Brown Daughters, White Dad

colored beads

My wife went to the library last week and checked out a ton of books about Martin Luther King, Jr. in preparation for Martin Luther King Day. This past weekend I read one of these stories each evening to my kids. It was such a profound experience for me to watch them absorb the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. It was profound and kinda heartbreaking, especially watching my two girls (both are five). When I got to the part where Martin (as the story lovingly refers to him) gets shot, all eyes and mouths at the table were open and full of shock. I felt like this was the first time that my girls connected with how deeply hatred for a person’s skin color can run.

If you didn’t know, my daughters are both African American. And I’m just a white dude.

I used to work for a foster agency where I trained incoming foster families. In that training there was a self reflection exercise I would take everyone through. I gave each person a bowl of various colored beads and wrote on a pad what each color represented (white for Caucasian, black for African American, green for Asia/Pacific, red for American Indian, etc.). Then I would ask a series of questions and for each answer the participants would pick a bead that best represented their answer. The questions went like this:

1. What race are you?

2. What is the race of your family?

3. My coworkers where I work are mostly ______?

4. My closest friend is _______?

5. The actors in movies I prefer are mostly______.

It goes on for quite a while. If you want to do this Bead Racial Awareness Exercise, I would encourage it. Almost everyone I took through the exercise were surprised by the results. When I took it the first time I was pretty floored. In all the times I hosted this exercise one thing stood out: everyone’s cup was overwhelmingly filled with beads of their own race. It didn’t matter which race the person was. Their cup looked like them.

The thing is, my classes weren’t full of racist people. The majority of them were even open to lovingly take care of a child of any race. They wanted to be racially diverse. They thought they were racially diverse. But their cups told them a different story, a story that made them uncomfortable.

The sad thing for me is that if I were to take this test today, the results would not be much different from the first time I took it. My cup is still painfully homogenous.

Race has been an ongoing discussion in our home, but especially in this past year. Partly because our girls are getting older, partly because there have been so many stories around the globe concerning race this past year. We have had discussions with all of our kids about discrimination, trying to prepare them so that when they see it (or experience it) they will be brave and proud and compassionate and not let the hate of others define who they see themselves as. But it’s not easy to convey the culture of a race that I’m not a part of myself.

I know I can’t keep racism from the lives of my kids (although I do have this dream of moving to Europe where the climate for race seems to be different, not perfect but different). My goal isn’t to shield them from the bad things of this world. But I want them to be surrounded by opportunities to see themselves in the people around them so that they can dream about their own lives with confidence. By seeing people you identify with doing things you think are incredible you begin to feel that you can be incredible too. I want that for them so badly.

As the father of a transracial family I can’t afford to be complacent about this, I can’t have a homogenous cup. My dream is that my little girls would grow up in a place where they can find heroes in our everyday life who look like them. Let me be clear, I am not saying that they should only look up to people that look like them, but I’m saying I want heroes who look like them to be available – and that’s not going to happen if I don’t make a life for them that is full of diversity.

My cup of beads that has so many white beads doesn’t mean I’m racist, but it does mean I lack diversity. Also, the fact that there is so little change in that cup over the past few years may also mean this: I’m a bit lazy when it comes to pursuing racial diversity. Maybe even uncomfortable. But regardless of the inner hurtle that is within me, I have to make the jump. I’m responsible for these little lives and I can’t let them down.

This morning I’ve been thinking of Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. It’s made me ask, ‘What is my dream?’ My dream is that Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream become real. I dream that my kids would grow up to be people who dare to dream and feel that their dream is possible and work to make it happen.

Photo by Anne.

Blog Workshop Done – Time to Celebrate

party lights and streamers

Day 10 of #10daysbetterblog: Reflection

It’s amazing how good you can feel when you reach a goal, however small. With this post I am reaching the completion of my first New Year’s resolution: complete a 10 day blogging/writing workshop. I feel proud and grateful.

