Shall We Gather at the River?

Raise your hand if you’ve read this Facebook status update some time in the last few weeks:

Hey folks, for my own personal mental health I’m logging off Facebook for a while. I love you all – be kind to each other!

I’ve read a lot of them. (Heck, I’ve posted one or two of them.) In the last few months Facebook has stopped being a guilty pleasure and started being a painful habit. I’m not sure why that is. Is it that the algorithms have started condensing the things we see to pound us with one emotion – and that emotion right now for so many of my friends is fear and anger and pain? Is that all we’re posting to Facebook because it seems if we don’t post our fear and anger and pain we’ll seem unsympathetic or uncaring? Is the Facebook algorithm just showing that, in favor of our usual diet of cat pictures and travel selfies?

I don’t know. But I can feel the community I’ve had in Facebook breaking apart. I know what it feels and looks like, because it’s happened before.

When I first left college, my social collection was a mailing list. There were about eight or nine of us, all friends from college, who were on it. We emailed each other ALL THE TIME. We probably exchanged one or two hundred emails a day. (We mostly worked from home on computers.) We knew everything about each others lives!

Then we all started getting LiveJournal accounts. That was probably the greatest flowering of “internet friends” for me. It was all psuedonymous (eg. we only knew each other by username, not by actual name. There are still some people who think of me as Oriana, so strong was that connection and identity.) It lasted a long time – maybe 6 or 7 years – and we had extremely strong relationships with each other in these intertwining dialogues. I called 911 for LJ friends who needed medical intervention (which is extra challenging when you don’t know their real name or where they lived – I solved that by knowing who they knew In Real Life and reaching out to those people). I invited LJ friends to my home, and many remain dear and beloved friends.

But at some point around 2010, the LJ community fell apart. It stopped working, people wrote their goodbyes or just drifted off. Where my friends used to post about 100 posts a day, that same list now rarely has more than one or two posts a day – and most of those are syndicated from other sources like blogs. It was frankly a huge loss. I still miss it, although I was one of the drifters. I got a job that didn’t allow for massive amounts of dinking around online and switched my focus to a long form blog that I updated less often but more intentionally. (This one!) “My Truant Pen” is lot less interactive and dialoguey than Livejournal. But according to my stats, not that many people read this blog any more either.

Now I think Facebook is dying, but unlike when LJ died I don’t know where they’re going. Are we digitally disconnecting? There are upsides and downsides to that. Spending less time glued to screens is no bad thing, especially when replaced with coffee dates and quality time. But taking away that community and filling the void with isolation is a bad thing. For me, I want a group of friends in lively online community that I can know and be known by, who share and care about each other. Ideally this has a big overlap with my group of proximate friends I can hang out with.

I’ve propose G+ (look me up at https://plus.google.com/u/0/+BrendaFlynn) as a place to connect. Somehow that has not been met with universal approbation. So I’m genuinely curious – what are you doing? Have you completely unplugged from social media? Did you switch platforms for connection – and if so to what? Do you miss the connection? Do you think after the dust settles people will go back, or is this a permanent migration. Where can I go to be with you?

Megablogging: the State of the Blog

8:20 pm – Sunday night. I’m completely exhausted. Wiped out is an understatement. I got up at an hour that begins with a “6” (after having gone to bed at an hour that beings with a 1… even if you’re on a 24 hour clock) in order to do the Walk for Hunger. Generally I’d rather walk against hunger, but I figured this was the year I’d finally join the faithful footsoldiers at my church. I thought a 10 mile walk would be no problem. Heck, I did 6.5 miles on Wednesday without feeling anything more than I’d had a good walk. I didn’t reckon how much harder it would be to do it all at once, in a huge lugubrious pack of people, on asphalt, in cold 50 degree winds in the overcast. I won’t pretend otherwise – the 11.5 miles I did this morning kicked my butt.

So by the time kid-bedtime rolled around, my lack of bloggedness was a weight on my shoulders. I mean, I know I don’t get paid for this. I know it’s not really that important. But I have made a commitment to 11 am on Mondays and by gum I try really hard to keep it.

I haven't done so badly in keeping my commitment
I haven’t done so badly in keeping my commitment

Anyway, so I was brushing my teeth and thinking about what kind of blog post I should do today. My posts fall into one of about four genres. I was trying to figure out which one I had both a topic and energy for. Here are the general genres:

1) The autobiographical update
This is the easiest one to write. Sometimes when I’m really tired this is just a list of all the random post-its I stick in my head with with a note saying “possible blog post”. It’s more or less a collection of extended Facebook updates about my life. If I had to guess, I’d guess this kind of post is interesting to my mother and the nice lady from Minnesota who reads everything I write. And frankly, I’m not so sure about my mom. But this kind of post does serve a useful purpose. This blog is my journal. I could never prioritize a journal written for an unknown audience the way I prioritize my conversations with you. (In fact many of my old paper journals go on for pages pondering on what possible audience would ever be interested in reading about my deepest thoughts. Given that they’re adolescent drivel, this was a good question to be asking.) I deeply value capturing the meaningful moments and stories of my life. I preserve precious memories here. But I recognize that these posts are not riveting, and usually try to work harder to make the same information into a better written post.

