Everything old is new again…here’s to a wordy new year

I often find that New Year’s resolutions last closer to a week… maybe a month… rather than a year. As such, I’m making this less about a resolution than a “theme.” It’s an idea from a friend who assigns a theme to each year–one year it was health, another money–and then just make decisions throughout that year focused on that theme.

I’ve decided my theme this year will be “words.”

What will that entail?

First, more writing… In multiple forms. As evidenced by this entry I’ll try to be more active here. In addition, I plan to send more letters this year. I spent last evening going through my cache of letters and cards I’ve received since college. The letter my dad wrote as he and my mom were dropping me off at college. More than a decade of correspondence from one of my best friends. Old birthday cards full of in-jokes I’d forgotten. As much as I love the digital age, there’s something to be said about a physical letter.

Next…reading. Not more necessarily, just different. I spend an inordinate amount of time on the web and I want to get back to books a bit more. Probably can’t swing my record (50 in a year) so instead my goal is to read from a book, physical or electronic, at least five times a week. Hooray for bus commutes.

Books and letters and words, oh my. Looks like I’m ringing in the new year with some old, forgotten habits…

We Didn’t Start the (Social Media) Fire

Looking at the most recent version of the Conversation Prism, I was struck with an uncontrollable impulse.

Forgive me.

Instapaper, Instagram, FourSquare tells you where I am
Sorting pics, can’t decide, Flickr or Picasa?
Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon, Studebaker,Television
North Korea, South Korea, Marilyn Monroe
LivingSocial, Hulu, Qik, watching movies on Netflix
4Chan, WordPress, Typepad, Buzzfeed, Wikipedia
Harry Truman, Doris Day, Red China, Johnny Ray
South Pacific, Walter Winchell, Joe DiMaggio
GoodReads, Groupon, Google+, StumbleUpon
Livestream, Pinterest, get reviews on Angies List
Rosenbergs, H Bomb, Sugar Ray, Panmunjom
Brando, The King And I, and The Catcher In The Rye
YouTube, Air BnB, won’t you come stay with me
Vimeo, Scoop.it, then get in shape with FitBit
Eisenhower, Vaccine, England’s got a new queen
Maciano, Liberace, Santayana goodbye
We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it
We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it
SlideShare, Evernote, on Reddit links are put to vote
Tumblr, Chatter, Storify, Yammer
Birth control, Ho Chi Minh, Richard Nixon back again
Moonshot, Woodstock, Watergate, punk rock
Bebo, Vevo, Delicious, Meetup makes a me an us
Twitter keeps hashtags aligned, for short vids just get on Vine
Begin, Reagan, Palestine, Terror on the airline
Ayatollah’s in Iran, Russians in Afghanistan
Last.FM and Shazam, Yelp review the place I’ve been
Klout and Kred care what you’ve said, spending hours watching TED
Wheel of Fortune, Sally Ride, heavy metal, suicide
Foreign debts, homeless Vets, AIDS, Crack, Bernie Goetz
MySpace has bands at its core, LinkedIn when your job’s a bore
Facebook update 94, I can’t take it anymore
Hypodermics on the shores, China’s under martial law
Rock and Roller cola wars, I can’t take it anymore
We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it
We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it

It Starts with a Story

Aside

I’m taking a course on rhetoric through Coursera and the first assignment was to “describe yourself as a writer. Tell your classmates—your rhetorical audience—a story or stories about the key life experiences that have helped make you the kind of writer you are.” And so…

It Starts with a Story

It starts with a story. My brother and I are curled up on either side of my dad as he cracks the spine and reads, “Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy…” There’s no heavy-handed symbolism for me at the age of four, just animals that talk and magic that’s real. And all to be had just a musty wardrobe away. And so starts a family tradition that will span half a decade, two countries and countless books. Nearly a decade later,

