Painfully circuitous speech

 Posted by at 10:45 on 21 December 2015
Dec 212015
 

I’ve realized something recently about the culture I’m in. It may or may not be the same as the culture I come from – this is one of the pitfalls of transitioning at one of the natural life transitions: you don’t always know what’s due to the place, and what’s due to the stage of your life, and what’s simply due to personality.

I’ve observed this method of communication hereabouts that relies heavily on getting others to talk about you, rather than stating your own case, in many situations. One that jumps to mind is if someone’s good at something. Let’s say Jo is good at writing. If Jo says she’s good at writing, it will rub most people the wrong way, at least around here. They’ll think she’s boasting, full of herself, needs to be taken down a peg, etc. But if Bob says Jo is good at writing, it’s fine. It’s even better if Jo’s not there.

Another example is with health issues. Jean may have a serious health issue, let’s say. She’ll tell her closest friends the nitty gritty of it, but she’ll gloss over all that with her acquaintances – “It’s no big deal” or “Mustn’t grumble”, etc. Her closest friends will be relied upon to fill in the gaps for the others, to tell them how horrible what she’s going through is, so that she can be admired for going through it so bravely and never complaining.

And so on. This is a pattern I see a great deal of, with different subjects, with different people.

Given that, I’ve just realized that a speaker needs to put flashing red lights around anything they want to not be spread around. “Don’t tell anyone this, you understand?”, etc. That is so weird to me. I’m so used to simply keeping confidences without thinking about it – and treating nearly everything told to me as a confidence – and expecting nearly everything I tell others to be kept confidential. I’m so used to just talking plainly, about my own things and asking about others’ things. This roundabout, painfully circuitous talk is hard. Not least because it all seems so utterly pointless.

Belief-generating machines

 Posted by at 14:14 on 20 December 2015
Dec 202015
 

I’ve read this fascinating article today, which starts out about dowsing, but ends up being about so much more. I did learn that you can dowse for anything, not just water – lost keys, landmines, gold, anything – and that it goes back to 6000 BCE. But this is my favorite bit (emphasis is mine):

When Richard Dawkins investigated dowsing in 2007, he concluded that humans were no different than B F Skinner’s pigeons. In a classic psychology experiment in the 1940s, Skinner put hungry birds in a cage with a machine that provided food sporadically. He found that the pigeons soon associated whatever actions they happened to be making, like turning clockwise, with the food’s arrival. The birds would later perform the same actions in hopes of receiving more.

Skinner speculated this was the basis of superstition, like wearing lucky socks. We act as if our behaviour has an outsized impact on the world because it’s discouraging to believe that things just happen: that good fortune is undeserved, that tragedy might have no meaning.

So true. This is one of my pet hates – looking for rhyme or reason where there isn’t any. It leads to people talking in circles for hours on end, speculating round and round. “Why have they suffered so?” “Why have they benefited so?” Usually, it causes the speaker to moralize every last thing the subject has ever done in their life until they find something suitably good or bad on which to hang the outcome, just so that the speaker ends up feeling better to have created rhyme and reason in the end.

Obviously, 45-year-old Johnny deserved to fall into poverty and become homeless because he once dipped Jenny’s hair in the inkwell when they were at school, as 8-year-olds. Clearly that’s what tipped the hand of fate against him.

The article continues:

In our increasingly literate and technological society, this kind of superstition still has a surprising amount of power. James Alcock, a professor of psychology at York University in Toronto, says that’s because we’re fundamentally “belief-generating machine[s]” with a “yearning unit”. We yearn to reduce fear, and develop our beliefs accordingly. “Rationality and scientific truth have little to offer most people as remedies for existential anxiety.”

“I think we’re all seekers,” says Shirley Runco, another dowser in California. “Even if we don’t realise it. Everybody wants the truth and everybody wants to be happy. So they search.”

