The Value of Words


Fresh from my success of crossing the hexagon path I round the corner and see the old man. He’s tilted back with shoulders pressed up against the wall balanced on two legs of a small wooden stool. A leather apron with multiple pockets and odd objects protruding from it is wrapped around his usual white tunic. In the corner of his mouth hangs a barely lit, thin rolled cigarette, but I can smell the old smoke still lingering in the air.

“Hello quester,” he says beckoning me closer. “You’ll be looking for a way out, no doubt?” He says with a slow smile and crosses his arms in front of him.

The smile annoys me, like he still sees me as the young quester from a year ago, ready to offer a few words of wisdom then disappear into the ethers of Webland again.

“Actually. No.” I try to reply with more confidence than I feel. “I have a long way to go still.”

His smile doesn’t change, but the smallest of twitches seems to make his left eyebrow raise, just for a second. He jumps up, throwing the cigarette from his mouth and grinning ear to ear. The legs of the stool clatter back on to the floor and it somehow manages to land upright.

“Then you’ll be needing to visit my shop.” He says and grabs me by the arm.

He pulls me so we’re both facing the wall and he reaches out to draw two symbols. From the tip of his fingers the lines appear in the same flamed writing. Cracks appear as the lines of the symbols spread out in a dozen different directions, they dance across the face of the wall curling back in on itself until the whole wall looks like the cracked skin of a broken egg.

The cracks seem to grow brighter and I had to shield my eyes. I take a step back, but his arm feels reassuring as he stays rooted still. I can’t see, but I feel the hot blast of air that comes from space in front of us, then nothing.

I open my eyes and see the entrance where the wall had been. A wide doorway that the old man quickly steps through into the lighted large room.

The room has a wooden floor and along the walls it is filled top to bottom with shelves hollowed out of the rock. There are folded stacks of clothes and helmets of every size crammed row upon row. Swords and staffs line the spaces in between leant upright and bundled together with strips of cloth.

The long counter at the back of room has dozens of little drawers, I can hear the old man bent down behind it rattling drawer after drawer, open and closed, and mumbling under his breath. As I reach the counter, the mumbling quiets and he reappears wearing a pair of silver rimmed glasses and smoking a fresh cigarette.

“So what have you got to trade?” he asks, the cigarette jiggling at the side of his mouth dropping flecks of ash.

I look down at the old clothes I’ve been wearing since I set off on my journey. The same ragged cloak covered in the dirt picked up from over 2 months of travelling through the forest. But that’s not all, I picked up, I suddenly recall.

I pull the backpack from my shoulder and open it up to rummage inside. I put the charred lump that used to be my wooden staff out and I see the old man wrinkle up his nose, the creases on his forehead chasing each other .

“No, not that” I say quickly. “These…” and from the backpack I pull out and place two rubies, as big as boar eyes, on the counter in from him

He picks one of them up and holds it up to the light. A red glow briefly falls across the whole of the shop’s rocky roof bathing everything in its eerie light and then its gone. With a quick gesture the two rubies are swallowed up into one of the pockets in his apron.

“Those area a start,” he says and points a finger at the backpack I’m still holding. “Anything else?”

I look inside the bag, two A to Zs, a couple of online courses and the meanderings into the worlds of psychology, gamification and user experience. It doesn’t seem to amount to much.

“Well. You can see for yourself.” ” I say at last and throw the open backpack on to the counter in front of him.

As the bag lands on the counter, a cloud of dust seems to puff out from it, another remnant from my long travels on the road.

The old man looks surprised. His already drooping cigarette falls from his open mouth and he doesn’t seem to notice. Instead he leans down close to the backpack, bulging eyes staring hard from behind his spectacles almost brushing his face to it and then he sniffs.

His head snaps. “Where did you get that?” he asks, both hands moving around the counter and I hear the manic sliding of drawers again.

“It’s my blogging backpack. It’s been with me since the start.” I say and lean in close myself taking a small sniff. It smells to me like old burnt grass, dirt and then yes, something else…

“Word vapour.” The old man says and bangs shut a final drawer.

His hands emerge holding a t-shaped pipe and a small glass ball that has a slightly protruding opening with a shallow lip. He pops the lip of the ball into the middle hole in the pipe giving it a sharp twist and it clicks into place.

He leans down over the backpack again with one end of the pipe close to the material and his lips clamped over the other end. He looks intently at the the bag, not moving. His eyes flick around surface watching, waiting for something, and then he starts to suck.

He takes a slow, long pull of air through the pipe that hollows out both cheeks and coloured mist fills the small glass ball in the middle of the tube. I see it now. Letters and words jumbled together as he keeps on sucking in the small molecules of word cloud.

When he stops the glass ball is filled with a green-grey mix of cloud. He twists the pipe free and from a pocket in his apron pulls a small cork to stopper the opening with.

“It’s raw and pretty unstable.” He says, shaking the ball for me to see and the mixture changes colour and reforms into another set of words.

“We might get another 2, tops 3 glasses at most that you can trade with.” He says, whilst admiring the little glass ball.

250,000 words

Obtained at gamifiied daily writing

The days and nights floating on the word clouds, sleeping on it and letting it drift me wherever it wanted to go. I smile as I realise what this must mean.

Picking up the pipe from the counter, I unbuckle my ragged cloak and sweep it from my shoulder. As I lay it across the counter a trail of dust particles, we both recognize, floats and settles between us. I hold the pipe out to the excited look of the old man.

“How many do you want?” I ask.

