Summer 2011 Updates

Hello there!

When I “left design to pursue teacher certification,” I wrote this big long email and sent it to people as an Update On My Life. But then I didn’t do that when I started AC4D, nor when I graduated. Mostly because there’s no big beginning to announce–just lots of angst as I navigate job interviews, fiscal responsibilities, growing up, and following my heart. But there are a lot of small beginnings that deserve some officialiaty, so without further ado…

I graduated from AC4D.

The program was “interaction design & social entrepreneurship.” Interaction design is the design of systems, services, or technology products. Social entrepreneurship is the creation of businesses with social impact. AC4D combines design + business with the idea that designers can work toward tackling wicked social problems. In addition to learning skills and theory, we took on a 24-week project surrounding homelessness that included ethnographic design research with the Austin Resource Center for the Homeless and other Austin orgs, synthesis and ideation, and creating seeds of ventures.

I met amazing people, learned a ton, and co-started Nudge.

ac4d 2011 graduating class

I moved to LA.

A year of long-distance with this guy needed to end.

stina and mike

At first, I didn’t think there would be any opportunities for me here in LA, and I was flirting with SF badly. But I’ve stopped that nonsense. Mike and I found and moved into our own apartment. And I’m meeting a lot of people, and finding the #ixd and #socent communities where I can.

Nudge was chosen as a Rock Health Member Start-Up

Though we were not chosen for the fellowships (who receive mentorship, office space, and money), Nudge is among the 25 “runner-ups” to receive the venture accelerator’s support as well as access to mentors and programming.

We are trying to take full advantage of this honor; it’s “get what you give.” But it’s been difficult not being in SF to rub elbows with the cool people working in and visiting their offices or to attend their programming. We still got a few months to go, though, to make those connections!

(Passing Note: I had no idea what a “venture accelerator” was this time last year and was unclear about what Thinktiv did for months even though that’s where AC4D’ers worked and played.)

I’m interning with Livelyhoods

i Smart sales agents in Kenya

Livelyhoods (formerly known as KITO International) and its Kenyan subsidiary iSmart creates livelihoods for street youth in Kenya by training and employing them as sales agents. As sales agents, they’re able to bring disruptive/innovative new consumer products to hard-to-reach customers in urban slums and educate residents about the products’ uses and benefits.

I’ll be working with their co-founder Maria Springer while she’s Stateside on their Monitoring & Evaluation strategy and possible SMS-system implementation. I’ve also been helping out with their branding and website, since I can.

As of now, I don’t have any trips to Kenya planned, but who knows.

Nudge won a Design Ignites Change implementation award!

We received a grant to implement Nudge with a community health organization in Austin. We’re excited because this means we can develop and implement the system in the next 6 months, but moreso because we’ll get to build this for and with a health organization serving underserved populations — something we probably wouldn’t have otherwise been able to do financially.

Fire’s lit, and we have a lot of logistics to figure out, but YAY!

Other stuff

  • I’m volunteering for SOCAP11, helping Sarah Brooks out with the Design for Social Innovation track as much as I can.
  • Ruby and I are finishing a paper on “Design for Social Change” and how IxD is uniquely suited to solving social problems for the ICID conference in Hong Kong in November. We are also currently planning our trip to HK!
  • Still freelancing and doing contract work here and there. Seems in the cards for me for now.
  • Had a wonderful weeklong vacation in Butte, CA with Mike’s family/stepfamily. They have a cabin in the mountains where you eat lots of good food, play card games, read by the creek, and hike. No cell phone reception, no internet. Felt like myself for the first time in a long time. It was really hard to come back to the INTERNET, and I’m still wary of all the tech in my life. (Shh, don’t tell the #IxD community.) It was also nice to be me and to be around family, without the angst of my current professional choices hanging over my head.
Anyway, I guess some of those aren’t “small” beginnings by any means. Lots of things happening and lots of emotions round these parts. Back to work!
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How to be a Writer & How I came to be one

I love this post by M. Molly Backes about how to be a writer, in response to a well-intentioned mom wanting to support her daughter’s writerly ambitions.

