Batkid Begins: #SFBatkid’s recipe for success…besides magic

I saw Batkid Beginsthe feel-good documentary about the feel-good #SFBatkid event-gone-wild last night and it kind of blew me away.

If you don’t know the story of #SFBatkid, the trailer is the best way to bring yourself up to speed, but in summary: the Make-A-Wish Foundation had a 5 year old with a wish to be the “real Batman,” and they extended themselves to make it happen, and it went nuts on social media, and thousands people showed up to turn San Francisco into Gotham, and that went nuts on social media to a legendary level.

For me personally #SFBatkid had the same resonance that I figure it had for a lot of people: I spent a lot of time growing up wishing or pretending I was a superhero, and who doesn’t want that to come true for kids who have been through critical illnesses? And I was a huge Batman fan when the Michael Keaton film came out. (See my Instagram feed for how huge).

The documentary, besides being (and I say this without any ire at all) an 87-minute commercial for the Make-A-Wish organization (link goes to the Canadian site!) with ample plugs for the corporations that got involved, is also pitching human ingenuity. It talks a lot about the way people respond when they see possibilities instead of challenges. I found that really inspiring both personally and as I make professional choices.

So often we get trapped into what we can accomplish without risking failure. This movie is about thinking big, and having big work out in a huge way. (I mean…so you find someone to play Batman, and it turns out he has a wristheld projector he was engineering himself just hanging around his home….) It’s really about people and the magic they make for each other, and I would love to write more words about that but really, just go see the film. It does a great job.

The other lesson this film offers for anyone who wants to help things get reach on the Internet, is that some of the viral nature of this story came down, I think, to which influencers got involved. Two of the first volunteers to come on board for #SFBatkid were Eric (E.J.) Johnston and his wife Sue Graham, and they recruited Mike Jutan to play The Penguin. From my understanding of the film, Mike’s post on Facebook kind of started the viral impact going. And it was also clear, in the film, that Mike worked for Industrial Light & Magic, George Lucas’s studio.

Aha. Aha!

If you were going to choose a group of people to go, ahem, batshit crazy over turning a city into Gotham for a child to play Batman for a day, wouldn’t a network of high-achieving SF&F fans and movie creators and actors and special effects people be the perfect nucleus? I mean, who is going to be better at promoting this kind of thing than someone who describes working on the next Star Wars or similar thing as: “It is, without a doubt, my childhood dream come true to work at ILM. It’s everything I could have ever hoped it would be, and more.”

(Mike, by the way, is from Hamilton and went to Waterloo. Small world! Shoutout!)

Well, that’s what happened here. The yes people not only knew the other yes people in the way that high achievers do, but they were connected to the “well…sure why not?” people through content, in this case a love for superhero and Batman narratives in particular. And not just any content: Strongly visual content. Batkid Begins shows the shot of EJ Johnston rehearsing for the Batkid day with a cape billowing out behind him that Mike Jutan shared on his Facebook.

So here’s the recipe:

1. A strong and passionate group of people creating an experience people will want to share, sure, but also a perfect day for a single person, a little boy.
2. An influencer network ready to light up.
3. A strong story with a strong visual.
4. Magic.

The magic is necessary because as those of us who work on the web know, you can have all of the first ingredients ready to mix, but if something else happens that day, or Facebook’s algorithm changes, or even if it just wasn’t the right time…it may not happen. But this is a great start. Ninja level web success does not just mean finding the right platform and content, it means reaching the right people…who may not be following you online.

There are a lot of other things to learn from this film: What happens when an event goes crazy, how to leverage help from companies eager to help (it’s not just that Twitter and Apple got involved, but it’s that the Make-A-Wish team obviously were able to respond), and some amazing examples of real-time storytelling.

And oh, yes. Give people a way to make magic for others, and they will show up in droves.

I totally recommend this movie for digital content creators, superhero lovers, and people who want to make kids happy. So, pretty much everyone, right?

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Getting to okay: The foot feels the foot when it feels the ground

In March 2004, I went into labour after a very healthy, textbook pregnancy. 89 hours after her birth, my daughter Emily passed away due to damage to her body because of a lack of oxygen during delivery.
Bridge with water and trees Scarborough ON
That experience cast a oversized shadow. We live in an era of antibiotics and ultrasound. Carseats save lives. The kids, generally, are okay. But I have a hard-coded understanding that really bad things do not just happen to other children, out there. They actually can happen to mine.