I recognize the past ten posts aren’t amazing content, but the act of getting them done is what I am celebrating. My main goal through these posts was to get into the habit of writing. Over the past couple of weeks since I have wrestled with why I want to write, how to optimize my writing space and even looked at analytics to figure out the most popular posts from 2014. I even revisited my About page in the process. Again, not stellar stuff individually, but altogether it’s really given me a sense of foundation for where I want to take this blog (and my own writing). It’s also given me the confidence to believe I can do it. And that’s really exciting.

Some highlights for me during this workshop:

-I came to terms with the fact that the only way I’m going to be able to write productively long term is to start writing early in the morning, and on Day #9, I did.

-Writing in the past has felt like labor, with me sitting on posts for a week or two taking time to edit, perfectionize, etc. At the end of these 10 posts I’ve been able to get a post done and published in under 2 hours.

-My biggest blogging fear is finding that I really don’t have anything to write about. After this course I’ve identified several courses of direction that I’m excited to explore.

-You don’t have to write about just one thing. I’ve been afraid to branch out about other aspects of life that I thought were ‘off topic’, but now I feel like that just makes the telling more interesting, more human.

While these realizations may seem small, the real value is the process. Great things have humble beginnings, right?

If you are thinking about writing or getting back into it like myself, I would highly recommend taking the 10daysbetterblog course. It’s well thought out and strikes a great balance between pushing you and encouraging you. It’s free and there is a supportive community of writers that all know how difficult writing can be.

Photo by Eric.

Learning to Swallow The Fear, and Not Choke On It

Homeless Sofa

Day 10 of #10daysbetterblog workshop – Open Writing

Today I get to write about anything I want to so I thought I would share what’s been on my mind lately: swallowing.

In specific, swallowing the fear of failure.

Yesterday was a kind of a bruiser at work. I was tackling an assignment for an organization’s website that really needs a reworking of it’s navigation. After coming up with a solution with the designer it was time to implement. Everything was going great, until it wasn’t. It’s amazing how the biggest problems in coding can involve some of the smallest elements. In my case, it was a 15 pixel wide triangle that would just not display the way I wanted. I hacked at it with such intensity that it should have cowered at my mere ferocity and bent to my will. But of course that didn’t happen. I decided that help was needed and asked for one of the more seasoned front-end developers to take a look, but after he used his own brand of ferocity the results were the same.

That little 15 pixel triangle was giving us both the finger.

And as time passed on during this event I started to notice something in me physically: discouragement. It is a feeling that I have felt many a time. I felt like I was small, at the beginning of a long journey with so much to learn still before me. And then of course come the questions of doubt like ‘What if I don’t figure this out?’ or ‘What if I fail?’ And then any number of visual story lines pop into my head that somehow always end up with me living out of a van down by the river.

Traffic sign 'Die Ahead'
Photo by Lucas (https://www.flickr.com/photos/cobblucas/)

And that’s the moment when I have to deliberately swallow. I gotta swallow that fear before I choke on it.

The thing is, I am at the beginning of my journey and I do have a ton to learn. But then, that’s the status quo for this field. No matter how much you know about web development there is always a whole section of it that you haven’t even touched. I’ve also seen developers with years of experience get that same look in their eye of fear when faced with a problem that is particularly knotty. It’s part of the process. Necessity is the mother of invention, right? So desperation must be the mean uncle who yells too much.

Another thing, you have to take a step back and make sure you understand the real problem. Most solutions are not limited to being a 15 pixel triangle. Almost all the problems you deal with in web development are at their core people centric. It’s not that important that we have a triangle but it is important that people know intuitively which page they are when they glance at the navigation items. A better defined problem can offer up several solutions.  Which can also help one to swallow.

Photo by Nick.