If you’re looking for meaning, believing in divinity might simply be more helpful than understanding entropy. But water, unlike God, is a tangible thing. So how can dowsers be so sure about something that can be proven false?

Some of their confidence could stem from a phenomenon known as confirmation bias, humans’ tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that proves one’s preconceptions. “A man with a conviction is a hard man to change,” wrote the psychologist Leon Festinger in the 1940s. “Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point.” Small wonder there’s a large gap between what the general population thinks about science-related topics and what scientists think. The Public and Scientists’ Views on Science and Society (2015), published by the Pew Research Center, shows an alarming disparity – as much as 40 per cent – in views on many important issues such as climate change and vaccines. We’re wired to find the sources we agree with and to ignore the ones we don’t. So when dowsers don’t find water, they’re inclined to blame the test conditions or the situation rather than their ability.

Where this gets tricky is that scientists aren’t immune to confirmation bias either. In theory, the scientific method asks questions – how does dowsing work? – and then attempts to test them empirically. Repeatable results are fundamental to truth. But in practice, perhaps because of confirmation bias, scientific results are not nearly as consistent as we’d like to believe: a report in Science this summer found that nearly two-thirds of the published experiments they considered could not be replicated. Brian Nosek, one of the researchers, explained to NPR: “Our best methodologies to try to figure out truth mostly reveal to us that figuring out truth is really hard.”

Science has been turned into a religion by many, and that’s not right. Challenging the received wisdom of science has become nigh impossible – your results will automatically be labelled pseudoscience if they don’t fit within the current paradigm. That’s not what science should be. It’s supposed to be a method for questioning the world until we find what’s really there – until we figure out the truth. It’s supposed to be a superior method to what it replaced of clinging onto beliefs dogmatically … or did it replace those? Hm.

And what we do know is that results are mixed, on just about any subject you might care to name. There are a few biggies that have been extensively studied so that there’s a consensus – climate change is happening, smoking is bad – but most of the studies out there make a lot of assumptions that may or may not be true. They have to; it’s the nature of the beast. So you try it again, making different assumptions, and see if you come up with a similar answer. At least that’s what I’d do; the official method is to try it again making the same assumptions, but that seems a bit silly to me.

They also cut corners: they can’t afford to follow a bunch of people all the way to death – that takes decades and lots of money – so they find a shorter way. They measure, say, their cholesterol, and then they say that X leads to more death – because X led to higher cholesterol, and higher cholesterol usually leads to more death. But that’s not what fits in the headline or soundbite, and it’s not always entirely accurate – after all, we have drugs to lower cholesterol, so is X such a problem, after all? And was it X, anyway, or was it some unknown other thing they didn’t think to ask about – perhaps all of those people who did X also did Y (perhaps lived within a block of each other, next to a chemical plant, for example).

People are using the soundbites that the media generates from scientific research – which themselves are a distortion of the research – as gospel, when in fact they’re only provisional pieces of the puzzle. It irritates me. I wish they’d just use their common sense instead. If doing X or Y gives them some personal benefit that they can feel, then they should do it. Otherwise, they shouldn’t.

Gifts and cards vs charities at Christmas

 Posted by at 13:19 on 14 December 2015
Dec 142015
 

It has become quite trendy in recent years to donate to charity as a Christmas gift: you give the would-be recipient a card or something telling them you’ve bought half a donkey in Ethiopia, or some such. (They never tell us whether it’s the right half or the left half … the top half or the bottom half … ). Now, it’s even become trendy to announce that you’re donating to charity instead of sending Christmas cards.

I’m going to go out on a limb here, undoubtedly making myself unpopular, by saying I really don’t like these trends at all. Why on earth not? Let’s take them one at a time.

A collection box labelled "for the poor"

By Steven Depolo. CC 2.0

“I donated to this charity instead of giving you a gift!”

“Oh, um, er, that’s good, I suppose. What’s the charity do?”

“Distributes half-donkeys in Ethiopia so that families can become self-sufficient.”

