I’m passionate about researching and experimenting with new, and ancient, communication tools and technology and then sharing my discoveries with people.
I conduct research all the time, combining my educational and professional experience as a writer and archaeologist, acquiring knowledge of historic storytelling tools and techniques, as well as current and emerging communication technology. As I explore each process, I consider those in my acquaintance who may benefit from knowing about these tools, techniques, and technology, and I make an effort to encourage them to learn more.
My business, Hands-on Heritage, helps people communicate their legacy stories in a variety of media, from articles to books, social media posts to websites and apps, from videos to documentary films, from interpretive panels and exhibits to full-blown events and celebrations. I tackle many types of projects simply for the pleasure it gives me in researching a new way to tell a good story.
My passion is not altruistic, as I once thought. My passion is the selfish quest to learn about and toy with the tools people use to tell their stories.
Some of my most vivid youthful memories are not of places and people, but of things that I have used to communicate.
These include a leaf I used at the age of 7 to write a bad word on a neighbor’s house. I hid behind the hibiscus bushes that grew beneath my friend’s bedroom window, and using my finger to hold the leaf against the concrete wall, I wrote the word. I didn’t know what the word meant, but as the youngest of five children, I’d heard it a few times. Of course, I was caught and got in trouble, but the funny thing is, I can’t recall any punishment. Only writing the word and the slippery feel of the large leaf crumbling between my finger and the stone, and the vivid green letter “F.”
Another memory I have is around 8 years old, standing at a toy chalkboard and practicing how to sign my mother’s name in cursive. She was a busy woman and she didn’t need to worry herself about signing my report cards, or the numerous notes that were sent home by my frustrated teachers. They invariably tattled about how I was a “joy to have in class, however … .”
I had a problem staying in my seat and keeping my mouth shut. I earned the nickname Motor Mouth, and it stuck with me throughout my life. Back then, kids didn’t have Attention Deficit Disorder or Hyperactivity; we were motor mouths and teachers would slap us with rulers and tape our mouths shut. Well, at least that’s my personal experience.
A memory from age 12 begins with a summer vacation my sister and I spent in a small Florida town, visiting a friend of our mother. Basically, Mom wanted us out of the way for a few weeks, so she shipped us by Greyhound bus to “Grandma Morris.” Mrs. Morris wasn’t our grandmother. She was a former babysitter.
Mrs. Morris owned a large house with many rooms, which she rented to local college students. My sister and I squatted in one large room most of the summer, venturing out to visit the local library or the swimming pool. I experimented with smokeless tobacco that summer, buying cans of it from the Piggly Wiggly. If I wasn’t reading, I was writing short stories, using a collection of color markers. My sister wasn’t a writer, so she used her markers to create abstract posters. I used the markers to write, alternating colors by paragraph. It was a stellar achievement, and I was most impressed with not only how good my stories were to read, but how pretty my stories were while reading.
The summer ended happily; a friend of the family rescued us and drove us to Miami in her boyfriend’s Mustang. In retrospect, we were ingrates but were we deliriously happy to escape Madison, Florida, and old Grandma Morris.
My next vivid writing memory is using my mother’s typewriter. Because she worked two jobs to support her kids, her dreams of being a travel writer never surfaced. Her portable typewriter sat unused. I began to use it at age 14, keeping it on a desk in my room. I went through reams of paper using that typewriter, typing poems and short stories. I probably started a few novels, also.
I must not forget to mention the journals I kept as a teen. My best friend and I religiously wrote in our journals, and we developed a code system for activities we couldn’t write about. For example, a wavy arrow in the margins may have meant someone used illegal substances, and a star meant we skipped school. I suppose our journals were very artistic.
I stopped keeping a journal when I turned 16 because I discovered a family member sneaking into my room and reading them. I took out all of my journals and I burned them in front of her. I tore pages slowly from it, then fed it into the fire until only the spiral binding was left.