2) Stuff I’ve learned
These sorts of posts are hard to write, but worthwhile for me. I usually pull together some sort of research I’ve been doing into the equivalent of a report. In the last two or three years, these have been almost entirely focused on Stoneham, my adoptive home town. As I’ve gotten a clue about the situation here, I’ve discovered how hard it is to develop an informed opinion without knowing people, and I’ve tried to share what information I’ve unearthed in a more public environment. I much prefer talking about the wolf attacks or the latest awesome thing I read in Silas Dean’s history than to wade into politics, but the political information is probably rather more useful.

3) The Perspective Piece
This is probably the kind of writing I consider to be the core of my blog. I take a moment in my life – really, I try to take the things I’ve been thinking about – and go in depth on them. This is where parenting, mortality, faith, why I can’t listen to NPR anymore, and how I feel about hiking all come out. I use the occasions of my life to talk about what that living means to me. At its best, I have a chance to work through the difficult thoughts. I actually find it really hard when the concepts I’m working through are things I can’t share with you – like a relationship that needs hard thinking, or anything about work. I have never talked much about work here, not because it’s not important to me but because I think discretion is the better part of wisdom for a hobbyist blogger. Looking at my recent posts, I’m not actually sure I do this kind of post as much as I think I do.

4) Big Concepts
These are the posts I aspire to; the ones I secretly hope will go viral. (Hint: they haven’t. I’ve only had one post go viral in the 13+ years I’ve been blogging, and that was about a tv show, which is ironic given how little tv I watch.) These are the posts where I feel like I’m really saying something meaningful. I hope to contribute a small voice to the great conversation across generations of writers about what it means to be a human. I don’t write very many of these, and they rarely get a lot of comments.

My tooth-brushing self, cycling through these known tropes, wondered which one you wanted to read, and whether you’d be annoyed at yet another autobiographical list of “stuff that happened” a la option 1. I thought “Hey, WordPress has a poll function! I could just, you know ask them. All I’d have to do is spend about 1000 words explaining the tropes to them, and then, well, I’d have my post!”

So, beloved friends, which is your favorite kind of MTP post?

Follow Ups

So my last three blog posts (that were more than “Sorry. Busy.”) were on:
1) Bicycles
2) Not having pockets and the smartphone problems therein
3) Camping on Memorial Day

You all had amazing advice, particularly on the phone thing. I have updates to all of these topics (and the one blog post I have an idea about writing requires insane things like “research” and “work” and “advanced planning” and this is my to do list for this weekend):

Not listed: birthday party, soccer party, dinner with friends, church, Thane haircut, watching that tear-jerker new Pixar movie.
Not listed: birthday party, soccer party, dinner with friends, church, Thane haircut, watching that tear-jerker new Pixar movie.

You will note “pictures for blog post” remains suspiciously unchecked. So updates it is.

1) Bicycles
When last updated you, I was on the verge of taking Grey (and myself, for that matter) on our very first actual bike trail. We were graduating from parking lots.

It was awesome!!!

Breakheart has a two mile paved loop trail, with no vehicles. Perfect, I thought. And it was perfect. Grey and I got on our bikes and got going! He did his first downhill, his first uphill. He discovered why we have gears. But Breakheart was wicked hilly and neither one of us could make it up most of them without walking the bikes – which we did. The downhills scared the pants off me, because I have crashed. (I wasn’t 100% convinced that he really understood that he could get hurt doing this.) But we did the loop TWICE and he LOVED it!

The whole week he kept asking to go bikeriding again, and talked non-stop about it. Thane, who had become rather skeptical of this whole bi-cyclical method of transportation, was given a motivation to improve. And improve he did. He really got it! So the next step was clearly to do a whole family bike ride.

Two problems:
1) Adam didn’t have a bike
2) There was no way Thane could do Breakheart Reservation

So…. it was just about Father’s Day. And every dad wants a bike for his celebration, right? Right? That Saturday we kitted out Adam to get ready to riiiiide. And then I went looking for a really nice safe offroad trail and found the Independence Greenway (which is very similar to what our Greenway will be, with a 50″ clearance and 10″ paved section). We figured out how to (kind of) load our bikes into a vehicle and went for a Father’s Day ride.

The family that rides together learns first aid together.