One of the questions I’ve gotten from women who have experienced similar losses, especially when it’s new and fresh and raw and awful, is how will I ever be okay again?

When my eldest son came home from the hospital I was so completely freaked out that he was alive, because I had to keep him that way. I sat on the floor with him in my arms, receiving blankets stacked in the underneath of the change table, cold air from the air conditioning on my thigh, feeling him breathe. Please breathe, please breathe, please breathe is a tough postpartum mantra. But we made it. We were okay, enough anyway. Okay had moved. Two years earlier, okay would have been counting diapers. That year, it was getting up off the floor.

Point awarded: Life.
Butterfly at Colonel Danforth Park
On Monday, my youngest, Liam, age four, is having eye surgery at Sick Kids to remove a cataract. It’s a day surgery and as far as surgeries go, not a big deal. But he will have general anesthetic. It would be nice if he had a good shot at seeing things afterwards. And now I have to make that leap of faith over the gorge that was losing Emily that I can trust the medical team to look after him properly, because the last thing he needs is a parent who is a mess.

And it’s been all right. I have not asked the pre-anesthesia screening nurse to let the surgical team know I have filled my quota of coping with medical nastiness, so please would they keep in mind that the balance of good and evil for the entire universe depends on whether they do their jobs correctly. I haven’t even spent more than…well too many hours on Google.

But then this morning.

Grief rarely drops you a line saying Tuesday at camp drop off, you are going to watch your child launch himself at the stairs and then The Fear will arrive. That’s how I think of it, The Fear. There’s normal parenting fear. There’s the fear you feel the moment before the test results come back negative. And then there’s The Fear felt in that eternal second spent realizing the med tech was looking at your baby’s brain activity, and wiping a tear from his eye at the same time.
Bridge freezes sign at Colonel Danforth Park
Once it knows your address, The Fear can be an over-persistent caller. It lodges in the reptilian brain: Fire is hot, don’t put your toes over the edge of the cliff, your child might die. Might die this week. 

The Fear can be held at the threshold by logic, but logic won’t get it off the porch. It will wreck sleep, and concentration, and relationships. And I think, when people want to know if they will be okay, that’s one big part of it. How do we get The Fear to move on?

Here’s today’s answer out of a million possibilities.

photo 2 (1)I didn’t try to argue myself out my feelings. I didn’t head to emerg for a heart workup. I didn’t make a mimosa. Instead, I grabbed my camera and went for a walk, because it seemed like a better idea than even that protestant work ethic standard, Being Productive. And as I took the time to look at what was right there in front of me, everything behind me slowly shifted back into a manageable size. It was okay.

The pictures in this post are from that walk.

Byte sized #7: Being a better person is good for you

Here at casa Gruden, I’ve been mired in confronting our family’s stuff; my mother-in-law is moving in with us at the end of August (yay!) and so we are clearing out some rooms, in a house we’ve occupied for 10 years. It’s an amazing gift of time to be able to do it drawer-by-drawer, but it’s also an exercise in meeting my younger self…books that changed my life, books that didn’t; art supplies and home projects; notes for articles that didn’t take off.

Maybe that’s why this set of links turned out so airy-fairy.

Why Kickstarter is good for you! Over at The Atlantic, Kathy Gilsinan looks at research into compassion and brain chemistry.

I linked to this piece on Twitter last week (follow me!) but it’s stayed with me long enough that here it is for posterity: Brett Martin’s The Chef Who Saved My Life. I have been gifted with a few moments like this at terrible times in my life, and I hope you have too. But we can’t all write about food and camraderie and dark times of the spirit this nicely.

A hat tip to Cloud at Wandering Scientist for sharing this ThoughtWorks piece by Ted McCarthy on why designing apps to be addictive might be, you know, wrong.