I’ve tried to keep a journal since then, and occasionally I’ll make an entry or two, but I haven’t been able to maintain interest in it. When I do start a journal, there are no stars or wavy lines.
I don’t know why, but I disliked public school as a youth. I was indifferent to my education then and skipped a lot of classes. Yes, a lot of stars decorated my journals. In fact, I skipped more than 60 days in my junior year of high school, and 30 my senior year. Skipped, stayed home, whatever. I did not want to be there, and I went to summer school to graduate early. I graduated at the age of 16, but then I had to wait and work until I was 18 and able to leave home and attend college.
Remember, my mother was poor and by the time I was old enough to go to college, she was pretty tired of working two jobs. I didn’t want to burden her, so I put myself through school.
I wasn’t sure what kind of career I wanted, but I knew it would be as a writer. I joined the student literary magazine, The Obelisk, and I worked on the student newspaper, The Trojan Horse. I met my husband at college, working at the student newspaper. I convinced him to move into sports because there was an opening as a college sports editor and he enjoyed the topic. We had a whirlwind romance and couldn’t wait to get married, so life interrupted our college paths. He accepted a job at a local daily newspaper as a sports department clerk, typing the scores on the agate page, before graduating as a sports writer.
I stayed in college and began freelancing as a reporter. Eventually, I would work full-time for a couple of small weekly newspapers, covering all of the beats and learning more about newspaper production. I still used the typewriter.
I remained in college, even when our children were born, attending part-time as I worked towards my English degree. Then one semester, I sat in an English Lit class and realized if I didn’t do something immediately, I would end up a stodgy old professor in front of a bored class. As much as I love the subject, I couldn’t agree with my current professor’s deconstruction of Emily Dickinson’s poetry. I faced a dismal future, regurgitating what someone else said, either as a college instructor or as a reporter. I wanted to be more involved, get my hands on the subject matter and the tools used to create it.
The irony is, for nearly 20 years, I’ve worked as a college instructor standing in front of a (hopefully not-so-bored) class.
But back to the past: I switched gears and changed my major to Anthropology, the archaeology track. Archaeology allows me to cross-examine the written word through the lens of science, and not take a purely theoretical approach to understand the past.
So, when my English professor stood in front of the class and explained how he thought Emily Dickinson’s brain worked as she wrote “One note from/One bird/Is better than/a million words” on the open flap of a discarded envelope, a scrap from her apron pocket, infuriated me. It was the turning point. I knew, instinctively I knew, that he was wrong. She didn’t map out her poems methodically and purposeful. She felt bursts of joy and melancholy, and she snatched moments to jot down her spontaneous thoughts in verse.
I decided to learn from where the spirit springs, the font of the soul, and to do that, I knew I had to start at the beginning. That’s why I chose archaeology and specifically anthropology.
What I mean is, yes, life is patterned and people’s behavior is knowable, understandable, and even predictable, but people don’t perform all of these activities with forethought. People behave the way they do because their brains and bodies are identically formed, barring traumatic injury or chemical and physical aberrations.
We all go through the same processes of birth, childhood, puberty, young adulthood, love or sexual awakening, often union with another that results in reproduction, aging, and dying. This routine has played out over millions of years and as a result, the brain has formed in such a way that all of these processes are accompanied by cultural norms and behaviors. These are universal, timeless, and intuitive. You’re going to go through all of these physical and emotional events in your lifetime, regardless of your ethnic heritage or geographic location.
By studying the science that studies human thought and behavior, I felt I could understand what motivated Emily Dickinson to write her envelope poems, and why Ernest Hemingway struggled to “write one true sentence.”
I spent the next few years earning degrees in anthropology, focusing on archeology, which is far from being a creative writer. I think I did this because the tools humans use to convey the stories we tell fascinate me. I’m also interested in the new ways we invent to communicate, and especially the digital formats that seem to pop up in exponential ways.