It was super perfect. The trail was exactly the right level of difficulty for beginning riders. (eg. none) We had an amazingly awesome hour together. As we were coming back, Grey was getting fancier with his moves and finally found the limit of the turning radius of the bike. He came down hard. I got to him fast (we’d had the forethought to bring an extensive first aid kit). His elbow looked pretty bad – a fun color of purple, bleeding significantly from three separate scrapes. I figured out it wasn’t broken, but I knew it would still hurt. I bandaged him up, heart in my throat. Once he’d gotten his breath back, I leveled with him.

“Grey, I’m so sorry you got hurt. I know that has to feel badly. The truth of the matter is that sometimes when you ride your bike, you fall off and it hurts a lot. It’s kind of part of being a bike rider.”

“Mom,” he turned his teary face to me, “I have no regrets about being a bike rider. I’m going to get back up and keep riding, even if I get injured.”

My son has not always been an exemplar of resilience in the face of pain or challenge. It might be the thing in life he’ll need to work hardest on. But this day he got back on his bike, arm sticking out awkwardly wrapped in layers of tape, and rode to the end of the trail. He told his father later, “Dad, every time my arm hurts, I feel proud of myself.” Me too, kiddo. Me too.

So bike riding. It seems like it might be a thing for us now.

2) First World Problems
I wrote a really whiny post about how I don’t have pooooooockets in my dresssssses and how am I supposed to carry my phooooooone?!!? You guys gave me very excellent advice. (This might also be the #1 post in several years for having people stop me personally to talk it through with me.)

I ordered about 6 different solutions, and finally settled on an adequate two part strategy:

Case solved
Case solved

The easiest and most efficacious was a simple case with a lanyard. (Lanyard sold separately.) I’ve never used a case before because they’ve been bulky, but this one is very slim and attractive and allows me to carry the phone on my wrist. Problem largely solved.

For no pocket days...
For no pocket days…

I went to Etsy to help me solve the problem with no pocket days and returned almost exactly what I was looking for. Phone holder with clear pocket for ID and lanyard connections. (Lanyard – again – sold separately.) This is more or less what I was trying to articulate. I had thought I could hook it up to the zippy thingy that clips to your clothes, but the phone is too heavy and pulls it out. Other than that, it works fine.

Problem solved.

Well, mostly. I’m due for a new phone upgrade. I really wanted the Galaxy S5 mini for reasons of size and battery life. But Verizon (curse you!) doesn’t carry it. So now I don’t know what I want.

3) Camping on Memorial Day
You’ll be pleased to hear that my update on this is not novella length. Instead I offer you pictures of the occasion! We’re headed out again soon for more adventures!

When you get caught between the moon and New York City

I got sent this week to New York City for three days of training for a new job.* I’d had more time than I expected between roles, so I had plenty of time to get well rested, ready, tanned, relaxed etc. By the time it was actually time to get onto the Acela and head south, I was READY TO WORK ALREADY. I really like taking the train (well, the Acela especially). It’s like air travel in not having to worry about anything, but unlike air travel it’s not a complete pain in the rear. You can even do things like stand up and move around and feel your feet.

We passed New London, home to my alma mater, just as the sun set.

Looking downstream on the Thames. Conn is upstream.
Looking downstream on the Thames. Conn is upstream.

But by the time I hit New York any thoughts of walking from Penn Station had fled. When the taxi pulled up to my hotel I told him I was looking for a HOTEL not a night club. “This is it!” he said. (He was, tragically, correct.) I walked into a lobby that was my antithesis. Loud music. Shockingly stylish, young people. The hipsterish of hipster beards. A freaking bouncer at whose “discretion” you would or would not be permitted into the on premesis night clubs. (Hint: I would pass pretty much zero nightclub bouncer tests. Ever.) There was a second floor pool – open air – that had a clear bottom so from the lobby you could see the perfectly toned figure of the incredibly courageous swimmers above.

You know how people say things like, “This is a no judgement zone”? I’d inadvertently stumbled into what could only be described as a Judgement Zone. I talked myself into this being a place for the testing and competition of difficult and hard won skills (fashion being both of those). That’s fine and all, but I’m not going to sign up for beginning tennis lessons in sight of the Wimbleton crowd, and so I didn’t really want to walk the gauntlet of carefully studied loveliness in order to hit the sheets.

I slinked (slunk?) up to my room, and proceeded to be – ahem – entertained by my neighbors for several hours.

The morning shone brighter, I’m happy to say. The beautiful people were all apparently hung over. The hotel is apparently near the YouTube studios. There was a cloud of young girls near the doors pretty much every afternoon. I stumbled upon them just as the objects of their affection emerged – bad skin and bodyguards – to watch them collectively lose their cool and take 10000001 selfies. Rumor has it that said object was actually a YouTube star. WHO KNEW. I don’t think it was Stampy Longhead who is my son’s YouTube hero.

