It should be easy, it’s just talkin’ to people…

Networking.

Ugh.

It’s one of those things that I’m not comfortable with, makes me feel awkward, but I acknowledge is absolutely necessary, like taking your shirt off at the beach.

Even though I’ve struggled with it, I have had some success over the last few years. What’s below is a short how-to article I wrote for my grad program’s alumni association newsletter.

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In 2009, my wife and I moved to Chicago so I could start work at my current job. After a few months of settling in, I decided I wanted to put myself out there and become some small part of the city’s larger preservation community. At that time, my professional circle was limited to my immediate coworkers. I knew I needed to “put myself out there” but wasn’t sure where or how to start.

Then I remembered some advice my mom gave me. Advice which I ignored for years but that I now (grudgingly) admit was spot-on.

  • Step One – Read all you can get your hands on regarding the local scene. Newspaper and magazine articles, blog posts, tweets, you name it. Become an information sponge.
  • Step Two – Leave your house; get away from your desk. There are probably lectures, exhibits, roundtables, meet-ups. Go to them. For now it’s ok if you don’t talk to anyone. Steps one and two are all about learning the issues, learning the names, and becoming conversant.
  • Step Three – By now you’ll probably have learned the names of some individuals, organizations, or projects that interest you. Google the heck out of them and get the all-important contact info.
  • Step Four – (This for me was the hardest part) Write an email. Make a phone call. Trust me; people are way more friendly and giving of their time than you assume they’ll be. My email went something like “I’m Mike Plummer, I’m not from around these parts, heard you speak at/read your blog post about/walked by your project and thought it was really interesting. I want to get more involved. Any suggestions?” Of course, the actual conversations were much wordier and/or flattering, but you get the idea. Mom also suggests offering to buy someone coffee and ask them about their work, which is a.)a good idea and b.)terrifying.

In any case, I (who totally self-identifies as socially awkward) was able to stumble my way through those four easy steps. Within a year of moving to the area, my professional circle was exponentially larger, I was invited to join my local preservation commission, was asked to join the board of a foundation that runs a historic house museum, was asked to present at the statewide preservation conference, and (far and away most importantly) met some great people and got my name out there.

In no way, shape, or form am I now “Mr. Connected”.  But I now know several Mr. and Mrs. Connecteds and am more than comfortable shooting  them an email if I need to be put in touch with someone. In my mind, that’s just as good.

It worked for me, it can work for you too.

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The unwinnable battle…

I’m actually a little ashamed of myself right now.

Just got into a bit of a… umm… contentious phone conversation. Someone was trying to convey some information to me, was doing it with what I perceived as a robust amount of attitude, and was not at all pleased when my hackles went up and asserted that I didn’t appreciate the ‘tude. She accused me of fabricating her adversarial nature (which I really don’t think I did) and implied that her department would stop fulfilling their role in the matter being discussed (which would be simply unacceptable).

And while I do think that technically I was in the right, I’m angry and ashamed at myself because this is just another example of me fighting a battle that I didn’t need to fight. Could have ignored her passive-or-not-so-much aggressivity and been the bigger man.

Instead, I ignored the better angels of my nature and got down in the dirt and the mud. Makes me feel low. Common. Like a dick.

Why do I need to be so confrontational all the time? Why am I always on the lookout for any perceived slight, no matter how small? Why can’t I be more relaxed, more level headed?

Why am I so ready to fight the world?

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Jo

If you Google the words “Joanna Rae Plummer”, you’ll get nine hits.

The quotes are important, because that will force Google to look for all three of those words in exactly that order. Otherwise, you’ll get lots of unrelated fooferaw that isn’t germane to the here and now.

Anyway, nine hits.

Doesn’t seem like a lot for 32 years of life. Especially when you remember the spark, the joy, the aliveness that she carried around with her every day. Seems even less when you realize that of those nine, one or two are out of date phone book listings, a couple are obituaries of grandparents that mention her name, and the direct references are either her obituary or news articles about the trial.

So in today’s online, all-information-available-all-the-time world, you can’t really learn all that much about my cousin Jo, except for some details about how and when she died.

What am I thankful for this Thanksgiving? I’m thankful for the twenty five years I had with her, and for a lifetime of memories that I will carry with me. I’m grateful for her wits and her humor, for her skill at showing me worlds that I didn’t even know existed. For instilling, deep within me, a sense of wonder.

There are things in this world that can never be indexed, collated, related, or queried by the internet. They live within us.

Joanna Rae Plummer – Jo – was killed nine years ago tomorrow – November 24th, 2002, a victim of domestic violence.

I’d give anything in the world to have her back. But since that isn’t the way the universe works, I choose to be thankful for all the time we shared and all the memories she left me with. They are a gift of limitless value.

May we all live our lives in such a way that we might give a similar gift to those we love.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

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