19 July 2009

Love the Bomb

If you read what I write here, then you may soon begin to notice a shift in this space. Methodical, not radical, but a shift nonetheless. The times, they are a changin’. What follows in the middle here is a bit of philosophizing (read: navel-gazing). Scroll down if you want to skip to the punch line. I’ll never know.
For years now, I have clung tightly to a particular perspective about the online universe—a philosophy, one might call it, born of my era, my own age, and my personality. Old enough to have gone through an adolescence that included computers but no internet; young enough (and technologically minded enough) to have embraced each piece of it as it arrived, and to have incorporated technology fully into my life. Old fashioned enough to believe that public personas matter, and that we must take care in cultivating them; young enough to see that the definition of an acceptable public persona has evolved and expanded greatly, and mostly for the better.

I started “blogging” on 17 September 2000, with this piece. Prior to that, I had done some web site dabbling here and there, but this piece, written while I worked at KPMG, was the beginning of something else entirely. I continued through that fall and early winter, twenty pieces written and made available to the world (archived here; my favorite remains this one), and it all felt slightly thrilling. The process was not without its ups and downs: I got up every day around 5am to write; and I had to convince a few people that my energy (and compulsion) in this arena was about meeting my own internal needs, and not a desire to create an endless stream of Times op-ed submissions.

I did it all using a name that is wholly, legally my own—and yet, not “me” as most people know me. I assumed the persona of my own initials in order to create a space for myself to write that felt publicly protected. I was hiding in plain sight. At the same time, I also drew a very sharp line around my writing world, and have largely stuck to it. Essentially, this meant not much writing about art or the world of my professional life. I have written and published a number of pieces about job hunting and career-related issues—almost one a year; 2008’s is here and the others are available through links at the bottom of that page—but that was about as close as I got. (Moreover, the hiding-in-plain-sight seemed to work too well: precious few of the people I have interviewed over the years ever seemed to have been aware of my perspectives on job hunting, interviewing, etc.) Indeed, it was in part because of the human resources part of my professional life that I felt even more strongly about being so careful about what I did online; I had plenty of examples gathered of what not to do.
All that said, it’s time for a change. Methodical, hardly radical, but a change. I recently did a personal “digital inventory,” and the degree to which I’m wired surprised even me. At the same time, I have resisted my own engagement in a few aspects of the digital world, even as I took advantage of what others did. I was stubborn where I should have been flexible, and I drew lines around what I was willing to do that made sense to me but were predicated on the idea that the outside world cares, when in many ways it surely did not and does not. And in hewing so tightly to certain kinds of “rules,” I may very well have missed opportunities that would have been good for me, and for others, too. (Heck, I still don’t really call my blogs “blogs”—because that word carries certain connotations, and I was always happier with the idea that I was just writing, for the web, on my own.)

What all this means is that I intend to use this space to more effectively and productively integrate a range of different aspects of my life—my professional life included. I’ve launched myself over on Twitter, after months of skepticism about that medium, to see whether that helps with this process or not. (It may not.) How all of this will play out remains to be seen; I work in the field of communications, and I want this to be strategic, thoughtful, stimulating, interesting, and not merely (self-)promotional.

Not much will change over on the TTAISI side. Almost nine years later, those initials and that persona are well and truly mine, and I intend to keep them, and to keep doing what I’ve been doing, whatever that is. Writing, mostly.

If all of this seems like a lot of internal drama over something not very dramatic, I won’t argue the point. A few years ago, I wrote about process issues, and to quote myself: “Engaging in a process of self-examination—freed from a concern about a specific end product—is not easy...” That’s what this is, an internal process that for me has not been so easy.

But the gauntlet is down, and off I go.

*Thanks to a certain colleague (and she knows who she is) for reminding me of a certain movie - apt in this instance, and from which I have taken my title.

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08 July 2009

Book Tweet

This isn't actually a Tweet at all - it was a sign posted on the door of the Casco Public Library, in Casco, Maine. And no, it's not a perfect 140 characters.

Still, were I to Tweet something about books (were I on Twitter, and able to Tweet), this is a sentiment I'd be thrilled to echo. So I'm doing my bit by posting it here instead, with full credit to library in which I found it - and to the place from which it apparently originated.

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25 May 2009

Unstructured Summer

Let me call it as it was: I had to fight to get my time for myself.

I guess it's the way it is for many kids, the way it was years ago and remains today. Summers could be frustrating. It wasn't a matter of laziness, so much as a kind of frustration over someone else setting the agenda for my time. Whatever it was I was required to do, what I can say assuredly is that all I wanted to do was hang out somewhere quiet, listen to music, and read. Once a bookworm...