I’m in my junior high school library and find a book. I’m drawn to the image of a woman walking a mountain path on the cover and I want to know her story—I’ve failed to notice the dragon in the upper corner. Anne McCaffrey brings me to Mercedes Lackey. And I find Susan Cooper and Terry Brooks and Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett and… And… And… It won’t be until years later, listening to Cooper lecture on the importance of fantasy stories for young adults and the connection between fantasy, myth, faith and religion that I realize. It was through these stories that I wrestled with thoughts of good and evil, the meaning of life, the passing of time, and the reality of death. I was forced to find my own answers to the big questions alongside the protagonists whose stories I inhaled. And I embraced the motto of Lackey’s made-up realm, “There is no one true way,” and set my worldview by it.

Crowded into my friend’s basement, we circle around a pirated copy of Quark, formatting the latest story in our high school underground newspaper. We inherited the task from the class ahead of us and are channeling our suburban rebellion into dreams of Hunter S. Thompson glory. We satirize the world around us and publish overwrought teenage poetry that earns a trip to the principal’s office when one confiscated copy causes a teacher to misinterpret melodrama as a suicide note.

Back to the library; this time at college. Now the book is Beluga—a short title for a short book that sends me on a long journey. Here are scientists, studying my favorite species of whale, trying to discover why the whales are dying. The story? It’s a Silent Spring of the St. Lawrence River, but the research goes on. I read the book my freshman year and by the summer before my senior year I’m in Canada. I’m working with the scientists in the book—and realizing I don’t want to be a scientist after all. I don’t want to spend my life studying one aspect of one species. I want Science with a capitol s—from quarks to quasars.

Here’s the story. I have two semesters to find a new answer to an old question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Roger Rosenblatt is lecturing that anthropologists made a mistake…we aren’t Homo sapiens, but rather, Homo narratus. He’s trying to teach me the importance of the personal essay, and sure, I like Annie Dillard and her tales well enough, but where’s the magic? And then my Dad loans me Chet Raymo’s Honey from Stone. Ta-da! Arthur C. Clarke only got part of the story right. It’s actually “Any sufficiently intriguing science is indistinguishable from magic.” Here are words making science into “Science!” Science and faith so intertwined that one is indistinguishable from the other. And it sparks a new answer to an old question.

Now to tell a story I have to learn to fit it to a shape. It may be an inverted pyramid, but it’s still made of science. I learn how to report on science for a newspaper, how to craft a science story for a magazine, even how to capture a scientific narrative in film. And the words spill out across the pages, but once again I’m left to find that it’s not enough to make it my story.

I start a new career as an online editor for a science advocacy organization. I’m preparing for a staff retreat and my assignment is to bring an object that tells a story about me. I look around my apartment, which is dominated by bookshelves, and I spot it. Beluga. And I realize that this time I just might have the story right. I realize it wasn’t just the science writing that drew me in, but the purpose behind it. And I realize that studying science was too limiting because it only focused on one piece. And reporting on science was to limiting because it only reported what is. That what drew me to Beluga was the scientists going beyond “This is what the science says,” to add, “and this is what it means we should do.” I’d stumbled directly into the place I didn’t know I was aiming for.

It starts with a story. The stories we tell ourselves: where I come from, what I believe, who are my people, where I’m going, what I do, why I do it… If Homo sapiens have a motto, it’s Descartes’ “I think therefore I am,” but Rosenblatt was on to something with Homo narratus: Let me tell you the story of who I am…

I couldn’t have said it better

My last post was very much an in situ smorgasbord of rambling thoughts. Here’s a really great play-by-play of events and feelings, which has a spot-on opener and closer. I highly recommend reading the whole thing, but these elements are why I’m sharing it:

A lot of people are angry, upset, or worried about the “Boston Lockdown” as a sign that Freedom Is Over. One thing almost all of these people have in common is not having been in Boston at the time. I work in information security and I’m involved with the privacy scene; I understand there’s a lot going on in America to be worried about. I’m writing this to try and explain that the police acted in good faith, they did the best job they could, and this was not, as it may have appeared from the outside, some sort of martial law terrorizing the citizenry…

 

…I know it’s freaky to see photos of armed troops in an American neighborhood, but that’s just it – it’s freaky. It’s unusual. There was a very specific reason for it and the locals wanted them there and they’ve packed up because the mission is over. I know we in infosec are paid to be paranoid but thinking that this was a “dry run” for some sort of coup is a little over the top even for us.

