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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28 June 2009

Poor MJ

I imagine that many people feel about Michael Jackson’s death the way I felt about John Lennon’s murder on 8 December 1980: hard to reconcile feelings of surprise—shock is more like it—mixed with sadness and an immediate, very personal longing. I never met John Lennon, but on that day in 1980, I felt as though I had lost someone very close to me.

I don’t feel that way about poor Michael.

Strictly speaking, I should be more a child of Michael Jackson’s era than of John Lennon’s. The Beatles dissolved the band around the time I was born, while Michael truly came into his own—as an independent superstar, eclipsing both of his earlier incarnations—as I entered adolescence. There was a lot more of Michael Jackson on the radio than John Lennon, and certainly the radio-killing MTV was more attracted to Michael (and various other Jacksons) than to anything as old and dated as the British Invasion.

The sequined glove era just wasn’t me, though. As much as I admired Michael Jackson on various levels, from his stick-in-your-head songs to his dancing to the brilliant theatrics of his music videos and performances, I never found Jackson as compelling as Lennon, because I never found his off-stage persona at all meaningful. Where Jackson was a performer, Lennon was an artist. Jackson always seemed to find his highest level of expression literally moving in the spotlight—or trying to duck it, and the paparazzi too. Lennon spent much of his time in the spotlight, from his performances to his bed-in antics, trying to redirect those bright lights on to the world’s problems and our responsibility to try to solve them.

It is like the difference between Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan. Jordan remains (to my mind) one of the world’s most incredible athletes; watching clips of classic Chicago Bulls games, Jordan’s maneuvers are still eye catching. However, Ali remains (to my mind) one of the world’s most incredible artists, an athlete who tried to use the bully pulpit provided by his star power to greater social and political ends. Any clip of Ali boxing is incomplete without his corresponding commentary from the beginning and the end of each match, where he was as likely to spout off about the war in Vietnam as about his own (self-granted) title as “The Greatest.” Like Michael Jordan, Michael Jackson never rose above his performances to offer us anything deeper or more meaningful.

Perhaps my definition of art, and of artists, is too narrow. I respect Keats’ construction—that a thing of beauty is a joy forever—as much as the next guy, and by that logic I should take Michael Jackson’s body of work and admire it for what it is. In a way, I do. Jackson’s legacy is assured, and his death is very sad. But it is all the more tragic because what is left behind is as much our collective memory of Jackson’s own sadness, the emptiness that was his circus show life, as our recollection of any single one of his songs.

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