In this context, summers in Royalston always had a special feel—and not without its frustrations either. The rambling old farmhouse, and the seemingly endless surrounding woods and fields; the black flies (particularly in May) and the mosquitos; the periodic hammocks and tire swings; the cool inner parlor, with its uncomfortable couch; the warmer, outer parlor, with a similar couch; the childhood bathroom, with an Americana-themed wallpaper, and the childhood bedroom, still mine, with (oddly) a flower print wallpaper but a slate-blue trim on the doors, windows, and molding; and the kitchen, the big, farmhouse kitchen, the center of all activity as it is in most homes, but here (situated at the front of the "little house," for anyone familiar with the classic New England "big house, little house" construction) even more central, providing access to the main house, and with doors out to the east and west sides lawns; all of this reminds me of how much I treasured my unstructured summers, and how much I yearned for them when I couldn't have them. How much I yearn for them still.

Underneath that Faulknerian paragraph-sentence is something simple: the idea of freedom to explore: one's self, one's surroundings, and one's relationship to the world. And as much as we do this in relation to other things, we also need the freedom to do it in relation to nothing so much as our own thoughts. This is what summers are meant for, just the way that Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn found the good weather a supportive partner in their explorations of the world. One can navel-gaze any time of the year, but the warmth of summer is especially good for this. Having spent the weekend in Royalston, in this comfortable, Crossing To Safety-esque sometimes home of my childhood, I’m reminded of the whole dynamic once again.

And I’m reminded of what I want for my daughter—the same opportunity to experience the pleasurable freedoms of summer, to create a set of childhood memories that connect to a place and a time and a sense that the whole world, contained within a backyard, awaits exploration or quiet contemplation.

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08 May 2009

Data Geek

Doing some research for a ... well, some kind of article / blog post / op-ed [TBD] about art museum attendance, I happened on a cool feature of the U.S. Census Bureau: the Facts for Features section of their site. Given how much I love their data, I don't know how I've missed this previously.

Essentially, the Census Bureau each year publishes a set of stats keyed to specific holidays, drawing on their deep and rich data set about life in these here United States of America. For example, the most recent is about the upcoming 4th of July holiday, and includes information about cookouts (and the amount of meat we consume, or where our baked beans likely came from), fireworks, and even the dollar value of our annual trade with Britain, our former colonizer ($112.4 billion).


And, while I'm on the geek front, also coming soon: some thoughts on the just-released version 3.1 of OpenOffice, my office "suite" of choice.

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15 January 2009

January Miscellany III

I can admit this because, ridiculous though it is, it works: a few weeks ago, we bought the Iron Gym Total Upper Body Workout Bar.

It was late at night, we were tired and watching TV. There was an ad. We egged each other on, and the next thing we knew, we'd ordered it. After hanging up the phone, we wondered whether we'd just spent a bunch of money ($49.99 when all was said and done) on something that wouldn't work.

Imagine my surprise, then, to discover: it really does work! And it's basically small enough that even in an NYC apartment, we have room to stash it.

For anyone interested, though, it's now available via Amazon, which might be an easier place to order from, since the phone ordering process forces you to say NO to all sorts of other options (like monthly services) you probably won't want.

(Oh, and I'm up to five consecutive pull-ups now. How 'bout you?)

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13 January 2009

January Miscellany II

If you’re a conscious adult over the age of 18, you’re probably aware that the print media industry is in deep trouble, and magazines face as many challenges as newspapers.

Which raises a question I have long wanted to ask: why, in an age of “just in time” everything, an era when you can order something on the web and have it delivered to your door the next day (if not earlier), when such a mind-boggling array of databases are linked together to bring mountains of junk mail to my inbox on a daily basis …

… Why does it still take most magazines six to eight weeks to "process" a subscription? Seriously. Even if you do the sign-up on the web, you get a note telling you that it’ll take that long for your first issue to arrive. Hunh? It’s not like I don’t know the current month's magazines are printed already. What’s the hold-up?!

No wonder that industry is in such trouble. Readers are using the internet, while publishers are still relying on the Pony Express.

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11 January 2009

January Miscellany I

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my new hero, Bruce Schneier, and the continuing farce of “security theater.” For anyone interested in this subject, boingboing.net did an interview with Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff on the subject in mid-December. [Hat tip to Economist.com’s Gulliver blog.]

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