Dreaming of Readers

Today’s assignment from Blogging 101 is two fold:

publish a post for your dream reader, and include a new-to-you element in it.

So without further ado, let me get part two of the assignment out of the way post-haste by admitting that, ever since I saw the phrase “Dream Reader,” this has been stuck in my head.

The dreaded earworm strikes again!

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The Three F’s

The Day 2 challenge for Blogging 101 is about editing your blog title and tag line. To me, it’s an additive exercise to yesterday’s “who am I and why am I writing” meditation — now just taken that one next step of distilling that mission statement to its essence in order to create a title and tagline that, to quote the assignment, “give visitors context and help them decide to stick around.”

Obviously, being as I am already 5 years and/or 6 months into the game, I have a well-established blog title,* and it’s one I’m not eager to change. The question of tagline, though, is wide open for consideration, and I’m happy to talk about both these elements after the jump.

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In Medias Manifesto

Because I have decided that 5 hours of sleep per weeknight is just too much of a luxury, I have decided to enroll in another challenge over at WordPress’s Blogging U. Blogging 101 is intended for individuals right in the start-up phases of bloggy creation. This invitation to register articulates the deliverables in this fashion:

On Day 30, you’ll have six (or more!) published posts and a handful of drafts, a customized theme that reflects your personality, a small but growing audience, a good grasp of blogging etiquette — and a bunch of new online friends.

So, considering that I first founded JALC some 5 years ago, and revived it more than 6 months ago, I am either well behind the times or way ahead of the game on this one. Still, I think it’ll be a good exercise for me.

I’ve been in recent conversations about the value of design thinking, and the ways that taking the time to step back and question your automatic habits and questions can be a good way to unlock a more intentional creativity. I see the Blogging 101 container as a way for me to foster that sort of intentionality here on JALC.

So, here we go…

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25 Songs in Slightly-More Days

I mentioned in passing that we have a bit of a family trip coming up in July: Mr. Mezzo and I will be cruising the Baltic on one of those once-in-a-lifetime before the kids grow up and leave us in the dust trips. (My sister’s kids, not mine.)

OUAT-my-feelsAs much as there is part of me that would want to try and keep up with my posting and with current events while we are a-travelling — so many news stories! so many feels about those news stories! —

In the mature part of my heart and brain, I know that to try and do that would quite simply be bananas. Although I think we’ll be able to find some sort of “Internet cafe” on the boat, I don’t want to count on a robust enough wifi connection to sustain my long-windedness. Besides, this truly is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I’d like to give myself the chance to really experience it, rather than be devoting my energy to surfing the news sites and waxing loquacious about what I find. Slate, Salon and HuffPo will all still be going strong when I get back stateside…

But I also don’t want to leave JALC completely shuttered for the time we’re a-sea. So, I’m going to start (slowly!) taking on a “25 songs in 25 days” blog challenge I stumbled across.

25-songs-25-days

It seemed one of those challenges that was tailor-made for me. After all, when asked to write about only three songs back during the Writing 101 experience, I was kind of jammed up by needing to reduce all my passion for music into only three pieces. (And even then, I stretched it to four songs, rather than three. *grin*)

I also like how instead of just asking something banally impossible like “What’s your favorite song?” — favorite for what purpose? in what context? current favorite or for-the-most-of-my-life favorite? — these questions are asked from very specific lenses. I think it’ll be fun to see where these different angles of inquiry take me.

So here’s the plan. During this holiday weekend, alongside of the packing, the Wimbeldon-watching, the last-minute shopping and the job-work I need to do, I’ll be responding to the first however-many of the prompts on this list: as many as I’m able to, but you can see that I do have a few other things on the to-do list. So I’ll just have to see how many I get written.

Whatever that number is, I’ll use the handy scheduling feature (thank you, WordPress!) to scatter those song posts semi-evenly throughout the time we’re away. That way, there’s at least a little bit of activity on JALC, and it’ll also be a cool chance for me to talk about something — music — that has always been an important part of my life.

