The Collaborative Blog Project

I recently asked some stroke bloggers, friends and creative types to join me in a co-operative wee endeavour. The request was that

each of us write a piece on the theme of “Collaboration”. As short as you like (even just a couple of sentences). But no more than, say, 300 words. From whatever angle you like.

“I’m killing your brain like a poisonous mushroom.”

A bunch of folk came through, some of them were so keen they bust through the word limit, and some of them are hosting their own versions of this project on their own sites. Here are their versions:

  1. I. Buffalo:
  2. B. Ligerent:
  3. Friendoftheblogpaul:

I hope you enjoy hearing some new voices on Please do visit our contributors. Without exception, they have interesting things to say, and not just on this subject.

But first, me….

1. The Creative Collaborative Cooperative
by Ricky Brown
Writer, poet, reviewer and 1/3 of the creative collaborative co-operative, Nerd Bait.

After most of 19 years in Scotland, the US educational system — certainly in law school — came as a shock. The Socratic Method. Occasionally, valuations that placed more emphasis on group performance than anything that I’d seen in tutorials in my home country at that time.

“Now, how does the exercise of public policy impact upon conflicts of law?”
The Socratic method in action.

Seminars in which small groups sat around and discussed their work in a more open fashion than in senior school, or even the tutorials I remembered at Edinburgh’s Faculty of Law, were a discomfiting experience. Then, when I entered the legal workforce, strictly-observed hierarchies the focus on individual responsibility worked against truly collaborative operations. It was like being back in senior school.

Then I had my haemorrhagic stroke. When you can’t make it across the ward to the bathroom, or turn over in bed without help, pridefulness has to be put to one side. I learned, at the barrel of a brain bomb, to be comfortable leaning on other people. Often quite literally.

Individual achievements, like walking the length of a corridor, were sources of pride. But it was an inescapable fact that if a nurse hadn’t helped me figure out my breakfast order the previous day, I hadn’t had the extra sustenance of Friendoftheblogpaul’s home-baked loaf, my speech therapist hadn’t gotten me out of bed, my occupational therapist hadn’t helped me learn the new nature of risk, my physical therapist hadn’t taught me how to turn my foot again, my roomie hadn’t saved me from a disastrous fall, Mrs Stroke Bloke hadn’t brought unsoiled clothes for me wear down that corridor, the ER doctors hadn’t kept me alive long enough for my neurosurgeon to do his bit, the end of the corridor might as well have been, well….

Stroke Bloke forgets his new risk profile in the corridor.

That force-learned lesson of putting pride aside, and further being forced to confront the fact that we’re all in this together was a vital one in many ways. As was learning to listen to other people’s perspectives when mine weren’t reliable. I thought I was friends with Iron Man — the real one for goodness’ sake.

“You don’t take criticism well, do you?” asked my occupational therapist. I had to admit she was right.

Can’t take criticism?! How dare you??!!!

Today, collaboration brings me much joy. I rejoice in calling Nerd Bait, the band I share with friendsoftheblogstephanieandpaul, a creative collaborative collective. We each do the bit that we’re particularly good at, and I find that the wurdz wot I rite sound vivid and fresh when Paul rearranges them among his sounds and Steph wraps her comic chops around them, or sings them in a voice that’s 3,297 miles away from the dull Scottish mumble I’ve been listening to at the desk all day.


2. Dear Joyce
by Joyce Hoffman
Author of The Tales Of A Stroke Patient, blogger and stroke awareness activist.

As a technical trainer in my former life, that is, life before the stroke, I used to bring groups of people together and make their working lives easier by teaching them things they had to know on the computer, like merging a document with a spreadsheet or assigning people to different places via a database. I’d work with them patiently and tirelessly until they got it. I was known as the collaborator, fitting the missing pieces of the unique puzzle together.

So it just came naturally that I’m teaching again, this time as the “Dear Abby” for the stroke community. I’ve helped people with their anger and frustration, their returning to work, and their families. But nothing delights me more than seeing two people get together who have love for each other.

In September 2012, I had my second book published, entitled “The Tales of a Stroke Patient,” that’s also the name of my blog which has my contact info in the form of my email address –– and that’s how I became “Dear Abby,” aficionado of advice. (For anybody foreign to American culture, “Dear Abby,” penned by Pauline Phillips under the pseudonym Abigail Van Buren, became a syndicated column, running in hundreds of American newspapers from 1956 until 2002).

