Of Bellydancing and Adventure

I leaned against the wall of a small teahouse on the outskirts of Marrakech, taking in the exotic locale, the musicians and bellydancers…

Well, sort of. The location was actually a vegetarian cafe – Zenith – on Pittsburgh’s Southside.  The musicians and dancers were very real, though.


My wife and I, neither of whom bellydance (Yes, men do it too!) or play instruments, really enjoyed it.  The occasion was Jalsah Pittsburgh.  What’s that, you ask?

“The Jalsah is a Middle Eastern music event that invites all musicians (regardless of instrument) and drummers to sit in and play Middle Eastern music for open floor dancing all night. This is a participatory community event designed to bring together dancers and musicians inspired by Middle Eastern music. Experienced….inexperienced…all are welcome! For those folks who wish to sit and listen, chairs will be provided.”

My son even got into the act, and the dancers were gracious enough to teach him:


One of the organizers was the writer of “Your Inner Vagabond” (check out the blog, now!) and his wife.  They also provided the excellent coffee.  The cafe au lait was awesome! Snacks were provided by Zenith.  Zenith is an amazing place.  It has an eclectic decor with stuff from just about everywhere.

We met a lot of neat people, and I know I’m going to miss some, but here’s a few:

AJ and Andrew of Your Inner Vagabond

Claire and Berna of Khafif

Sterling of Yoga and Bellydance


Sue, Becky, and Dur

The musicians of Ishtar 

And I believe I saw Olivia of Zafira as well.

Guests included Kristina Melike, Carmine Guida, and Umut Yasmut.

Good stuff!  The event is held every few months or so here in Pittsburgh, and each of the artists has their own schedule.  I also would put in a plug for the Globalista Jam being held May 18, which will feature artists from all kinds of traditions, such as Irish dance and of course, bellydance.

Pittsburgh has definitely got a thriving art scene.  Get some culture and try something new!


But where does she live? Help me write my story!

Okay, for all of you that are writers or party types out there in Pittsburgh:

My latest story has a barmaid that works at a jazz bar in Lawrenceville, and my lead character, an investigator with a security firm is on his way to talk to her.  Problem is, she won’t tell me where she lives!

I’m trying to avoid Oakland and Shadyside.  I pondered the Mexican War Streets. This story takes place a few years in the future, mind you.  I don’t think she’d have the income for a loft.

So, any ideas?



Bootcamp Pittsburgh Rocked!

Chris Brogan Cindy Closkey Mike Woycheck Justin Kownacki

This weekend I attended Bootcamp Pittsburgh at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. I volunteered to be part of the setup crew which was cool because I got to start meeting people before the event got rolling. Food was provided by WearLocal.

The keynote was by Chris Brogan, Cindy Closkey, Mike Woycheck, and Justin Kownacki.

My first session was on how to do a podcast – seems simple really, but I’ll need to learn Audacity and/or MovieMaker.

Second was a Branding session by Kimberly Reed, Lindsey Patross of Spreadshirt (and I heart PGH, and various others!), iJustine, and Rachel Arnold. It was good stuff and I learned:

  • People are loyal to people, not brands
  • Be yourself and let that show through
  • People want to do business with people they like
  • Branding is a process and takes time
  • Choosing the right name is critical
  • Get a professional to do your logo – it will pay off in the long run
  • Everyone should have a logo

Lunch was generously provided by Guru.com!

STBD and iJustine

After lunch, I went to a panel on how to find your voice. It was interesting and the panel consisted of the cast of STBD and also iJustine. Things I learned:

  • Be yourself, flaws and all
  • Be energetic but not forced
  • Get feedback from family / friends
  • Authenticity is Key!
  • Be Consistent
  • Take care of your voice
  • 2 people are more interesting than one (conversation)
  • You can’t please everyone – pick your audience
  • Don’t take feedback personally
  • Be honest
  • Know when to stop talking!
  • Have a plan but don’t be restricted by it

The last session I attended focused on Monetization, and was hosted by Lindsey Patross and Gene Bromberg. Good stuff! Spreadshirt has a great model, and Gene showed how to take something you care about and blog about it, and an opportunity might just come along! They also reviewed things like Google AdSense and reviewing blogs.