Now is a good time to reflect on the fact that in some parts of the world, none of this would have seemed remarkable. There are entire countries worn down by constant petty terrorism. Dozens of innocent people have died in bombings abroad during this investigation.
I think Boston’s reaction is a key component of keeping it unusual in our country.Zero tolerance for terrorism.

This is the city which would not be cowed by the wrath of an empire. We won that war. We will not be cowed by you, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, and we will be victorious over hatred, fear, and senseless violence.

Great points all around, but really, go read the whole thing.

Oh Boston, Boston, take me in…

ImageOK, so the real lyrics are about Brooklyn, but it feels like we could all use some I and Love and You this week.

So many conflicting thoughts and feelings that I don’t know where to start, but I know I have to write to get them out, so here goes:

  • The horror of Monday and the price of immediacy: I saw things on Monday that I never wanted to see…and I wasn’t even there. The power of the Internet is that warnings and messages of loved ones’ safety can spread far and fast, but so can images of atrocities. Just last week I was at a conference where we were discussing the pictorial superiority effect–basically “what’s seen can’t be unseen”–and I gotta say, there are some images I would have been much better off not seeing. In the days since, I’ve tried to focus on the positive stories, of which there are many, but the blood-soaked images are still there in my mind’s eye.
  • OMG the media (social and otherwise): As somebody on Twitter put it “Twitter does its best work in the first five minutes after a disaster, and its worst in the twelve hours after that.” Well apparently the same could be said of 24-hour cable news. I’m an active social media user, but I try to do it responsibly…only retweeting corroborated info from trusted sources, not posting images/police scanner info that could endanger people, avoiding “breaking news” that reads like wild speculation. You’d think more people…including, you know, professional journalists…could figure out the importance of that. And just in case it needs said? Speculation is not news. Scoring yet another interview with another grieving friend/family member is not breaking news. And any vague theories about motives or ties to larger organizations without any actual facts? Still not news.
  • The importance of having a sense of humor. I’m not talking about mocking a horrible situation like some asshats did (Hello, not-so-honorable Rep. Nate Bell), but rather finding humor in the somewhat absurd nature of what’s happening. For instance, cops knocking on doors asking for phone chargers or a slightly overzealous parking officer.
  • The endless, mindless rhetoric needs to stop. “They picked the wrong city” What, cause in San Francisco it would have been every man for themselves? Which would have been the right city? And “we will not be terrorized” needs to seriously be called into question. It was actually the tweet above that got me writing. He went on to clarify that he was directing the comment at officials shutting down the city, not citizens choosing to stay in and then drew comparisons to the DC sniper and the city NOT shutting down. It’s hard to armchair coach this one…I mean, what if they hadn’t shut things down and a huge number of people got hurt? People would have been crying foul then as well. And yet…an entire metropolitan area is basically stuck at home glued to their television in, if not terror, than at least high anxiety. Can we really say “we won’t let the terrorists win” at this point?