I’ll chip my way through the remainder of the 25 songs list once I’m back in the States. So it’ll definitely take me more than 25 days, but it’ll still be a fun project.

 

Of Conversation and Community

fremont-troll-bridgeI’ve been thinking about comment policies today. You see, there’s  a comment sitting in the mod-queue for yesterday morning’s post about Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. It’s mildly snarky, not particularly offensive in its content — no slurs, hate speech, or anything like that. But the one-liner is also sufficiently, provocatively disconnected from the facts and the issues at hand that I keep asking myself: “Are you someone trying to have a sincere disagreement, or are you just a troll?

To borrow an operative definition from Hubspot:

Trollers are people who leave comments on posts to try to get a rise out of either the author, or other commenters. The best practice for dealing with trolls comes down to one easy-to-remember phrase: Don’t feed the trolls. This means the more you engage with trolls, the bigger and stronger they become — that’s what they want! To get a rise out of you.

So the distinction I’m trying to spot is whether A) the would-be commenter strongly disagrees with my politics but is wiling to have a substantive discussion, or if B) the sole purpose of the provocative one-liner is to be a shit-stirrer. And of course, with nothing but words on a screen and my regrettable lack of psychic insight to go on, that is a very hard distinction to distinct.

Are you human or troll?

It’s a little bit of a conundrum. Do I delete the would-be-comment and take the chance that I’m silencing someone who’s coming from a real-person rather than a trollish perspective? Or do I approve the comment, respond to its reality-disconnect, and take the risk of getting dragged underneath the troll bridge? It’s a tricky, charged decision. Not because of this one specific comment on its own — again, let me acknowledge that it’s more a snarky one-liner than anything else — but because my choice today carries the weight of creating a precedent for how I may address disagreement, dissension and doucehoundery on JALC in the future.

I’ve been thinking about the aggressively clear commenting policies at two of the feminist communities I’ve long-admired: Shapely Prose (where I participated) and Shakesville (where I’ve not participated but look admiringly from afar). Both of these documents are the result of years of community-building, resulting in a vibrant commentariat and also an astronomically high frequency of trolls and bigots targeting their posts and threads for attention. Obviously, JALC is a baby newborn blog, with a teeny-tiny readership and an even smaller community (if that term can even legitimately be applied.) So a lot of what those policies contain aren’t on-point for me. I do not have or need a group of co-moderators to keep up with the comment traffic, nor do I yet have an establishing commenting culture I need/want to protect.

And yet, there are value statements in those policies that ring true to me.

Whether you can comment at Shakesville is ultimately at our discretion—and plaintive, angry, or accusatory wailing about free speech will be met with yawning indifference. This isn’t a public square. This is a safe space. (Shakesville.)

I am not a representative of the government; when I tell you, directly or indirectly, to shut up, it does not in any way violate your Constitutional rights. If you want to speak freely, the fine folks at WordPress will be happy to provide you with the exact same kind of platform I use. . . . [W]e have probably, on occasion, banned or berated a perfectly decent person who might have eventually blossomed into the kind of commenter we can’t wait to hear from. And you know what? We’re okay with that. We’re not proud of it, and we certainly don’t set out to exclude bright, interesting people from the conversation here. But if it happens every now and again, oh well — because overall, our being hardasses helps keep this blog readable and only rarely crazy making. (Shapely Prose)

All of this is resonant with the sort of community I would want to create, if I am ever so fortunate as to have JALC (or some future endeavor) blossom into becoming an online community. And you know what? Even though I feel an embarrassing level of grandiosity in modeling my choices after these communities that have literally changed my life for the better, there’s another, more immediate lens through which I’ve been contemplating my decision.