However, if you want a little adrenaline spike before your next meeting, try the Great White Shark Circles Around Surfer video below. My parents took me to Jaws at the drive through in 1975, thinking that I would go to sleep in the back seat. I only sat up for the parts with the spooky music, and once the attack was over my parents would realize I was sitting up and tell me to lie back down. As a result, I both have an irrational fear of sharks and I thought for the longest time, well past my teens, that the entire movie was filmed underwater.

Which is why I am sucker to click on any link like this one. Fear as a motivator: Check!

Byte sized #6: World leaders!

President of the United States weighs in on peas in guacamole. Internet outrage at its finest! I predict a slew of recipes-with-unusual-things-in-them. Also, yum, guacamole.

Op-ed or blog post? I’m still a bit bemused at the variations on this one, sample from The Atlantic: “On Monday evening, President Obama took to the Huffington Post to announce that he would more than double the threshold for what a person can earn and still be eligible for overtime pay.”

Reply All’s podcast #25, Favor Atender, is a pretty amazing story of Twitter, a head of state, and how ranting online can get you into trouble.

Covers of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah is kind of a hobby of mine and so here’s one of the latest. Not related to world leaders but maybe a nice break.

 

Monkey mind and the zen web editor

I’m not a Buddhist, but I try to engage Buddhist principles in my life for the same reason a lot of diets work: It shakes up my viewpoint enough that I have to work hard to decide which choices to make. Then I can see which junk is taking up shelf space.

This post over at the source of all wisdom, The Huffington Post, defines monkey mind for us:

Buddha described the human mind as being filled with drunken monkeys, jumping around, screeching, chattering, carrying on endlessly. We all have monkey minds, Buddha said, with dozens of monkeys all clamoring for attention. Fear is an especially loud monkey, sounding the alarm incessantly, pointing out all the things we should be wary of and everything that could go wrong.

The Internet, and particular social media, is basically built on monkey mind. Yes, there are luminous pieces and epic moments to be found out here on the web, but if you are in the business of regular, daily content, I would argue that part of your success is almost bound to be wrapped up in how well you appeal to monkey mind.

If your readers were having a calm, centred moment, they probably would not be hovering their finger or cursor over your link.

Every brand, site and web editor has to come to terms with this contradiction. How to deliver quality that also appeals to the monkey mind. Sometimes it’s about an “engaging” (read: distracting) headline. Sometimes it’s a graphic. Sometimes it’s timing. Usually it’s all three and then some.

Byte sized #5: The Traffic Factories and more

If you’re fascinated by how journalists/sites/brands get content online and measure its success, Caitlin Petre’s report The Traffic Factories: Metrics at Chartbeat, Gawker Media, and The New York Times at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism is totally worth a read. A tip of the hat to Jim Romenesko’s blog for that one, lo these months ago.

Navel-gazing but still fun: J. Freedom du Lac reports on ‘LOVE SUPREME’: How newspapers played the landmark gay-marriage decision at The Washington Post. It’s a lovely roundup but I found the Facebook rainbow tool and even the WordPress Pride header I’m looking at equally fascinating. It was definitely time.

We have a coyote in our neighbourhood; do you? Drew Nelles looks at the issue over at The Walrus. Also spotted at the Walrus: A username “TooManyCrayons.” Love the name but spent way too many seconds figuring out whether you really can have too many.

I saw Inside Out and it was really great. After Up I guess we all know Pixar can tell a life story in a short montage. Here’s the little memories clip.

Moby Dick in Manhattan

Back just before my husband and I bought our first house, I was ramping up for a career writing fiction. But then I read a story in the New Yorker about this really talented writer who was living in poverty despite critical praise for his books, because they weren’t really selling. In my mid-20s, the whole thing read like a fate worse than a full-time job, so I got one, and became fascinated by the web, and ended up throwing a lot of my energy into building sites. No regrets really, except that there was one famous Canadian writer who offered to blurb my book if I ever finished and sold it, and he died. Sigh.

Weirdly, though, this weekend I was on one of my favourite question-and-answer sites and someone else remembered that article and asked about it. I remembered enough detail to plug a bit more into Google and so I found “Moby Dick in Manhattan” online. Reading it now, although it still isn’t exactly a tale of glory, it really doesn’t sound so bad after all. It does sound quaint, though, a world without blogs, Twitter, or Kindle self-publishing.