So yeah. That’s my mental landscape as the city is in about its 10th hour of lock down. Can’t really leave it on that note, so let me close with a bit of welcome schmaltz:

Disney of Yore

Had a snippet of classical music stuck in my head and did a quick ID it.My brain was saying it was Peter and the Wolf, and sure enough, it was Peter’s theme:

But in finding that clip, I got sucked down a black hole of memories…

Pecos Bill:

Paul Bunyan:

Susie the Little Blue Coupe:

Lambert the Sheepish Lion

(which is now the song stuck in my head)

But no, this isn’t just an excuse to watch endless YouTube videos (though you’re more than welcome to go even further down that particular rabbit hole, there’s a bunch of old Disney to be found). Earlier this weekend, I got into a conversation about Disney with a friend who is a new dad. He said he still hasn’t decided if he wants his kid watching any Disney (Pixar as exception), because of the morals that are so often portrayed, such as the idea that women aren’t complete without a man and they always need rescued in some way (his words, not mine).

I have to admit, in his shoes, I’d probably skip most* of the “Disney Princess” movies for just that reason…and I like the fact that he’s just as worried about his SON getting that message about women. But I don’t know, there’s still some worth in other Disney feature-length animation…albeit mostly the ones without romance as the principle plot point: Bambi, Dumbo, Fantasia, Alice in Wonderland, The Sword in the Stone. If I had kids, I’d like to think I’d want them to have a little of that magic in their lives.

Personally, I’d be more worried about the larger marketing juggernaut side of Disney. So count me glad that I don’t have to make those kinds of parenting decisions at all.

*Think I might still “allow” Mulan. Sure there’s the romance, but it’s secondary and Mulan was one of the so-called “princesses” who was fine rescuing herself.

If You View My Anti-Intolerance as Anti-Christian…

Someone from Facebook just posted a threat to unfriend people in order to not deal with “hate spewing, pot stirring, profanity, and anti-Christian posts!” While I’m not sure that I’m who she is talking about, there is a chance given I recently posted Mayor Menino’s brilliant letter against Chick-Fil-A’s “Christian” bigotry against gays.

Let me be clear, although I am agnostic, I am NOT anti-Christian. I am not anti-Muslim. I am not anti-Buddhist or really anti-[any faith here]. While I enjoy the writing of people like Richard Dawkins, I disagree that religion itself is inherently bad. I know too many devoutly religious people who find great strength in their faith.

That said, I’ve actually known some devoutly religious people who found great strength in their faith as well as a solid belief that all homosexuals should be rounded up and put on an island away from the rest of society.

So no, I’m not anti-religion…I am anti-bigotry, anti-hatred, and anti-intolerance. And when those virtues are wrapped under the veil of religion, then yes, I DO have an issue.

In this day and age, the word Christian applies to this man:

as much as it does to Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church…the man behind protests like these:

Both are reverends of the Christian faith, but while the former preached love and tolerance the latter preaches hatred and bigotry.

And if somebody views my opposition to hatred, bigotry, and intolerance, as being “anti-Christian,” I think that says more about them and their entry into their religion than it ever will about me.

I think this quote that is circulating Facebook covers it well:

If you’re going to self-identify as Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, etc. etc. etc. I would hope that you FIRST self-identify as a loving, caring, and tolerant human being and build from there.

5 Adjustments on Returning from Hawaii

I just spent 10 amazing days in Kauai. No, really. A-MAZ-ING. Been back for a little over 24 hours now and am finding I need to make a few adjustments. Here’s what has most caught my notice since returning:

  • People - Dear god there’s a lot of people in Boston…and cars…and tall buildings. And a definite lack of palm trees and chickens.
  • Morning symphony - Speaking of chickens…no crowing mixed in with the morning songbird chorus, which is nice. Unfortunately they’ve been replaced by the sounds of traffic.
  • Where’d the pretty go? - Boston has some nice views. And the light at dawn/dusk is gorgeous. But my friends coined the phrase “stupid pretty” for the vistas we were seeing…no really, that whole island is so gorgeous it’s ridiculous. I may campaign for them changing their license plate slogan. I mean, between the choice of “Hawaii: The Aloha State” and “Hawaii: Stupid Pretty,” which would you want on your car?
  • License plates - Oh right, there are license plates from states other than Hawaii.
  • Food - No more fish tacos everywhere I turn…no chance I’ll be continuing my daily quota. And I’m faced with the reality that the farmers market selection will take a definite downturn, especially in the fruit offerings.