If nothing else is certain, I know the would-be comment is an anti-feminist statement. And there are so many other places in the world where the patriarchy and the kyriarchy hold sway as the dominant discourse. (Exhibit A: SCOTUS and Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.*)

Do I really need to give that perspective untrammeled sway in my own digital living room? No, no I do not:

My blog is my living room in my home. I set the rules. I determine the tone. I determine the topic of conversation. When you post a comment on my site, you agree to abide by my rules, you stick to the topics I determined, and you keep the tone I deem OK to be used in my home (imagine reading out loud your comment in front of my wife, mother and kids). I have the right to warn you and to kick you out of my home – it’s my party, after all. You have no right to be here, no right to say anything – it is up to me to welcome you here, and up to you to ensure you are welcomed. (A Blog around the Clock)

So, ultimately, would-be commenter: I’m sorry not-really-all-that-sorry, but your comment will not be getting airplay this week. It’s not as if I’m setting a zero-tolerance policy for anti-feminist speech here on JALC. (Not yet, at least.) But anti-feminist speech that looks a bit more trollish than human?

Just not worth the odds.

* And also McCullen v. Coakley. (But as far as the June 26th decision goes? I can’t even, right now. Not enough spoons.)

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Image credit: http://mystrangefamily.wordpress.com/2013/09/04/under-the-bridge-with-the-fremont-troll/

 

For Neither Fame nor Money

Five years ago,* I started this blog to create a space for my self-education about fat acceptance, within the larger of context of my ongoing work to increase my capacity for self-acceptance and self-love.

Three months ago,** I came back here to continue that project, but with the more specific goal of using the structure of blogging to remain awake and in the study of my HCG experience as a detox journey, providing a quiet counter-narrative to the usual emphasis on HCG as a weight loss tool.

With the end of my HCG protocol, I’ve been a little bit wondering where to focus my blogging. The Isla Vista killings have provided a temporary focus in the 10 days since I completed my HCG experience, but I know I won’t be spending the rest of my writing life unpacking that one incident and its ramifications.***

So, once again, I’m grappling a bit with the question of “What am I doing here and what is it that I have/want to write about?”

I’m glad to say there’s been no pull towards stopping. I know to my bones that there something in the structure of writing here that has been beneficial for me. But a lot of the the conventional wisdom around blogging — find your niche, stay on target, use it to pitch yourself/your company/your products — just doesn’t mesh with where I’m at.

You see, I have no plans to be monetizing my blog in the foreseeable future. This is perhaps a self-evident statement considering my low reader count, my merely-half-hearted efforts at amplifying posts via social media, and my only-just-beginning level of effort to read all the other great writing out in the blogosphere and participate via follows and comments.

So, aside from the quirkiness that is me, I don’t entirely know what my niche is. And my interests are potentially wide-ranging enough to completely obliterate any hope of “niche” or “focus” or “staying on target.”

Challenge-AcceptedI’ve decided to take part in The Daily Post’s Writing 101 blogging challenge, in hopes that that structure might give a playground to help explore some of this territory. I’ve been looking over some of the archived prompts from recent Blogging 101 and Blogging 201 challenges, and I’m thinking some of those topics might also be fruitful tools for this exploration. (Even if I remain quite fuzzy around what it means to think about establishing a “brand” in this non-business non-monetizing headspace I’m in around my writing.)

I haven’t seen the first Writing 101 prompt, so I’m not sure how easily they’ll mesh with the other sorts of topics I want to be exploring. I do still have more ruminations sparked by Isla Vista, and then there’s events elsewhere in the world that also have me Thinking and Feeling things. If the prompts don’t interweave readily with the ongoing threads of my writing, I’m not quite sure how I’ll handle the time management required by “doubling up” on my posting.**** (And let’s not even get into the fact that I’ve also started re-establishing the daily ritual of morning pages/soul writing.)

I’ll figure all this writing out, one way or another. If nothing else, I can cut back on TV or embrace a little bit of sleep deprivation in my June….

* Give or take a month or so.

** Give or take a week or so.

*** Although there are legitimately a LOT of ramifications that could productively bear some examination.

**** Luckily, WordPress’s scheduling functionality allows me to stagger when things go online — like this very post, which was written in fits and starts over the weekend but has been scheduled to “go up” late Monday morning, East Coast time.