“Oh, okay. That’s nice. Um, thank you.”

What’s wrong with this picture? Lots. Perhaps the recipient’s never heard of this charity, doesn’t necessarily care about this cause, doesn’t necessarily believe that the charity does a good job at what it says it’s doing, doesn’t necessarily believe that the charity’s stated goal (distributing half-donkeys) will achieve its stated aim (making families self-sufficient), and possibly other problems.

Perhaps the recipient has a charity they really believe in, that they wish you’d have donated to instead – maybe one that distributes half-pigs to families in Kenya. That may sound like much the same thing to you, and even be about the same price point, but for all you know, the recipient knows that the Kenya one turns 90% of donations into half-pigs, versus the Ethiopia one turning 50% of donations into half-donkeys. Or perhaps the Kenya one is one the recipient actually saw in action on a visit to Africa, and was moved by. Or perhaps they’d rather if you donated to the animal shelter they volunteer at once a week. Or maybe their relative has a really rare condition, and they’d like to raise money for research into that disease.

Yet you’ve put them on the spot – they’re supposed to act thrilled that you’ve donated to this charity that you’ve chosen and you believe in – and generally, we’re socialized to feel that we should act even more thrilled about this misplaced charity donation than we should about a badly chosen ordinary gift (the horrible sweater, the book you’ll never read), because after all, it’s for a good cause! If you’re not happy about helping other people – especially at Christmas – then you’re a horrible person!

But if it’s supposed to be a gift for somebody, it needs to mean something to them. What charities do they want to support? Find out.

1940s Christmas card, by 1950sUnlimited. CC 2.0

1940s Christmas card, by 1950sUnlimited. CC 2.0

And part number 2: “We’re not sending any Christmas cards this year – instead we’re making a donation to charity for the amount we’re saving!”

First of all, this just smacks so much of hipsterism: it strikes me that lots of people don’t see a point in Christmas cards and don’t want to do them, so they spout this line instead so they don’t have to send cards and don’t have to feel guilty, either.

I think I’ll always be biased against this one in this way because one of the first places I ran into it was in my WI, where we would just hand the cards to each other. Postage adds up, sure, but if you take that out of the equation: I just bought a pack of 20 cards last week for £1.00, and there were less than 40 members when this line started being bandied about.

But mostly, if you want to make a donation, just make a donation. Don’t make a grand song and dance about it.


In our local paper recently, there was a story about a bride and groom who got married after courting for 13 years and living together for 3, so they already have 2 of everything. They asked for donations to charity in lieu of wedding presents, and their guests happily obliged: £605 was raised, enough for the local charity they chose to buy a wheelchair for a girl who needs one. The couple’s delighted that they were able to help this charity that means so much to them, that means so much to a friend of the bride. The guests, I’m sure, will likewise be thrilled that they were able to contribute to something quite tangible and meaningful for the recipients.

That story struck me as how to do gift giving for charity right.

a wheelchair marathoner, mid-push

Who knows what she’ll go on to accomplish now?
Image by Tom Thai. CC 2.0.

The Discomfort of Thought

 Posted by at 08:55 on 23 September 2014
Sep 232014
 

When I was a small child, I trusted adults and authority figures greatly. I think most small children do. I was usually teacher’s pet; I vividly remember this being true in my second kindergarten (we moved part of the way through) and in third grade. I helped them with things without giving any thought to why or whether those things were important – like randomly checking to see if desks were kept neat and tidy. Today, I reckon it doesn’t matter if someone’s desk is tidy or not; everyone has their own system.