Goals for 2015 – New Beginnings

Basketball goal with clouds in background

Day 8 of #10daysbetterblog workshop: Goals

In the past I’ve been a pretty horrible New Year’s Resolution-izer. Like terrible. My wife and I have this tradition of writing letters to ourselves on New Year’s Eve. On New Year’s Day we open the letter to ourselves that we wrote the previous year. I can’t tell you how many ‘letters to myself’ I have written and can’t even find the next year. There’s probably a whole crap load of letters stuffed under a couch cushion or at the bottom of a box marked ‘china’. Who knows.

But for some reason, i.e. I’m getting older, I have decided that 2015 is the year I’m gonna gonna give it try. Having a sense of direction and some sort of deliberate goal for your own self growth sounds like a mature thing to do. I also find that I’m really kind of hungry to do it. In years past whenever I thought of writing down personal goals I just kind of rolled my eyes internally. Not because I thought they were stupid, but more because for the last few years we’ve been riding the struggle bus and getting through serial crisis after another was about all I had energy for. But now it feels like we are starting to see some stability and I want to capitalize on that.

Taking this 10 day online workshop was one of my goals, to help me kickstart my writing again. Now to go a little further.

Goals for 2015 on ColorTurtle:

1. Post 3 times per week

2. Write a series on the relationship between design & human behavior

3. Write a series on what I’m learning about CSS (biggest unexpected learning curve when I started my new position)

4. Publish 3 Interview posts with people in my field

And if you’re interested…

Other Goals for 2015:

1. Get my personal business off the ground (considering a couple of models, more details later)

2. Run a 5K (using From Couch to 5K – because when the zombie apocalypse comes, I want to be faster than them)

3. Develop a habit with my wife of asking ourselves every night, “How did we connect with each of our kids today?”

4. Get a mentor (professionally speaking)

I’m a little cautious about putting these goals out for all the world to see. I’m pretty sure I’m not gonna reach all of them (although I’ve tried to be realistic about them, seeing as I’ve never done this before I expect to get some bumps and bruises my first time). Failing, let alone failing publicly, is not something I’ve been too crazy about. But then again, anything worth doing tends to feel slightly impossible anyway… right? At least at first.

Photo by Nolan.

Who The Heck Is Reading This Anyway?

Man drinking coffee while reading from a laptop

Day 7 of #10daysbetterblog – Analytics

Today’s assignment was to install analytics and publish a list of your top posts. As I have already done that (I accidentally skipped ahead), I thought I would just dig a little deeper into who actually is looking at my blog (at least as much as you can learn from Google Analytics). I don’t want to be too intrusive to those who read this blog, but I do think its good for me to know a little more about my audience.

As I looked over the traffic that came to my blog and which posts were the most read, I also looked at the overall traffic to my site and noticed a few things.

1. The days where traffic spiked most were the days I shared my posts on social media (to people I know).

2. The blog posts that were read most were also the most personally significant to me.

That leads me to a significant conclusion: this blog is only being read by my relatives. 

Just kidding. Sort of. I’m probably also getting a couple of friends here and there. I bet there is a handful of people I don’t know that are reading, but my point is that most people reading this are those whom I have a personal connection with. And I’m okay with that. In fact, I’m really grateful that people I know would take an interest.

On the flip side, I also want to be writing things that people (more that just my relatives) find useful and helpful. I’m not looking to make a full-time income by being a daddy blogger or anything. I just want to write something that’s impactful/meaningful, whatever that may be.

So in 2015, not only do I need to set the bar higher for my frequency of writing, but I also need to raise the bar for the level of content I write. This already feels like a challenge as so often I have been writing these posts just barely under the wire at the very end of the day. How on earth am I going to write something meaningful when I struggle just to write what’s on mind (with an awesome guided blog workshop to help me along)? I have no idea, but I just have to do it. I at least have to try. More than likely most of what I publish won’t be very good… but maybe this time next year it will be at least a little better than it is now.

Photo by AndYaDontStop.

Giving my ‘About’ a Refresh

Maid cleaning by Banksy

Day 6 of #10daysbetterblog workshop – the About Page

Spring cleaning one’s About page seems like a good idea, and after doing it myself I think I need to do it yearly. It’s strange how much perspective you can get in that time and how much you (and your writing) can evolve.

