Caturday Quickies: The certification run

This past week, I travelled to Chatham to deliver yet one more session of Business Writing Made Easy.  The critical difference this time?  I was assessed for my trainer certification.  Eeps!

An omen?

What started my week was the journey to Chatham, some six and a half hours away.  Phil dropped me off at the car rental place at 8 am (we only have the one car).  Past experience taught me that I’d be in and out in less than 15 minutes, back home to load up my luggage and boxes, and on the road by 8:30 am.

When I walked in, there were four people waiting, one of them had an insurance claim to deal with due to a dent in the rental, and another was returning a car from another rental company.  The rental location was two employees short-staffed, and I settled in for a wait.

The first car I was given had some issues.  I couldn’t afford to wait any longer, so gratefully accepted an upgrade and was finally on the road shortly after 9 am.

The loveliness of the ETR

The journey itself was great.  For the first time, I used the 407 express toll route (ETR).  In the time it would have normally taken me to reach the hotel near our regional headquarters from the ETR on-ramp, I was exiting at Halton Hills, not far away from Guelph.

The ETR saved me precious time and allowed me to reach Chatham before the end of the day.

Lusting after the Zzzzz’s

I quickly checked into my hotel (more about that in another caturday quickie to come) and toted my boxes to the office, arriving just before 4 pm.  I spent the next several hours setting up the training room with my co-facilitator, Carole.  About 8 pm, we gave up for the night, Carole checked into the hotel, and we enjoyed a late supper at the hotel’s rather excellent restaurant.

I rarely sleep well when I’m on the road, but that first night was especially challenging.  I don’t know whether it was nerves, the trains that passed by periodically all night, or something else, but from 2:25 am on, I couldn’t sleep.  I’d gone to be just after 11 pm, and there’s no way I can function properly with only three hours’ sleep.

Despite that, I met up with Carole for breakfast the next morning, we finished setting up the room and our activities, I met my assessors, and class got underway.

The assessment

Really, I’m trying not to think about it much, because every time I do, I start thinking of all the things I did wrong, all of the technical difficulties I encountered, and all of the other things that could potentially have done me in so far as certification went.

I started asking closed questions.  My SMART Board activity bombed.  Toward the end of the second morning, I was exhausted and running on instinct rather than cultivating the Zen awareness critical to my success.  I curtailed a couple of side bar conversations clumsily.  I forgot participant names.  What’s the expression?  I sucked so hard …

The assessors were very kind.  I’d actually worked with one of them before, delivering workshops in Cornwall a few years ago, but their job is to make sure that I can facilitate in a participant-centered manner in accordance with a set of 18 competencies.  They assessed me for a full day, 1 pm to 4:30 pm the first afternoon, and again from 8:30 am to noon the second day.  I had to facilitate the class solo.

At the end of the first afternoon, the assessors asked me a series of questions about the competencies that weren’t clearly visible in my facilitation and presentation skills.  Things like the room set up, placement of visuals, the joining instructions, utilization of pre-course assignment materials, continuing professional development, and so forth.

At noon the next day, I bid them farewell and was advised that I would be informed of the outcome of the assessment within a couple of weeks.

I’m kind of dreading it.  I think that having to go through the assessment again would be a little bit more than I can handle moving into the new fiscal year.  Thus the avoidance tactics 🙂

The good parts

My co-facilitator bought me a wee gift.  Isn’t it lovely? congratulations

I tried not to tell her she was counting my chickens before they were hatched and just appreciated the gesture.  Carole also asked me to focus on all the things I had done well in the class.  Though I was able to list several things, my mind quickly gravitated toward the negative and I returned to avoidance.

The final day of class, with Carole at my side, went well, and by the end of it, several of the participants not only told us how much they enjoyed the class, and what good resources they got out of it, but also told us that their colleagues were asking how they could get on the list to attend the course.

That kind of validation warms a facilitator’s heart 🙂

After class, we packed everything up, and had an hour or so to enjoy Chatham and some of the quaint shops in the area.

At breakfast on Friday morning, Carole asked me some very helpful questions about the certification process.  She has an interest in pursuing it, and was curious about what might be next for me given her expectations for my success.

It was another very helpful way of keeping my mind from dwelling on all of my short-comings.

I dropped the set of posters I’d borrowed for the delivery of the course back at regional headquarters on my way through Toronto, and was home by 4:30 pm.

At home, Phil reminded me that my focus on the negative wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Being conscious of what I did wrong means that I’ll be less likely to repeat those errors since I am, as always, my toughest critic.  I get so embarrassed about it that I determine never to fall into the same trap again.