And one thing I’m quite happy to adjust to:

  • My bed - Not that the bed in Hawaii was uncomfortable, it just wasn’t MY bed. And while it was a fantabulous vacation…it’s good to be home.

Relative Misery: It’s OK to cry if you have no shoes…

I try to keep up on Amanda Palmer’s blog, but in the hustle and bustle of life and all there is to read and enjoy and experience, I’m not wholly consistent. But when a particular post is then recommended by several other people I follow, it hits the “must read” list. Thus was my experience with her latest entry: on recording, marriage, and the problem with first world problems.

In her trademark, ramble-y style of personal anecdotes of the recent past, the far past, the present, and general philosophy, she explores the hidden judgment behind the “first-world problems” tagline, with a basic thesis that:

and OF COURSE the problems of those in the first world are first world problems. if you’re HAVING them, chances are….that’s where you are.

starving people have starving people problems, dying people have dying people problems, overweight people have overweight people problems, white people have white people problems, black people have black people problems, rich people have rich people problems, gay people have gay people problems, straight people have straight people problems….are we detecting a pattern?

everybody’s got them, period.

you can’t measure human suffering with a yardstick. those who try to do it end up vindictive, even when they’re trying to be helpful.

because the minute you start measuring suffering, you invalidate somebody’s suffering…and that just never works. that’s where the whole shit starts getting ugly.

To which I say, a thousand times yes.

I’m going to do that horrible reader/author thing where I remember the idea but not where I got it from, so can’t attribute appropriately (but I will at least say “not mine originally!”), but I remember some author lamenting the proverb “I wept because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.” The nameless author, who I so dearly wish I could remember, pointed out that, while the proverb is trying to say that you should be happy because it can always be worse, what it’s really saying is that the only person who has a right to complain is the person with the shittiest circumstances. That one person whose circumstances are the most miserable, that ONE person gets to gripe. Everybody else is a bit better off so should be happy with that minor improvement…all the way up the chain of 7 billion people to whoever is the luckiest, most well-off person on Earth.

Channeling Amanda…..fuck that.

Not that we should all be complaining all that time. And yes, it’s good to find happiness where you can. But you know what? Sometimes even the luckiest person has a shit day. And sometimes that lucky person wants to gripe about that shit day. And that person? That lucky, normally totally happy person? They have the freedom to complain without judgement or the need to feel guilty for their complaints.

And there’s a little bit of happiness in that freedom.

Made. Of. Win.

So this is very much a “it’s all about me” post, but I need SOME sort of record of how much today rocked.

  • [insert general "I *still* love my job" info here]
  • I discovered “The Traveling Red Dress,” which is such an amazing project in pride and self-love that I’m 100% going to be taking part and you’ll be sure to hear more about it later.
  • We had a studio photographer in the office taking staid portraits of everybody and then some “prop” shots. My props of choice were my GEEK bookends and my book-worm plate, i.e. so much truth in advertising that I don’t know where to start. And the geek love of the fact that I not only was allowed, but encouraged to wave that geek flag professionally is just so much bliss…
  • I ordered some new glasses (which, if you’re not a regular glasses wearer. probably means little to you, but think about the fact that this is the ONE item that I wear every. single. day. and realize how crucial a decision it can be) that I absolutely love.
  • Ukulele class was all kinds of fun with new techniques, new songs, and further solidification that “Yes, I love (and can play!) this instrument.”
  • My brother informed me that I was vicariously referenced in a Nerdist podcast (1:00:25…when Jonah talks about desecrating some Dave Matthews material…those were my old CDs, which I sent to my brother for just this purpose).

And so many things that just can’t be described, which, all together equal such a nerd-eriffic, geek-love festival that I am filled to the brim with glee and happiness and love and joy. So yes, Happy Valentines to you all!