1987HolonaBlowHole

So what changed my attitude? Mrs. Curly, in fourth grade. I lived in Hawaii for kindergarten through third grade (ages 6-9), complete with lessons in the Hawaiian language. (I can just about remember how to count to four in Hawaiian.) Then we moved 4,500 miles to Michigan for my fourth grade year. We arrived in time for the worst blizzard they’d had in 30 years; that was fun. Mrs. Curly, who had very curly hair, was my teacher. We got to the part in the textbook where it told us about the Hawaiian island of Kauai. We must’ve been reading aloud, I suppose. The text book told us to pronounce it “kow-eee”, which is completely wrong. In Michigan, Hawaii is a faraway, almost mythical land, so they’d never know the error, except here they had someone on hand who did know better. I raised my hand and told Mrs. Curly that no, the book has it wrong, it’s actually “ka-why-ee” (with a very brief pause between the second and third syllable, which is why modern spellings put an apostrophe in the word that wasn’t in my textbook). She decided that no, we’d use the book’s pronunciation. Little did she know what a watershed that moment would be in my life.

In that instant, I learned that authority figures can be wrong. I learned that you should never believe anything just because “the teacher says so” or “the book says so.” I’ve carried that with me my whole life. I’ve questioned, I’ve wondered, I’ve pondered, I’ve challenged, I’ve looked for evidence, I’ve disproven, and I’ve proven. As I’ve grown, this has expanded to other authority figures, friends, “common knowledge”, received wisdom, and so on.

I’m inspired to share this after running across this quote recently (thanks, Dr Mabry), from John F Kennedy’s 1962 commencement address to Yale University:

As every past generation has had to disenthrall itself from an inheritance of truisms and stereotypes, so in our own time we must move on from the reassuring repetition of stale phrases to a new, difficult, but essential confrontation with reality.

The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie — deliberate, contrived, and dishonest — but the myth — persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the clichés of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought. [source]

Overall, this questioning attitude has stood me in good stead. I did well through most of academic life in large part because I asked questions and sought to understand how things really worked, rather than just learn by rote. I ran into one or two more teachers like Mrs. Curly who weren’t confident enough to deal with me querying things, and shut me down instead – but only for their classes. In my early working life, I was blessed to mostly have managers who were open minded when I asked why a process was run this way instead of that more efficient way.

In ordinary life, it means that when I moved to the UK and discovered the water isn’t fluoridated, I researched fluoridating water and learned that they’re not really sure it helps anyway (and it may in fact harm, but they’re really not sure), so then I wasn’t bothered.

By  Alias 0591. CC 2.0

By Alias 0591. CC 2.0

When I wondered about the idea – treated as gospel in the US – that we should all drink eight 8-oz glasses of water a day, I researched it and discovered that, back in the 1980s, the bottled water industry took something from a 1945 paper. Recommended dietary allowances by the Food and Nutrition Board of the US National Academy of Sciences (No 122, pages 3-18) “recommended daily water intake of 2.5 Liters. These guidelines were based on opinion, not scientific evidence, and suggested the majority of the 2.5 Liters/day of water intake be derived from prepared foods. This portion of the 1945 recommendation has been largely ignored.” [source; Snopes] Did you know that roasted chicken breast (meat only) is 65% water? [source] Yep, you’re getting water from your food all the time. The bottled water industry conveniently left that part out of its advertising campaign. Don’t drink eight glasses of water a day; just drink when you’re thirsty.

Very rarely, I have to turn down that part of my brain to get through a specific ordeal, but generally the questioning lets me get to where I can understand the motivations behind what’s going on, even when those answers are entirely unsatisfactory (the answer might be “because he’s only concerned with how anything impacts on him personally” or “for the money,” for example). I can cope far better once I can understanding why people do the things they do.

Always question. Always ask.

Even if only inside your head, always challenge the received wisdom until you figure out what’s really going on.

Thinky Thursday: To-Do Lists

 Posted by at 23:57 on 9 January 2014
Jan 092014
 

Welcome to a new series, Thinky Thursday, wherein I share a thinky thought that’s been percolating in my head. This series will run when I have something to share, however often that might be. What’s a thinky thought? Tune in for a few of these and you’ll find out. 😉

A blog I started following recently is Hands Free Mama: she’s sharing her journey away from being overly focused on to-do lists, perfection, etc, and towards focusing on what matters: time spent with her family. It’s a thing that resonates with me, and most of her posts are quite inspiring. Her most recent post, Vow to Breathe, made me ponder. She shares her Vow to Breathe, her daily prayer, with us. It says, in part:

Read more …

Vow To Breathe

No longer do I want to feel like I’m always running late.

