Sunday, September 21, 2008

Portland - Day 4: Soaking It In, Wringing It Out

I'm back at my hotel room after finally making it into downtown Portland where my family vacationed last April. We were pretty impressed with everything about our stay, from the generous people, to the great restaurants and bold new architecture. Coming back for this week was a pleasure.

The Garden Writers Association is throwing their shindig on the east side of the Willamette and I hadn't ventured into the heart of town yet. Mike and Sheila, our Peetnik Santa Barbarian friends, arrived on vacation today and we met for dinner at Pazzo's. It's a fine Italian dining establishment on the ground floor of the Hotel Vintage, where we stayed earlier this year. Dinner was great (try the roasted beet, cucumber, horseradish creme, and sunflower seed salad - magical). Mike is a professional writer, so we had a lot to talk about. Equally important was having them hand-off the extra business cards my wife provided. I've run out and there are still lots of people to connect with.

I hit three sessions today: Finding the Right / Write Word, covering some simple techniques for expanding the breadth of language we can access when we write. I had never thought of creating a "word tree" - basically a free association of synonyms and related terms for words we use when writing. Lucy Hardiman, our presenter, put the word "flower" on a flip chart and at least 200 words were offered from the house, some predicatable and flat (petal, stem, leaf...zzzzzzz) and others that drew hoots from the crowd (fecund, alluring, burgeoning, phallic - being one of few men in the room, I decided not to offer 'vaginal'). It might be an exercise I'll practice in my never-to-arrive spare time. I think I'll be spending more time reading other writers and noting the variety of descriptive words they use and grow my repertoire.

Lucy's presentation was followed by two separate sessions dealing with photography - one showing how grasses come to life when shot with sensitivity to different natural lighting angles, and another on how to create publishable images using a point and shoot camera, like my trusty Nikon COOLPIX S10.

Most everyone took off for a tour of production nurseries that were going to show off all their newest introductions. Not only was I uninterested in seeing plants I have little chance of growing in Santa Barbara, but the idea of using plants that are grown in Oregon, then shipped nationwide on trucks would give me a carbon-footprint guilt trip I couldn't endure. One more reason to use plants provided by local growers - they're not only adapted to my climate, but the impacts of shipping are miniscule.

Besides, I promised myself I'd work on an article that's due at the end of the month, so I hightailed it back to my room and started putting some of my new tools to use.

[Proof that I'm multi-tasking: working and eating an apple]

First up - outlining. In this instance, I've just downloaded a new piece of mind mapping software and knew that this article could benefit from putting the program through its paces. If you're not familiar with mindmapping, click this Wikipedia link for a quick eyeball. It's a technique for brainstorming ideas and creating relationships between thoughts. I use it at work on my PC, but just found a native Mac application from Tony Buzan. Here are a few shots of it at work.

[iMindMap at work]

It's far more powerful than this will sound, but at its most basic, a mind map is a bunch of branches you can create, with subbranches of related ideas. I'm a visual person who needs to see everything at once, so this technique has become part of my DNA. It worked middlingly well. I should be brighter than to think that I could effectively utilize a program that I'm just learning. When I get this blog entry posted, I think I'll continue with a hand-drawn mind map and hold off on the software until I'm home.

Regardless, the article is taking shape and I'm seeing just the slightest sense of control in what I'm doing. I'm pretty sure that's a good thing. Oh, yeah. It rained pretty heavy while I was working, so when I left to catch then light rail downtown, I snapped a few wet shots. It satisfies the banana slug in me.

Toodles - not sure I'll be able to contribute anything tomorrow. We have an afternoon tour, then I banquet. I'm on standby, so if I get bumped, you'll have something new to read.


Anonymous said...

Hi Billy, this is the next best thing to being there. Maybe next year....While I hope to read of your next day, I do hope you get to attend the banquet, food trumps all else and that salad you described sounds very delectable. I applaud your buy from local growers stance and need to do more of that here for we have an excellent grower near us. The word tree is a useable idea too, not so sure about the map though, too much time away from creative flow to draw someting on paper. ;-> Keep up the good work, wiseguy!

Unknown said...

Billy, thank you for this! I couldn't justify the expense of going across the continent to this event, so I'm hoping next year's is closer to the east coast. (Or in Kansas City, MO, where I spent some nice days in late August). Your observations are like the rest of your writing--always fresh and informative. Please don't ever change!

Ewa said...

Billy, Could you please post more about mindmapping? I am trying to learn, but it doesn't go... I am getting stuck, or the paper is too small - dunno :(

VP said...

I'm a big fan of mind mapping. I used to use it a lot at work - my colleagues found it a hoot when I turned up with flip chart paper and lots of coloured pens.

I'm not sure if I'm ready to use a software version of it though. There's soemthing about using paper and pen with this that really frees the mind. Besides I like to draw little pictures and doodles on mine to make it even more visual and I'm not sure the software's ready to incorporate them!