I was an early adopter of the computer. My husband and I bought a TR-80 laptop computer from Radio Shack in 1986, and we used it to write articles for the newspaper. We were corresponding and having a laptop meant we could work from home, and still take care of our children.
I love computers, and whenever I could get my hands on one in the 1980s, I would. I had a friend who shared his email access with me. Although there were few people to communicate with via email at that time, I still used it. I taught myself had to install and use all kinds of software, whether I had a need for it or not.
When I graduated from university, I took my master’s to a hands-on science museum, and I became an educator and a museum curator. One of my first projects was to teach myself how to take apart and repair computers since we had a computer lab at the museum.
I also became the computer coder and laser show technician at the science museum’s planetarium. Although I didn’t know code, I knew how to observe the behavior and I became adept at copy, paste, and test. I made many laser shows using that technique. I taught myself how to animate also, and began photographing slides for the laser show, mixing the music and the art for a children’s Disney show, a holiday show, or an adult’s show with the music of Pink Floyd or Metallica.
In 1996, my husband was invited to work at Little League Headquarters, so my family left Florida. If you look around Williamsport, Pennsylvania, you’ll notice there aren’t any large hands-on science museums in the area. Also, there aren’t any archeology firms. I fell back upon my skills as a reporter and went to work for the local daily newspaper.
I embraced the emerging technology and learned how to paginate the newspaper. I also learned how to take photos and scan them, using Photoshop software to enhance the graphics. I also taught myself how to make world wide web pages and put the newspaper online. I became an editor and a book author, and eventually, outgrew my position at the Sun-Gazette.
In 2001, I launched my freelance career, the beginnings of Hands-on Heritage, as a communications expert. I had a vision. I heard about the concept of eBooks, so I started making my own ebooks for clients. I made websites, designed apps, created multimedia CDs, then DVDs, all before there was a market for them. I couldn’t help myself: I loved learning about using the tools and the technology and as computers progressed, I kept learning.
A local liberal arts college offered me a teaching gig in 2003, and I worked with students for nearly 20 years. A desktop publishing class led to more classes that I’ve developed. I’ve taught archaeology and media writing, general communication courses such as public speaking, event planning, and public relations, and even an art class for graphic design. I also direct the youth summer program, College for Kids. I’m a utility player, which means I can do a lot of things.
The truth that I’ve been avoiding for decades is that I am living my passion and it is guiding my career in communications. I have been very successful as a creative individual, despite all the times I worried I wasn’t making enough money.
Because my passion is a selfish quest, and I’ve never stopped following it. I still don’t know how to quantify or describe it. It is not possible to tie it up with a tidy bow. I’ve developed expertise in many areas because I’ve been driven by curiosity.
Now consider the ephemeral culture. What did you read today? Was it a book? An article on a website? A post on social media? What songs or stories or news or podcast or debate have you listened to recently? Any videos that brought a tear to your eye, a smile to your face? This is the beauty of the ephemeral — the fleeting, the momentary experience we all crave that has sprung from someone’s imagination.
Let your imagination run free and create something, anything. Keep creating what you like and share it, and soon you’ll have a following. Your following is more than an audience. Your following can be your customers.
I know it’s hard to accept that someone will possibly like your secrets, your musings. I find it nearly impossible to accept. But they do. I’m here today, writing about the dangerous idea of accepting your passion and exploring ways to make it your career because I believe you can turn your imagination into reality.
Of course, I believe it is possible. Remember, each day I spend time researching (or, as some people may think, wasting time on the Internet), searching for, and connecting with, new applications, new writers, new broadcasters, new creatives.
Also, I haven’t given up on journaling. My personal writing has evolved into Gratitude Journals. I try to write in them every day, and they also serve as a diary of events. Good events. Great events. Events I’m grateful for experiencing.
“Why” is a relentless question, and it deserves an honest response. I cannot stop creatively thinking, reading, and writing and can’t imagine my life without it.