It’s all about doubt, something that plagues me in both spheres of my professional life (training and writing).  I constantly question the value of what I do, regardless of the evidence to the contrary.

So … the next you’ll hear about this is whether I have, in fact, been successful or not.

Have you been assessed, or tested recently?  How did you feel about the process?  What did it teach you about yourself?

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The dog in winter … just because

If you’ve been following my blog for any length of time, or even if you drop in occasionally, you’ve probably noticed that I write about my dog from time to time.  This is one of those times 🙂

Nu (Nuala) is a quirky beast.  First, she pees like a male dog.  Yes, she lifts her leg.  It’s a learned behaviour adopted from dog-friend Daisy, who in turn learned the skill from her dog-friend Colonel.  This is a particularly useful skill in winter, when snow banks often crowd the sidewalks.  Trust me, it’s better than the embarrassing (for me) pee in the middle of the sidewalk or driveway, which often occurs just when another pedestrian or the homeowner walks up.

She used to climb the banks, but I’ve had to curb that inclination.  More on that in a bit.

Nu also has a couple of behaviours reserved for winter.  She’s a sniffer.  The rest of the year, she walks with her nose to the ground and often finds the most interesting (read disgusting) things on the side of the road.  Used tissues are a favourite, but occasionally she’ll go for the feces of other animals or the leavings of feral cats (bird corpses mostly).  It’s so disappointing when your pet actually behaves like a dog 😛

Her reaction to having these things extracted from her mouth has resulted in one of her many nick-names: Clamps.  Nu will clench her mouth shut, and physically curl her body to prevent either Phil or myself from getting to the offensive bit.  She becomes completely rigid and I’ve often had to lift most of her 80 pound weight to get at whatever tasty she’s found.

The snow-nosian pupWhen the first decent snow falls, though, the sniffing takes on a whole new dimension.  Nu buries her entire face in the snow, snuffling and digging through it in her attempt to find whatever delicious smell has attracted her. She emerges as the snow-nosian pup.  The snow melts pretty quickly, but sometimes we see the abominable (adorable) snow dog.

I walk Nuala using a Halti.  She can haul anyone clear across the driveway when she has a mind to, so it helps to keep her in line without causing strain on her neck.  She hates the thing though, and during the rest of the year, she’ll rub her chin on the ground in an attempt to scratch beneath, or remove the Halti entirely.

In the winter, this behaviour turns into what I like to call her seal impression.  Nu slides on the snow, nose first, clearing a path for the rest of her to follow.  Her front paws fold back (kind of like flippers) and she slides across the snowy yard, wiggling.  She really does look like a seal.

In recent years, Nuala’s had a few minor health situations.  A couple of years ago, she sheared one of her molars in half.  This necessitated a lengthier-than-expected dental surgery that left her disoriented and whining in that particular post-surgical way.  Any of you who have gone through it with your pet will know what I mean.  Stumbling when she tried to walk, and moaning through a clenched and quivering jaw.  It was truly pathetic.

Last year, she developed what we thought was arthritis, and she was started on a regimen of Metacam and Cartrofen which seemed to be working, but this year, after her Cartrofen booster, she started limping more than usual, not less.

She wouldn’t put weight on her right rear leg and when we took her in to the vet last week, the tentative diagnosis was an ACL injury.  Yes, animals get them too, but unlike humans, you can’t tell them the reason why they can’t run around like a yahoo anymore, climb snow banks, and get overly excited over company.

Here are a couple of helpful videos from Vetstoria.  Note: The second one shows the actual surgery and those uncomfortable with graphic medical information should steer clear.

We’re trying to keep her quiet, and ‘easy,’ ‘whoa,’ and ‘no’ have become a large part of our communication these days.  If she doesn’t improve over the holidays, Nu will be admitted to the vet’s for a day where she’ll be sedated and a definitive diagnosis made.  At this point, she’s resisting the manipulation that could potentially reveal the extent of the injury.

Because the ligament is soft tissue, an x-ray won’t show anything about the ACL.  It will show any ancillary damage caused to the bone, however, so that too might be in Nuala’s future.

If the ACL is significantly torn or detached, Nuala’s headed for surgery, either in Ottawa or Guelph, and that’s an issue for us because both Phil and I work and Nu doesn’t travel well, even over short distances.  One or both of us would have to take the time off work, and neither of us has the vacation to accommodate such a trip.

