It started a year ago with the lead up to Podcamp 2014 and Battledecks. There was some playful boasting and jabs leading up to the competition. Battledecks is an improvisational presentation based on a topic and slide deck that is randomly chosen. I hadn't seen a competition before and it sounded fun, so I signed up and started interacting with the participants on Twitter. One of the participants was @KVTknits who is Katherine Victoria Taylor. At lunch at Alderney Landing just before the Battledecks competition I met her and was a bit nervous as she was funny and an experienced improviser.
In the competition I was lucky and went last which resulted in an audience warmed up by the other competitors. I got a high five from Katherine as I left the stage and felt good improvising to a receptive audience. It worked to my advantage and from the applause at the end it turned out I won. Afterwards I chatted with Katherine about comedy and improv and later followed her on Twitter (which I forgot to do earlier). Through tweets I saw other things she did that were part of her Twitter bio which reads, "Disabled bookbinder letterpress printer and improviser My mum has 9 cats but I only have 1".
In March of 2014 she organized a conference for youth leaders in the chronic illness community and she asked if I could conduct a workshop and I did a session on storytelling. The conference was inspiring, fun, and went well. It was neat to see a diverse group of people and connect with a community that I hadn't known much about before. The Twitter interactions continued throughout the year and as the initial rumblings about Podcamp 2015 started I thought that it would be good to do another session.
Podcamp is a great event organized by committed volunteers that started in 2009 at Alderney Landing in Dartmouth in 2009. It's a great gathering of the tech community of Halifax to talk about social media and technology. At the first one I did a session based on a blog post constructed out of 140 character or less paragraphs (a seven tweet blog post) called small, specific, and real. I didn't make it to the 2010 event and in 2011 did a session about Twitter and coffee and oatmeal. In 2012 it was a session about creating a tumblelog, and in 2013 it was about Quantifying Yourself.
After four sessions solo it was time to do things a bit differently and I teamed up with my friend Kendra to do a session about managing who you follow on Twitter and Pruning Your Twitter Garden was a lot of fun and was energizing too. It's great to collaborate and work with other people to present and share things that they care about. For this year I thought it would be neat to think of something to do with Katherine and we started to brainstorm.
Collaboration is the key to filmmaking and many other things. It's a great way to work as you share who you are, your skills and add them with what other people bring. Then you do something that hopefully is interesting and starts a conversation or more collaboration. Social media does this well. We shared ideas, ate burgers, laughed, and a description and title emerged – "Text and Context." It was specific enough for a general idea and vague enough to allow for flexibility as Podcamp approached.
The Dawson Printshop is a wonderful part of NSCAD University that focusses on letterpress printing and bookbinding and they are the home of the Letterpress Gang, with Joe Landry as the leader of the gang. Katherine tweets about Joe often and it was so nice to go to a gathering of the gang on a Monday night in December to see the magic of printing with movable type. The workshop for Podcamp took a more tangible form with ideas for talking about words and Twitter and printing and books. Maybe we could even print some tweets that inspired us and bring a small parlour press for a demo?
The next planning meeting happened at Joe's house when Katherine invited me over. On a chilly day I warmed up and sat on Joe's couch as Joe and Katherine shared some of the rare books that Joe has collected over the years. We were handling them with our bare hands and it was kind of amazing. There was a book by Aldus Manutius which is five centuries old. A nifty almanac with a pencil in it and an amazing tiny book that is one of the Gnostic Gospels which would make it about two millennia old. Joe was allowing Katherine to share some of these valuable books from his collection with the session participants.
The final prep for Podcamp was a fun time for me in the Dawson Printshop with Katherine and Joe. Katherine set a tweet from her and a tweet from me and she was going to print cards up to give out to the participants. Printing is a skill requiring patience and attention to detail. It is great to see a craft practiced by those who care about it. After the type was set I was able to turn the crank a bit and print some of the cards too. Seeing the words on the page as the ink dried changes the context and the meaning. There is a sense of permanence in moving from pixels to paper.
Whether it is a tweet or a book or a letter, they are containers for stories that we share. Those stories reveal things about ourselves and connect us to each other. Words are strange and amazing things. Tiny marks on paper or a screen, we translate those marks with our brains and they can go right to our hearts. The small interactions that happen every day on Twitter can inspire and help us, give us a little boost when we are down and give us opportunities to help each other get through hard times.
At the heart of any good workshop or session or story is something we care about and that is what we share. So for me and Katherine it seemed to be that the workshop would make the connection between words and the way that we share them and connect to each other. In our prep we thought about the ways social media are good. It can organize people and get them out to make a difference.
On August 14, 2014 Allison Sparling, Evey Hornbeck, and Katherine organized a positive response to a group of anti-choice activists who were holding up signs and protesting around the city. The campaign used the theme of "Pro Love" with the hashtag #prolove and used signs with positive messages and images of hearts. It got some great media coverage and more importantly got all sorts of people out and created a positive tone around the idea of women having choices about their own bodies. The signs were colourful and there was a burst of happy tweets and smiling faces around the whole event. This is the power of social media, words, and print in the world. It's inspiring and wonderful.
All the elements of the workshop were there with printed cards and a parlour press to print more cards on the day, we had a structure to improvise within. One of the fun things was that we had books, paper, markers, ink, and a press. No slide decks or more modern technology which was kind of liberating. Scheduled in the first slot of the morning, Katherine and Kristen (known as her bf on Twitter if you have been following there) brought the press and books in and set them up. The small room filled up after Podcamp kicked off and we had a great time talking about meeting on Twitter (and according to ThinkUp, Katherine is my "Twitter bestie" for 2014) and how amazing books and printing are. It was a lot of fun and I am so glad I had the chance to share in the experience.