.  Your subjects trusted you to tell their story, don’t screw it up by botching the audio.  Enough said.

4.  The Laptop. Essential.  Essential.  Essential.  PC vs. Mac.  Two years ago, I would have said there was no question, but with the advent of the PC net books, I am revisiting the issue.

This all depends on the type of content you are gathering and if you’ll be producing on the road or just downloading the content to your external devices.  If you are producing video or want to work at all with video/audio content, then the Mac is essential.  Net books are great in size, but they don’t have the power for serious processing and obviously can’t run Final Cut.  Mac has reissued the smaller Macbook Pro, so that’s a plus, but they aren’t entering the net book realm, yet.  Besides, could you imagine trying to edit video on an eight inch screen?  I piss and moan when I have to edit without my second monitor, the thought of an eight inch screen makes my eyeballs hurt.  But, the thought of writing in a coffee shop on a tiny little laptop that fits in my hip bag- heavenly!

5.  Backup Storage. Another necessity!!  You must have backups for your backups.  I can’t stress this enough.  Here’s a snapshot of my digital workflow on the road and why backup is essential.

After I upload the images to Lightroom, I export them to my external hard drive.  I use a Lacie Rugged. No, you can not use your normal external desktop hard drive.  It is not meant for backpacks and hostels and will crash and burn with all your content inside.  Poof, gone.  After the content is on the Rugged, I take the top edit and export it to my thumbnail 8 gig flash drive and put it in a separate bag from the rest of my gear.  This contains only the top edit due to the size of the drive.  I then take the top edit and second edit, and depending on the internet speed of the country I’m in, I upload it to my Photoshelter account and/or my Box.net server.  This is backup for my backup.  Once the images are in the ‘cloud’ I can sleep.  If my gear is stolen or dropped in a raging Himalayan river, my images are safe in the arms of the internet.  If internet speed is a problem, I burn DVDs of the top edits and mail them home.  Yes, its anal, I get that, but I’m not traveling across the world, risking my sanity to tell a story and then lose all the images because of human error.

6.  A Bag.  Or two.  I daydream and concoct elaborate schemes to cary all the above gear in one rolling bag that converts to a backpack.  Good luck with that.  I envy the flash-packers and would love nothing more than to toss a couple shirts and pants into a backpack with a net book and call it done.  But that’s not going to happen.

I use Think Tank, love them, love their work and they make my life easier.  I am currently using the Urban Disguise 50 that holds my still, video and audio gear along with my laptop.  Its a tight squeeze, but it fits.  I also use their hip belt with a few bags connected for shooting in the field.  I try not to check bags on overseas flights, so this gets a little dicey when it comes time to pack.  I usually spend between 5-8 hours packing, repacking and analyzing every item in my bag and its relevance 48 hours before departure.  The timing also gives me time to make any last minute major equipment adjustments.  I am still reevaluating my approach and my shooting methods in order to keep the bag as light as possible.  Its a never ending process, but with advancing technology, the chore gets a little easier each year.

7.  Moleskins. Yep, Moleskins journals are essential and I never leave home without them.  Not even to go to the grocery store.

You never know when a story will cross your path, so a moleskin is just as important as the camera.  And there’s nothing more exciting then embarking on a journey with 2-3 blank journals just waiting to be filled with your brainstorms and brilliant ideas.  And don’t forget your lucky pen.  You know you have one, the pen that just feels good and inspires greatness.  Bring it.  The chewed up pen from the hostel front desk won’t do your Moleskin justice.

I’m sure I’m leaving out a few essentials and there are 1000 ways to pack for a digital storyteller.  This is just my way.  I will be revisiting this topic often in the near future!

Feel free to post your essentials below!