Here’s a few things I changed:

1. The whole feel. Honestly, I was a little embarrassed reading it. It sounded so cheesy and not me. So I scrapped 95% of it and rewrote it.

2. Updated my picture. The one I had before didn’t even show you my whole face. I know when I go to someones about page I expect to see them, not just a quarter of their face.

3. Updated my content. When I originally wrote my About page I was interested in UX design, but since then I find that I really want to grow as a coder and a designer. I love seeing beautiful code and being able to think through the entire experience on the web (from both an aesthetic and programmatic point of view). Also, this blog is no longer about me finding a job (I have that now). It’s more about me becoming a great programmer/designer.

I decided to sleep during my regularly scheduled writing time to gotta move on and keep this gravy train going.

Photo by Dan.

The 5 Most Notable Moments From 2014

In The Inbetween

Day 3 of #10daysbetterbloggin: reflect on your past posts

It makes sense to me that in order to learn and walk towards a better future it’s helpful to spend some time looking at the past. In terms of writing, I found that in 2014, I published a total of 18 blog posts. Most of those were documenting my time at The Iron Yard. Today’s writing assignment is actually kind of timely. With this unusually cold weather going on down in Texas I am reminded of my time in South Carolina. Last January I was moving into a tiny apartment, missing my family and the warm weather of the south. This year I’m still cold, but so grateful to be with my family. So much has happened in 2014, not the least of which was publishing 18 blog posts (plus a guest post on another blog). For me, that’s a record which I plan to break in 2015. But before I look too far in the future I want to take a look at what posts were most popular this past year. As I took a gander at Google Analytics I found that the post that got the most reads were also the ones most meaningful to me.

#5. 12 Weeks of Code: Week 4 > Confessions of a Failure

12 Weeks of Code.Week3 - Embracing Failure

This was kind of a ‘come-to-Jesus’ moment for me. It was towards the beginning of the my time at The Iron Yard and it was nothing less than the most challenging thing I’d ever done. I was totally scared but completely determined… and I couldn’t help but wonder why I had waited so long to take such an important risk. It’s painful when you realize how much you’ve missed out on because of your own insecurity… but good medicine.

 

4. 2013: Part 2

Man jumping off a cliff

This was my last post before moving off to the wild yonder of South Carolina. So much change and risk was before me. It was a huge gamble and I’m so grateful that it has worked out.

3. Got A Job

Finally made it to employment

I’m noticing that my titles don’t really leave much to the imagination. This one was a big one for me. I mean, I had just spent 12 weeks away from my family, with no income, all in hopes that I would be able to get a position in a completely different field. That’s 12 posts all leading up to this one.

2. 12 Weeks of Code: Week 1

12 Weeks of Code: Week 1

Again, the title kind of says it all. So many questions and uncertainty. I was about to be tested and hoped that I had the strength, wit, humor, determination and coffee that I needed to succeed.

1. 12 Weeks of Code: Week 12 > Epic Finish

12 Weeks of Code. Week 12

Elated. I mean seriously, I was so freakin’ proud. Kinda’ still worried about finding a job, but so proud. I don’t know if I thought of myself as a legit developer yet, but I definitely felt like a hacker on my way to becoming a professional developer.

It’s kind of fun to see these five posts again and to put them all in one place and be able to say ‘I wrote these’. It gives me a sense of accomplishment.

I also see that as a writer, structure is such a big deal for me. While attending the 12 week course I wrote every week about what I was learning. When I got out the course my consistency in writing fizzled out pretty quickly. The challenge I see for 2015 is in coming up with my own structure and self discipline to encourage my writing. I still feel like I need to do some more soul searching to narrow what I want to write about. But in the mean time, I’m going to take a moment and just feel good about what I’ve accomplished already… maybe I’ll even wake up early, turn on the Christmas lights over our dining table and write about it.