Though expensive, the cost is not the issue with us.  Our last dog, Zoe, had a couple of Zoesurgeries in an attempt to remove the cancer (hemangiosarcoma) that she developed.  The bill was over five thousand and in the end, the cancer had spread and still resulted in her death.  Sad days, those.

Our cat, Thufir, developed diabetes, and we treated him for years with metformin and then insulin before he finally succumbed to complications.  Phil and I believe that pet ownership includes the responsibility for the animal’s overall health.  These unforeseen crises are some of the reasons we have credit cards and a line of credit.

So that’s life with Nuala these days, who’s earned yet Thufiranother nick-name, the Hoblin, as a result of her current injury.

Will likely update you in the New Year with the developing situation.  I won’t lay claim to prescience, but I have a feeling that surgery will be in our collective future.

Do you have a pet with health issues?  How are you managing it?  My best wishes to anyone dealing with anything serious.

How it all started

Maid’s Hall: University of Guelph

So there I was, away at university for the second year, and still no idea what I wanted to do.

I’d started September of 1987 as a fine arts major, but after being dismissed as “an illustrator,” I flirted briefly with psychology before changing to music in January 1988.  In the fall of 1988, I had a rather disastrous classical guitar audition for the practical music program involving performance anxiety and was seriously considering English as my major.

I wrote music and book reviews for The Ontarian, the University of Guelph student newspaper, and helped them with layout.  This was the old fashioned layout with waxed prints of the columns that had to be precisely trimmed and placed on the board.  It was work that suited my wall-flower personality.

My roommate, Sandra Reynolds, though floundering similarly, always had more direction than I did and was a steadying influence on me.  Her sister is Susan Lynn Reynolds, who published Strandia in 1992.  She had drawn maps for Guy Gavriel Kay’s first novels.  He continues to be one of my favourite authors.  Sue’s ex, Michael Hale, had just published The Other Child.  Sandy was working on her own story ideas and with all of this creativity bouncing off the walls of our little dorm room I caught the bug to do more than record my dreams.

I’d started keeping a journal the year before, not only to capture my dreams, but also to capture insights I had in my classes.  It was a wonderful time for me intellectually.  Everything seemed to interrelate in the most interesting ways: my English literature survey course, Introduction to Psychology, Anthropology, Biology, the History of the Language and Old English courses.  Chinese Philosophy kind of blew my mind.  Sadly, little of it translated to academic success.  I was rather mediocre.

With all of these thoughts ping-ponging off one another in my head though, ideas started to occur to me, including the idea that would eventually become Ascension: Initiate of Stone.  I started writing notes.

Sandy invited me out to Mike’s place.  It was winter, snowy, and I ditched the car on the way.  A tree was mere inches away from the passenger side of the car and Sandy (!)  We were able to get a tow out of the ditch and made it to Mike’s, though late.  We still managed a lovely evening of creative chat, I got a tour of Mike’s graphics studio, and we made pie.  We all decided that since the crust was the best part, we’d make a crust pie.  It was fantastic.  Through Sandy and Mike, I learned some great techniques for character development.

I’ll share one:

Early in the character development stage, while you’re still getting to know them yourself, get together with some friends/fellow writers and have them ask you random questions about your characters.  Rapid fire.  You’re not to think about the answers, just come up with them and make notes as you go.  The idea is to access the inner writer who already has a handle on your characters and let that voice answer the questions.  The questions could be anything: what colour are his eyes?  What’s her middle name?  What happened when he was three?  What was her grandmother like?  Did he ever experiment sexually?  No question is forbidden.  It’s organic and very effective.  Nothing is written in stone, either.

If, in the course of your writing, some of those answers no longer hold true, or other answers that seem more appropriate present themselves, then the character changes.  Even to be thinking of these questions and answers through the writing process is helpful for your character development and therefore for the work.

Try it.  You may be amazed.

Sandy was taking Children’s Literature with the incredible Jean Little and Jean was bringing a friend into class to talk about her work.  That friend was Welwyn Wilton Katz.  Though she waggled a finger at me for my lack of research, I did get a chance to talk to her and was inspired by the lecture.  Subsequently, I started reading her novels, and became a fan.

By this time, I had one spiral notebook full and another started.  I had an old portable typewriter that I typed my essays on and started to type bits and pieces out in between essays.  I had no confidence however, and declined to show my stories to anyone.

My lack of direction in school eventually reached a crisis point and I decided to take some time off.

How did you get started on your magnum opus?  What or who inspired you?