In January 2013, I heard from Jason Miller from Kansas in Facebook who liked the book. But he complained of not knowing anybody in his age group–he was 37–who had a stroke. Around the same time, I read a post from Terri Lee Decker, 48, who complained of the same thing, not knowing age-appropriate people who also had a stroke. I suggested for Jason to contact her.

As Jason said, “It took my slow ass awhile but I sent her my # and she called everyday we would talk for hrs. One day she said I’ve 2 weeks vacation in July, so we planned to meet. One of the smartest things I’ve ever done was get on that train. Sixteen hours later, I got off in Albany, NY.” And the rest is just history. His only regret was that he’d not found her sooner.

Terri Lee Decker says, “In [Joyce’s] infinite wisdom, she suggested that we talk to one another….At times I can’t believe I deserve this kind of happiness, but I imagine we all do! Thank you, my wonderful wizard, for coming into my life and thank you for loving me!”

Everybody deserves happiness, and Jason and Terri are now engaged, planning to marry in the Fall. Well done, I said to myself. But I should change the name. How about “Dear Joyce”?

3. Why Collaboration Sucks
by B. Ligerent
Belligerent copywriter.

“Collaboration” is one of those warm and fuzzy words. But warm and fuzzy gives you fleas. Many a copywriter breaks out in a terrible itch when some sadistic soul throws the word “collaboration” into play.

I’m sure there are fields of work and life where collaboration produces beauty and success. In copywriting, however, it’s more likely to produce a rash. Collaboration is the herpes of copywriting.

So why exactly does collaboration suck?

1. It devalues our work as copywriters.

Few people can engineer a bridge, but anyone can write words. Though expertly written copy possesses carefully developed architecture with beams placed at just the right spot, emotional flourishes speaking to the heart, a full range of functional considerations taken into account, strategically hidden support and invisible guides directing human interaction, the layperson has little grasp of what goes into masterful copywriting and why each word is just so.

We use sounds like building blocks. We pay careful attention to sentence and paragraph length. We integrate complex variables of brand identity, target audiences, immediate objectives, stakeholder needs (and vanities), competitors’ communication styles and messages, and much more.

Your clients may think it’s fun to sit around a table and develop a slogan. Or write an ad. Or cobble together a press release. But that 90 minutes of creative freedom they experience misleads them into thinking properly strategized and composed copy is as simple as spitballing and tossing phrases on a page.

2. It designs camels.

Good copy requires a clarity of vision. Collaboration frankensteins disparate elements into a single monstrosity. The warm, feel-good process is often filled with compromise. You want to make everyone’s opinion valued. And the result: a positioning statement that only its mother and father would love.

3. It wastes time.

Ever been in one of these collaborative working sessions where the meeting ends, you’ve got a draft document, and now it’s deemed your personal job to “polish it up”?

Yeah, it would have been quicker and easier to write it yourself. You probably would have created something better on your own. Perhaps if you were sly, you were able to guide the collabo all along and you steered the group into composing a rough draft of what you would have done on your own (while letting them think it’s all their ideas).

No matter how the meeting panned out, more than likely it was a waste of your time.

Where does collaboration come in handy?

Herpes, I suppose, could create a stronger sense of intimacy between a couple. You know… shared experiences, the closeness of fluid bonding, and all those sex advice columnist buzzwords. I’d prefer a life without blistering sores, but sometimes you’ve just got to put up with the annoyances to enjoy a fruitful relationship.

Collaboration can help in securing client buy-in. Give them a role in the process and they’re more likely to embrace the final product and, if needed, sell it to their superiors or defend it when the Chairman of the Board wants to shoot it down because he wants a slogan that starts with the letter “K” since his wife’s name is Katherine.

As long as collaboration doesn’t take the leading role in the creative process, it can in fact bolster your work. Use collaborative sessions to mine insights from clients, stakeholders, colleagues and informed professionals such as external consultants the client has brought in.

Writers are solitary creatures. Many of us don’t do our best work in group settings. And group settings don’t produce the best copy. But if you’re faced with an unpleasant collaborative encounter, do your best to steer it to your advantage and the benefit of the final copy.

4. Collaboration Through Rejection And Solitude
by Friendoftheblogpaul
High-functioning dilettante and musical genius behind Nerd Bait.