Getting Educated in UX


It’s been 5 weeks since I started on my quest to learn more about User Experience Design. To keep me on track, I’ve created some quest milestones to mark progress and breakdown UX Mastery‘s first step, Get Educated.

The torches light my path as I go down step on each stone in the paved tunnels of Webland. Each step brings a satisfying thunk as the pavement sinks in to place. Sometimes stepping on one stone shudders an entire wall into motion. It lifts up and is sucked into the ceilings revealing behind it another path in a cloud of dust.

This is the path I’ve chosen.

UX: Learn Three New Things

UX Reading 30 Minutes a Day:
Books, Blogs, Community

UX Intro Course

Udemy: David Travis’
UX The Ultimate Guide to Usability

UX HTML & CSS Basics




UX Get Educated: Completed 3 of 3

Quest UX – Get Educated

What makes a hero?


When we picture the heroes in stories, we might imagine them in the throws of their heroic moments. The dashing into battle, outwitting of the evil villain and sweeping in to save the day. Yet, the hero didn’t start this way, the stories we remember are ones of transformation, of change, of becoming. They are a journey.

The Hero’s Journey

Joseph Campell’s ‘Hero’s journey’ is a pattern of narrative that he identified across thousands of stories, myths and religions in the world. The journey steps depicted in the video is a shortened version and there are in fact 12 stages that the hero experiences.

The Hero's Journey


In this picture of the full 12 stages, you can see that there is an additional one in-between “Call to Adventure” and “Meeting the Mentor.”

An early step called, “Refusal of the Call” 

The hero feels the fear of the unknown and tries to turn away from the adventure….

Of all the steps in the hero’s journey this is the one that fascinates me.

It is the story representation of what psychologists have been studying for years – that moment on the cusp of change, when people are fearful of it and yet hopeful too. What is it that moves an individual from inaction to action?

What motivates us to accept the call to adventure?

When writing, the refusal of the call moment can be a difficult one to write in a story. We reject the idea of our protagonist not wanting to take up their journey. Imagine Frodo stays in the shire after all, leaving the responsibility of the ring to another. It would make for a pretty short story.

Why have the hesitation at all, why create a moment of possible refusal when who doesn’t want to go on an adventure, conquer evil, get the princess, save the day?

And the truth is. We don’t.

A Life Story

We know in our hearts that the refusal of the call defines us as humans, as much our capacity to be the one who accepts the challenge. We do it every day, with our own fears and beliefs in our own limitations. We close them into a box and carry on with our lives, living out the story we’ve always told ourselves and too afraid to challenge it. In social psychology studies, this is a cognitive bias known as Status Quo bias.

Status Quo Bias is the human tendency to like things to stay relatively the same. The current situation is taken as the reference point, and any change from that baseline is perceived as a loss.

Assumptions of longevity (long lasting), goodness as well as inertia (resistance to change) are said to be contributing factors to status quo bias.

Source: MBA Brief

The hero’s journey is a story that tells us over and over again that we can overcome this bias. That we are capable of breaking out of that inertia.

The interesting thing aboThe Story Needs Youut the ‘refusal of the call’ is that overcoming it, is rarely about wanting to be the hero.

If Frodo had been given the choice to see his journey in its entirety, the trials he would endure, the pain and the loss. Would he still have taken that first step?

The epic tale told afterwards might sound heroic in hindsight, but what moves the character and therefore us to action, we find, is something much closer to the things we’d recognize in everyday life.

A trusted friend tells you its important, so Frodo takes the ring. A promise to someone you love, when Katniss says she’ll try to win the Hunger games for her sister. Or accepting your differences, gives you power your never knew of, “You’re a wizard, Harry!”

It’s funny how all these stories were originally written for younger audiences. Lord of the Rings was written as Tolkein’s sequel to his children’s fantasy novel, the Hobbit. Harry Potter and the Hunger games were both originally sold to a kids and young adults market.  Perhaps that’s telling in itself, that we think of these stories as aimed at children, yet adults fall in love with them just as much.

As children, we have a bravery that isn’t weathered down by age. We hold on to the belief in our ability to chart and change our own futures. We still believe in the stories of important, epic and individual change.

The Story of our Time

I’ve talked about epic stories from our history being a great analogy to help us understand and face the challenges of climate change. The scale of these stories, from putting a man on the moon to abolishing slavery, are so large and sweeping that they are marked in our history as times that changed the way we view ourselves and what we are capable of as human beings.

Yet look around, in the midst of climate change news and scientific consensus, the status quo seems to just keep on rolling.

The thing about those historical stories is that they seem to unroll their events in a sweeping story of emotion and victory. We think, if I was the hero at the cusp of such a historical moment in human history, the call to adventure would be unmissable. It would be too obvious and too huge to refuse, right?

Except we forget that those signposts don’t exist until the historians and the victors write of them afterwards. Only when the journey is over, do the bards line-up the verses and craft a beautiful tale.

Living in the moment of an epic story means being just one person still living out our life. We each still face our own hero’s journey and very much play out our own ‘refusal of the call’.

If I said to you.

Tackling climate change will be the biggest thing that will ever happen in your lifetime. This is the biggest difference you will ever make to the world.

What is your reaction? Do the words sounds bombastic, idiotic? As childish and ridiculous perhaps as “You’re a wizard, Harry.”

Yet this is the story that is unfolding. A repeated call each and every day to every men, women and child of this generation. It is a call to adventure to the hero in each of us, insistent, frightening and tempting, to step outside our ordinary worlds and into the story of our time.