We had lots of food left over so we donated it to a homeless shelter at 3rd and Wood, and then walked over the Smithfield Street Bridge to Station Square where we had the afterparty at Bar Louie’s

Cindy Closkey and Norm from AIP

iJustine chugs one down

Mike Woycheck learns a little about wrestling

I met a lot of neat people, too, like Dawn Papuga and Alex Landefeld, Sportsocracy, John Carman, the Wrestling Guys, and Brian (check out his new blog!)

All in all, it was fun, I learned a lot, and did some good networking! I’m looking forward to Podcamp Pittsburgh in the fall…


How to Start Writing a Book

I’ve sadly neglected my writing for awhile.  Recently, I decided to get back to it and found that I had run into a problem:  I had no idea what to write about or how to get started.  In desperation I decided to turn to the library.

I found Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott.  So far it’s been very helpful.  Anne talks about her life as a writer, how she became one, and how she teaches students how to write.  She does all this with a touch of humility and a lot of humor.

Some of the helpful tips so far:

1.)    Give yourself short assignments.  Instead of looking at the whole book, or even a chapter, just write the next paragraph.  Get through that.  Do this enough times, and you’ll finish it!

2.)    Write crappy first drafts.  It doesn’t have to be perfect the first time – you may end up throwing away five pages and starting with the sixth page, but if you don’t write those first five bad pages, you’ll never get to the good stuff on page six.

So I sat down and just started writing, just get the scene where they meet written.  Just get the scene where they talk written.  And as I wrote it, I laughed at how bad some of it was.  But hey, I can go back later and rewrite it, right?

I recommend the book.  And remember, keep writing!


Bootcamp Pittsburgh!

I’ve been keeping a blog since September of last year, and it’s a very basic WordPress-hosted blog. Now it’s time to learn how to take it to the next level – CSS, podcasting, vlogging, adsense, and so on. I could surf the web and attempt to figure out how to do all these things….

Or I could go to Pittsburgh Bootcamp!

There will be over 30 people speaking and at last count there will be 130 attending this Saturday. This Bootcamp assumes no knowledge on the part of the attendee but will teach you how to use New Media to get your voice heard. It has lots of sessions and was conceived by Justin Kownacki of STBD – the web series I’ve spoken of highly here before!

Hope to see you there!


Three Down, Seven to Go

Yesterday I did my third Toastmasters speech.  This one was on Why You Should Improve Your Body Language.

I am doing much better.  Some of the anxiety is fading, although I still talk way too fast when I’m speaking.  I used gestures more this time, of course.

It’s funny.  For me, I’m not really afraid to get up in front of people, although of course I am afraid of messing up or blowing it.  No, what’s really the hardest about these speeches is picking a topic in the first place!  What am I interested in enough, what do I know enough about, what can I talk about that will hold my audience’s interest?

And then, organizing all that into a 5 – 7 minute speech.

I’ve done speaking before, but a lot of times I was giving a memorized speech that someone else wrote, or I was doing a sermon (Lots of source material there and the audience was e3xpecting that subject).  So this is kind of new for me.

But so far, I’m doing pretty well.  I’ve even started catching myself before I say “uh” and “um” when I’m doing presentations for my job!

If you haven’t heard of Toastmasters, I recommend them.  Check them out here.


Hobnobbing with the literary set

The other night, the family and I went to see Tawni O’Dell, author of Back Roads (featured by Oprah), Coal Run, and Sister Mine. These books are all set in (fictitious) contemporary Western Pennsylvania coal towns. Mrs. O’Dell is from the area herself, and worked out of state for years before returning home as an author. She was very gracious, even naming our son her “youngest fan.” If you haven’t read her books, I recommend them, but be warned – they are literature, and not quick reads!