Working alone is tough. But as I’ve been known to say – the only thing harder than working without enough people is working with more of them.

So since Ricky asked me to think about collaboration, let me invite you to join me in considering the joy of solitude.

Sometimes the thing you want to do is just something you want to do, you know? And the techniques and insights and advice that other people give is just not in the right direction. You kind of know by the visceral rejection of the ideas of your collaborators that either you are Jeff Beck or that you are onto something. And I am no Jeff Beck.

And so lots of my great ideas have come from realizing that other folks aren’t telling me something useful. “No no no no; not that way; I’m going back to my bedroom/office/lab/piano/death-star to figure this out”

And then most of the time, you go back to that bedroom, office, lab, piano, or death star and realize that that rejection wasn’t right and you should deal with your homework, job, experiment, composition, or galaxy-conquest with the help of your mom, coworkers, lab rats, music instructors, or clone army.

But every now and then you hit a gem alone.

So is rejecting surroundings an implicit collaboration with those you rejected? Is the absence of people through solitude a form of negative-space-collaboration?

No, Complete bollocks, of course. For instance, my absolute favorite contribution to Ricky’s Blog (“Hey, that’s my favorite Mogwai EP“) exists only as a collaboration. And right now I’m collaborating with Ricky and our friend on some … uhh … music/performance/shite.

The idea of Beethoven in the forest alone humming the ninth symphony is great, but life is more often 8 of you being thankful for those “track changes” improvements in office 2007.

But the idea sounds like a great contrarian contribution to Ricky’s collaboration.

5. Have your ghost meet my ghost in the room at the end of the hall.
by I. Buffalo
The Buffalo lives in relative seclusion, it is said, on a small island off the coast of the United States.

Have your ghost meet my ghost in the room at the end of the hall.

The walls are closing in, we agreed.

Hills like white trumpet calls
the sand storms dune we hope sun-baked beneath bare feet;
I dream of a collaborative tropical escape: run busted hand up mending leg;
fuck it all away.

It’s a million o’clock in late February and the Sirens sound off across the polar vortex.
I awake to an announcement coming over the intercom: “No skin. I repeat, no skin.”

6. Identity And Scotland
by Michael Granados
Performing arts administrator and independence activist.

Scottish Democratic Alliance

Over the last few years in the independence campaign I’ve seen scads of folk grappling with their identity. Particularly folk of the Scottish persuasion outwith Scotland who feel the need to comment or otherwise stick their oar in.

Many of this type in the Westminster bubble may or may not have fully come to terms with what this may mean for them and It affects their views on Scotland and in independence referendum. Many fervent supporters of independence listen to what comes out of the Westminster media and are outraged that Scots could say what they do. It is from this perspective that I hope to give a kinder, gentler view of them.

We have seen in the Westminster media time and time again Scottish politicians, civil servants, journalists and others of the commentariat who are not so much Scots but Scottish Expats who have made a choice to move to another country and throw their lot in them. Sounds harsh, doesn’t it? I don’t mean it as a criticism. People make choices all the time about how they want their lives to unfold. What it takes emotionally, spiritually and practically for someone to up sticks and move abroad to England, America or where have you is to sever your ties with the “old” country to adopt your new one. These people whether they realise it or not (and I suspect mostly not) have made the move away from Scotland and divorced their present from Scotland and possibly their future.

I understand how this works as I’m an American expat who has done the same only my adopted country is Scotland.

The problem is you can’t have it both ways. English or Scottish. I suspect there are many Scots living abroad in England who are in the same predicament and I truly empathize with them in this regard. I suspect they moved south without any expectation of having to make this choice or of precisely what they were signing up for in London or what they were giving up in Scotland. It takes guts to consciously decide to pack up, sever ties and emigrate. It is a difficult choice to make, I know, but a choice must be made and ultimately they’ve made that choice already by leaving Scotland.

As much as they may want to blame Alex Salmond for forcing this choice on them he is merely a figurehead for a large segment of Scottish people who have become fed up with everything the Union represents today. It isn’t him they are angry with it is all of us Scots who are no longer buying what Westminster is peddling. A new enlightenment is blooming in Scotland and that genie can’t be put back in the bottle.

We also need to think again. I have been. The United Kingdom is a foreign country and we are foreigners in our own homes. People in England are foreigners to us. They don’t think like us, they don’t act like us and they sure don’t vote like us.