She offers the most obvious yet hardest to swallow advice—to be a good writer, you have to read a lot and write a lot. A LOT. Period.

But she also offers this:

First of all, let her be bored. Let her have long afternoons with absolutely nothing to do. Limit her TV-watching time and her internet-playing time and take away her cell phone. Give her a whole summer of lazy mornings and dreamy afternoons. Make sure she has a library card and a comfy corner where she can curl up with a book. Give her a notebook and five bucks so she can pick out a great pen. Insist she spend time with the family. It’s even better if this time is spent in another state, a cabin in the woods, a cottage on the lake, far from her friends and people her own age. Give her some tedious chores to do. Make her mow the lawn, do the dishes by hand, paint the garage. Make her go on long walks with you and tell her you just want to listen to the sounds of the neighborhood.

Let her be lonely. Let her believe that no one in the world truly understands her. Give her the freedom to fall in love with the wrong person, to lose her heart, to have it smashed and abused and broken. Occasionally be too busy to listen, be distracted by other things, have your nose in a great book, be gone with your own friends.

Besides the limited TV-watching part (I admit I watched too much Oprah as a middle schooler when I had no reason to be watching Oprah), that first paragraph describes my summers growing up to a tee. The summer after second grade I discovered the public library, and each week I would carry a stack of young adult paperbacks home to speed through from my favorite corner of our ugly couch. My love affair with the library continues to this day. I can never leave without a stack of books, and I have never gotten used to the idea of paying full retail price for anything.

We never went to summer camp, our parents didn’t worry about our “being bored” or “getting into trouble.” We’d heat up tv dinners for lunch and shutter the blinds against the late afternoon Houston heat. I’d struggle with my restlessness for the summer to end and the desire for it to never end. We continued our weekly ritual of Sunday night dinners at a family friend’s house; our weekly Sunday-night-breed of boredom stretched throughout our entire childhoods regardless of season and anchored us in a quagmire of community, responsibility, and mixed blessings.

Each year, we’d take a family vacation somewhere, waking early and packing light to fly stand-by on my mom’s travel agent miles. I’d write the same stilted paragraph about these vacations—copying the Chinese characters I dictated to my mom in my own handwriting for Chinese school or parroting the parts a teacher would want to hear in “What I Did Over Summer” back-to-school essays. I never questioned the disconnect between these awkward reports and the free-flowing fiction that filled my notebooks and our old PC.

I had a manila folder labeled WIPOIL: Works in Progress Or In Limbo. Full of  half-finished stories (some print-outs dating back to our Brother Word Processor), streams of dialogue, a smattering of fairies, persistently white characters hanging out in 50’s style diners (Beverly Hills 90210 Peach Pit anyone?), misfit teens, and fantasy worlds. While most of my shorter attempts stall, I did “finish” a 50,000 word story for NaNoWriMo one November after undergrad. I wrote every night for at least an hour, and that was pretty magical.

Molly Backes also shows a photo of the stacks of journals and notebooks she’s filled over the years. I threw away a similar box filled with spiral notebooks into the dumpster behind my first post-college apartment. It was a combination of not wanting to move the weight (literally) and not wanting to have to relive the weight (figuratively) of those angsty tween-teen years. I have enough current angst in my perpetual quarter-life crisis, thank you very much.

Only time will tell whether I end up regretting that dumpster decision or not. Probably the most precious thing in those notebooks were any memories of my parents left in their pages…but oddly and fittingly enough, their names don’t appear nearly as much as unnamed unrequited crushes.

My journaling has never been constant. I journal the most when I’m anguished, but not during the darkest days when I would probably benefit the most from writing. My spiral notebooks have given way to dated Word docs, and blogs and Twitter and Facebook updates.

Today Ruby asked me what my current writing habits are? I can’t really tell you. I still read voraciously, and I still write a lot. But far less fiction than I used to. I want to get back to fiction and short stories, and the only path for that is to write. And write some more.