My Ideal Place To Write

Christmas Lights

Day 3 of 10 Days to A Better Blog Workshop…

I’ve been writing on this blog for a couple of years now (albeit inconsistent) and I have never given much thought about the actual environment I am in while I am writing. Mostly I bounce between coffee shops and home. In fact, I’m at a coffee shop right now as I write this and I have come to realize something.

Coffee shops are a horrible place for me to write.

There’s just so much going on. I love to people watch and right now there are some seriously weird/interesting people sipping some sort of lattes. This other guy dressed like an artist is talking really loudly about a recent interview he had. There’s a couple sitting a few tables over. The guy is dressed really nice, laughing a little awkwardly and maintaining a very uncomfortable looking posture… first date? … job interview?  Job interview. Definitely a job interview.

See what I mean? Too many distractions.

The last few posts I’ve finished were written at my dinner table, late at night. It really seemed to help. Just me, quietly typing in the soft glow of the Christmas lights we have hanging above our table. It’s been encouraging to see how quickly I’ve been able to churn something out and also a little revealing. Is my increase in productivity due to the fact that I am in a quiet environment? Could it be the Christmas lights? There’s no denying that my environment affects me, even when I’m not writing. So it makes sense that I should put a little thought into what really works for me, so here goes.

My Ideal Writing Environment:

1. Alone time. This is a luxury at our home so I’m going to have to work hard to figure that out, but there is nothing like sitting in a quiet room to sift through ones thoughts. I know that probably sounds pretty obvious, but my pace of life right now is full of noise and activity just about every minute of the day. Writing late at night has been working so far, but then it’s hard to go to sleep afterward… my brain is still buzzing. Ideally, early mornings would be great… I’ve just never been good at waking up in enough time. Basically I would have to be done by 6am because after that my kids develop bionic ears and even a door creaking can wake them up.

2. A dark room. I think I have some ADD tendencies or something. If the lights are on, I really seem to wander. I feel like the times I have done the most concentrated writing have been a dimly lit room where my laptop is the brightest source of light. For some reason, a darkened room feels more focussing to me.

3. A clutter free area. If it’s dirty I gotta clean it up. Even if I don’t, the fact that I’m going to have to clean it up later will eat at my brain, possibly distracting me further. I like to have a clear space for my arms and elbows.

4. A variety of seating. I like to move around a lot, especially when I get stuck. It’s totally mental, but when I move only 5 feet to a different chair somehow I feel like I’ve shaken up the snow globe in my brain and that maybe things will settle down in a different way that may help me through a block.

5. There must be coffee. A friend of mine calls it ‘liquid motivation’. That distinct aroma is the smell of productivity. Note to self: another reason why writing in the morning would be better.

6. There must be Christmas lights. Christmas lights have always given me a warm, fuzzy feeling. The first time I met someone who used Christmas lights as a regular part of their home decor was in my first year of marriage. We lived across the street from a lesbian couple, one of whom was a sculpture artist. They invited us over to their New Year’s Eve party, a 1930’s Murder Mystery Party. It may have been our best New Year’s ever. They used Christmas lights to light up their front porch. And now I have come to this realization: Christmas lights = fodder for creativity.

That’s all I can think of right now, but now that my gears are moving I am going to keep pondering on this. These are the six things I’m starting with. Now that I’m aware of the effects of my environment on my writing I’m pretty stoked to see how to use that more thoughtfully.

Photo by Thomas.

Why I Blog

Picture of a journal

10 Days to A Better Blog Workshop – Day 2

When I was working on my undergraduate at University of North Texas, one of my absolute favorite classes was Modern Southern Literature. It had nothing to do with my major (Psychology) but the stories were amazing. That’s where I first read one of my all time favorite short story authors, Flannery O’Connor. My view of writing was significantly shaped by something she once said:

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”

-Flannery O’Connor

From that point on I have viewed writing as a pursuit to become a more consistent and better human being. Writing became a means to an end… a journey. Personally, I just wasn’t sure that I had what it takes to take that journey.