I’ve got nothing against England or the English. They have every right to be who they are and vote for who they want even if it is for UKIP. It doesn’t turn my stomach to share this little island with them. I don’t have a desire to dig a ditch or a wall to ‘separate’ from them but if the choice is to share a country? No, that no longer seems sensible. England and Scotland are already different countries and in many ways Scotland is already an independent country but lacking an independent government which is what the referendum is about.

We have reached an impase; a fork in the road. Not the status quo but a divergent and increasingly harsh and compassionless right wing centralised government in distant London OR one or our own here in Scotland that does what we want when we vote for it.

Independence will happen because it is the right choice. For me I’m secure in my identity; an American (always) but Scottish by choice.

7. A Fitting Legacy For A Good Woman
by Eric Sinclair
Writer, stroke survivor, charity volunteer, and education consultant.

The late Helen Eadie, MSPRicky writes: “Eric was kind enough to let us link to this article he wrote for the Scottish Review. Like Michael’s piece above, it opens by discussing issues of Scottish identity and independence. But then it goes on to discuss the Charter For People Living With Stroke In Scotland and the work done by the late MSP Helen Eadie in creating the charter. In short, it’s a perfect piece to share on”

8. The Song And Dance And Ski And Speech Man
About Avi Cohen
Aphasia advocate and founder of NYC Outdoors Disability.

Ricky writes: I had the good fortune to meet Avi Golden in a support group for survivors of strokes in New York City. Some years ago now, Avi qualified as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). Now there’s a profession where being able to work well within in a team can be the difference between life and death for a patient. Read on….

Avi the EMT. Now you’re more likely to see him in… a wetsuit?!

“…Avi graduated in 1998, [and] was well on his way to pursuing a career and a life that he loved. In the years that followed, he garnered even more credentials as an EMT.

Avi went on to work as a Critical Care Paramedic, a Certified Flight Paramedic, a Rescue Technician, and in the allied roles of firefighter, hazmat operations and weapons of mass destruction technician. Life was good.

In early June 2007, at 33 years of age, Avi was admitted to Columbia Hospital, in New York, for surgery on an mitral valve prolapse (MVP) repair that was discovered near the aortic valve in his heart. Avi thought he’d be out and recovering in short order.

But during the surgery, Avi experienced a stroke on the left side of his brain, leaving him with right-sided paralysis, and profound aphasia, which proceeded to wreak havoc with his life.

Avi remained in Columbia Hospital for two months and then was moved to a rehab hospital in the North Shore – Long Island Jewish Health System – for two more months of intensive in-patient rehabilitation. By early October, he was discharged, and began outpatient therapy at home (which he still receives for his arm and leg).

During his stroke rehabilitation, Avi received “traditional” physical, occupational and speech therapies, but he also utilized a rich mix of non-traditional therapies that included acupuncture, massage, tai chi, yoga, constraint therapy, water therapy, computer games and special speech software. Avi also tried using a Neuromove™ device on his right side.

Avi still has balance problems, and weakness on the right side of his body, but it’s his Expressive Aphasia that frustrates and confounds him more than any of his other post-stroke residuals. Avi can understand what people are saying to him and he can still read quite well.

However, he continues to have a lot of trouble speaking and writing, both of these being reflect problems with expressing himself. This can be devastating for any friendly and outgoing person, let alone a certified paramedic who needs to communicate accurately and effectively to do his job.

Avi refuses to let aphasia get in his way. He still works (and volunteers his time) as a paramedic and, more importantly, he’s embarked on a new mission of “aphasia advocacy,” educating others about aphasia and how it impacts a stroke survivor’s day-to-day life.

To make this new goal a reality, Avi has been involved in a lot of aphasia-related projects. Like the myriad of activities in his pre-stroke life, he’s done so many things since his stroke that it’s impossible to list them all. But as well as being an active aphasia awareness advocate, he’s been featured in the Jewish Standard, educated police, firefighters and EMTs about aphasia, played Tevye in Fiddler On The Roof, and served as a theatrical aphasia consultant.

Avi says that his stroke hasn’t fundamentally changed him. He’s still the same sociable, affable, and compassionate person that he was before his stroke. He uses these qualities and his passion for outdoor sports in NYC Outdoors Disability.”

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