Tuesday I got sprung from training a bit early. I’d thought we were going to have a mixer that evening (I was wrong) so I found myself with a night in New York, at liberty! It was too late to get to the Cloisters in time. I thought about the Museum of Fine Art, but it was honestly a really long walk and a few of us were meeting for drinks later in the evening. I would have ditched them to go catch an opera at the Met, but I hadn’t packed a gown – or even a dress. So instead I went walking and found the entrance to the High Line. I walked the full length of it (twice, since I went there and back again).

Given to me by a saffron-robed Tibetan monk wearing stylish sneakers. Apparently he had a vision of the donation I would give him in return. He was slightly wrong.
Given to me by a saffron-robed Tibetan monk wearing stylish sneakers on the High Line. Apparently he had a vision of the donation I would give him in return. He was slightly wrong.

I think it says a lot about me and my affinity for cities that the minute you put me in one of the world’s great metropolises I’m looking for the grass and flowers. I believe this is an unfathomable position for many of the folks I found myself with, but I really don’t love cities. New York, center of fashion that it is, I like even less than your average city. I’ll confess that I’m rather fond of both Boston and Seattle, which are more people-sized cities and in which I feel less conspicuously Not From Here.

I’m back on the train tonight**, Atlantic shore in sunset on my right instead of left. It will probably be full dark when I cross the mighty Thames, as the gloaming is already well advanced. Tomorrow I get to try my commute for the first time, find my desk, meet my team. I anticipate a bit of a challenging period for me, blog-wise, while my creative and mental energies are full of a new role, new company, new industry and less full of noticing the small life moments that are usually the _thrilling_ fodder for my blog. I’m sure we’ll muddle through, you and I!

The only time I didn't have "When you get caught between the Moon and NYC" stuck in my head was when I was walking on Bleeker Street.
The only time I didn’t have “When you get caught between the Moon and NYC” stuck in my head was when I was walking on Bleeker Street.

*This is pretty much all I’ll be saying about the new job, as has generally been the case with my employers. In the event I need to refer to it in the future, I will probably creatively call it something like New Job, or Job. If you happen to know what it is, I appreciate you failing to mention that here. But you can rest assured it represents a really good thing for me and my family.
**Reminder that I often write my posts ahead of time and schedule them!

New Year’s Resolution 2014

I have actually had a wildly successful New Year’s resolution before. I’m still keeping it up as part of habit and second nature, instead of intentional resolutioning. It was to serve a vegetable at every meal (well, lunch and dinner) and I changed my life in order to accomplish just that. So I’m ready for another real resolution this year. In business, when we set our objectives, they’re supposed to be S.M.A.R.T. That means Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. In New-Years-Resolution-land, a resolution of “Lose weight” isn’t really specific or measurable. “Lose 80 pounds this month” fails to be attainable or realistic. Just “Lose 20 pounds” isn’t timely. It’s difficult to fully separate what you know (work version) from what you know (real life), so when I was thinking about my resolution, I carried over some of those S.M.A.R.T. attributes.

Truth be told, I’m pretty happy with the person I am. Yes, I could be fitter, smarter, kinder and better organized. But I think I work just about as hard as I’m capable of working, so I’m not TOO hard on myself for failing to attain those. (Plus, I think most people think that’s true of themselves, so I have good company.)

What I wish I did differently was… well, this. I miss blogging. Back before kids, I wrote (short form) multiple times a day. Then after kids, but in a much less absorbing job I blogged every day, or sometimes every other day. But now that I’m in the white-heat of both career and kids, I’ve been trying for once a week. Lately, I’ve been failing, and that makes me sad. I don’t have a big readership. I don’t get to write sponsored posts. I don’t write professionally. (Well, I do, but not this.) I just *like* to write. This blog has over 750 posts. I like to tell people what I’m thinking, and hear their thoughts back. I like to look back and my posts and remember what I’ve forgotten. I like thinking out my conversations to you in cold, quiet moments. And lately I haven’t been doing much of this thing I like doing.

So here’s my S.M.A.R.T goal: to post once a week on Thursdays at 11 am EST. I would like to be so consistent you can rely on “Oh, it’s Thursday lunch! Let’s see what Brenda posted!” Of course, given that I’m working at 11 am on Thursdays, this means that it’s very likely to be written ahead of time and queued. (In fact, I’m thinking that I should write up a number of backlog, non-time-sensitive posts just in case I have a busy week!)

One sign of resolution success is a public declaration. This helps your friends hold you accountable to what you said you’d do. So I am empowering you, beloved reader, to go ahead and give me a hard time if Thursday 11 am passes and I haven’t posted my blog post yet!

What do you think? Will a once a week post beat my current average? Is Thursday 11 am a good time for it? What goals are you going into the new year with?