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Image credit: http://bunburyinthestacks.com/challenges/challenge-accepted/

A Dinosaur with a Quill

I work in a very laptop-obsessed office. Every meeting we have is vaguely comical: all of us clustered around a table together and making zero eye contact because so many of us are staring at the screen and/or typing busily away taking notes. It’s especially funny in the offices furnished more by a bistro table than an actual conference table — imagine, if you will, some bizarre version of office jenga.

DINO_PEN_COL_921211fI’m not going to say I’m immune to exhibiting some of these behaviors myself. I carry my laptop into most meetings, in case something comes up in conversation that I need to pull down off a website or pull up out of my email or the document server. But unless I’m capturing the formal minutes of a meeting, I don’t usually use the computer to take notes. Instead, I use the old-fashioned tools of pen and paper.

Yes, I know: this makes me a veritable dinosaur in the contemporary work world. I’ve even read a viciously dismissive article by an Evernote aficionado* that talks about how anyone who takes pen and paper notes automatically loses her respect:

I knew right away, when you walked in here with a paper notebook — a paper notebook! — I realized that this meeting was not going to be a good use of our time. . . . You could be one of those romantic types who say that the visceral process of putting pen on paper liberates your creativity and engages lateral thinking. If you’re an after-hours poet, then, yes, that paper notebook will come in handy. For this, though, can you please go back and grab your laptop?

I’ve tried multiple times to adopt electronic note-taking methods. Nothing yet has worked to my satisfaction. I’m not sure that nothing ever will, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find myself, some stretch of time in the future, trying another technique, another structure, another iPad app, to crack the note-taking enigma.

But for now, I’m at peace with my antiquated habits. Especially now that I’ve tucked away these two articles (one and two) that suggest my handwriting habits may not be such a bad thing after all. Both articles summarize a study done at UCLA (or was it Princeton? the study authors split their affiliations between those two universities, but I’m fuzzier about which campus actually housed the research) comparing the efficacy of typed note-taking versus handwritten notes. As summarized by Wray Herbert in HuffPo:

Those who took notes in longhand, and were able to study, did significantly better than any of the other students in the experiment — better even than the fleet typists who had basically transcribed the lectures. That is, they took fewer notes overall with less verbatim recording, but they nevertheless did better on both factual learning and higher-order conceptual learning. Taken together, these results suggest that longhand notes not only lead to higher quality learning in the first place; they are also a superior strategy for storing new learning for later study. Or, quite possibly, these two effects interact for greater academic performance overall.

The scientists had an additional, intriguing finding. At one point, they told some of the laptop users explicitly not to simply transcribe the lectures word-by-word. This intervention failed completely. The laptop users still made verbatim notes, which diminished their learning. Apparently there is something about typing that leads to mindless processing. And there is something about ink and paper that prompts students to go beyond merely hearing and recording new information — and instead to process and reframe information in their own words.

Take that, bitchy Evernote ambassador! Science trumps your unfounded assumptions and prejudice! (Actually, science probably won’t do a damn thing to chip away at Ms. Evernote’s preconceptions. We always cling mostly strongly to the myths that are most unfounded.)

Anyhow, I’m sure there’s a connection between my old school pen-and-paperness at work and the continued parallelism of me blogging while maintaining a pen-and-paper journal as well.

Sometimes my diarizing feeds into the blog: keeping a physical journal can help me have space to process and synthesize things prior to presenting them out here. Sometimes the diarizing stays contained on the notebook pages: a place to process things that are too raw, too private, or just too far off-topic to make sense here. So, partly because of the ways it supports my writing on JALC, and partly for how it supports my life outside of here, I see myself happily filling more notebooks with pen-scribbles for years to come.

* Who is oh-so-coincidentally hawking her own “How to Use Evernote Effectively” e-book.

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Image credit: http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/with-ipad-and-notebook-around-who-needs-a-pen-anymore/article2883480.ece