When I started this blog, I was trying to crack into a new professional field and wanted to leverage it as a way to meet new people and share what I learned along the way. A year ago, my purpose became focused on sharing my time at a 12 week intensive front-end development program, and afterwards my attempt at finding a job. Now, I have completed the school and I have a job I love. I say all of that because at this point in time, I think the biggest purpose I have for blogging is to figure out my ‘why’.  I have the job, got the education… so, now what? Honestly, I’m not sure. I feel like an astronaut floating around in my own head, looking for something solid to grab onto.

So, my main goal for blogging as of today: Figure out what I’m most passionate about… figure out my ‘why’.

I have ideas that I have been thinking about, questions I want to explore… but at times it feels like have too many interests… too many options to write about. I’m not an expert in web design and it’s effects on human behavior, but I am fascinated by their connection. I struggle daily with the balance of being an income provider, a husband and a father to 4 kids (several of whom have special needs). I desperately long to be part of something bigger than myself and make a real dent in the world that makes things better (like end world hunger kind of level). I want to become a better programmer and I have so much I can learn. And then I have days when all I want to do in the evening is eat too much and watch a dumb movie. Doesn’t that sound as directionless out loud as it feels?

My hope is that through blogging and sharing my thoughts and ideas about some of these things that are floating around in my head that I can get some footing on my own views on life, spirituality, parenthood, coding and the human existence. I hope to figure out what topic I’m passionate about and wrestle with it, and discover some questions that I might be surprised that I don’t have answers to. To believe what I say and say what I believe (and realize when I’m being a heartless, disconnected idiot and change my view on that particular subject). Like I said before… a journey to grow into a more consistent human being… a better human being.

If you want to start your own 10 day blogging journey, sign up for the same workshop I did here.

Photo by Palo.

Hey 2015 – Let’s Do This

Parachute Post

After months of considering how to best restart this blog I came to the realization that there are no perfect starts. Perfect starts never get published. Also, waiting for the perfect start doesn’t really help sharpen my mind. I have this terrible fear that I’m going to write something completely stupid but won’t recognize it until after I hit ‘publish’. I’m so afraid of that that I was willing to not write anything, not move forward, for months. I have rewritten this inaugural post like 17 times. But it didn’t matter because I never shared any of those versions. Just quiet nothings that I have now been forgotten and so I never grew from them.

Welp, bring on the growth.

To help encourage me to stick with it, I have signed up for a 10 day course (10 Days to a Better Blog) put together by the prolific John Saddington. I first heard this guy speak when I was a student at the Iron Yard. Come to think of it, it was almost a year ago exactly when I first met him at an introductory mixer to meet my fellow classmates. We met at beer bar, all of us complete strangers, unsure of how the next 12 weeks were going to play out. I remember sharing a beer with this guy and thinking three things:

1. This guy cusses like a sailor

2. He’s freakin’ hilarious

3. He’s a genius energizer bunny kinda’ guy

All that to say, I really respect him and keeping in mind that he’s been blogging for 14 years I trust what he has to say on the subject.

So, this is Day 1. Nine more to go, and hopefully after that I can establish a new habit.

I feel like I should say something about why I’m doing this, just so I can get it out there and have something to come back to when the writing gets harder. My desire is to become a better thinker. I want to be able to express my thoughts and think more critically about things. I also want to get in the habit of saying things out loud. I tend to keep a lot of my thoughts inside… like the other day I wanted to paint something for one of my girls. I filed the thought away and didn’t do anything with it. Now, I have no idea what it was. Opportunity missed. I don’t want to live a passive life. I want to Carpe Diem. I also have 4 little ones that I desperately want to help become Carpe Diemers. I’m responsible for grooming these little human beings. Gotta live by example.

Peace out.

Also, I love this poster. If you do too, you can buy it here.

Poster - 'Carpe That Fucking Diem'

 Photo by Julian.