No longer do I want to feel like I’ll never catch up. …

No longer do I want to feel the brush of a hurried kiss on my husband’s lips. …

No longer do I want to feel depleted and empty.

No longer do I want to feel like each day is a blur.

No longer do I want to feel half alive.

Instead, I vow to breathe.

I vow to…

It’s very good and worth a read – go read it now. I’ll wait.

Anyway, I stared at that second line in particular, “No longer do I want to feel like I’ll never catch up.” I often feel like I’ll never catch up. I could only articulate one thought: “Yeah, sure. Of course I want that to quit happening. But HOW?” All of it, really – of course I want to focus less on my to-do list and more on enjoying time with my husband. Of course I want to quit feeling like I’m (or actually) running late. And so on. But HOW?

Now, she may have already told us; I haven’t really explored her site. Her book had actually just released that day; maybe the answer’s in there. But instead of looking into these options, I just mulled it over myself.

The thing is, for me, I need my to-do list. I function better with that list on paper in front of me, but whether I have it or not, I have these tasks that need to be done. Clothes have to be washed; food has to be cooked; dishes need to be washed. Life gets miserable pretty quick when these things don’t happen (I know, I was once a bachelorette.) So regardless of whether you have a literal list or not, you have these things to do, and they have to get done. You could get more mellow about whether or not they get done, but only to a point. If you get too mellow, you start to live in a sty with no water because you didn’t get around to paying the bill, turning your clothes inside out over and over again, and probably falling ill eventually. Clearly simply forgetting about your to-do list isn’t the answer.

No, instead we have to find a happy medium. Despite this being the answer to so many queries, it still somehow seems difficult. So I mulled it over some more. How to find a happy medium between “MUST GET DONE NOW!!!” and “Oh, who cares, let’s tickle and play some more!”?

But then I realized what I need to do: focus differently.

I’ve always thought of my to-do list as a set of tasks to get through (sometimes to suffer through) as quickly as possible so I can do something I want to do. The list has always been an annoying buzzing fly to take care of so that the picnic can be enjoyed.

But what’s on my list? What do I need to do? Why, it’s all the stuff that makes up my life. Schedule that date with that friend. Then go. Write that letter. Cook that meal. Reply to those emails. It’s my life. It’s how I’m choosing to spend my few precious hours on this planet. Wait, no, it shouldn’t be about getting through this as quickly as possible – I want to experience my life, and hopefully enjoy the journey!

I don’t know why I never thought of this before – enjoying the journey is exactly what road trips are about, and they’re just about my favorite thing ever.

Obviously this point of view won’t work for everyone. For one, what’s on your to-do list will have a huge impact on your ability to look at it this way – but then, you control what goes on your list.

The other thing I think many people will have to fight against is the massive pressure our culture puts on us to focus on the next thing. When I was in school, all the focus was always on the next school and how it’d be there, and how I should prepare for that. Now, conversations I have seem to always include what the next vacation will be of at least one person in the group. Having something to look forward to is important, but I think we’ve taken it to an extreme, to the expense of savoring the moment.

I encourage you to try, however. Rather than feel overwhelmed by what you have to do, rather than feel like you’ll never catch up, realize instead that it is precisely doing these things that keeps your life full and hopefully happy. If it doesn’t, then change what you do, of course. Savor whatever it is you spend your time doing: enjoy it for its own sake.

  • Stop and talk to the people you interact with in your shopping and errands; get to know them. It makes shopping so much less of a chore when you’re going to see familiar faces of people you know a bit about.
  • Banter with the call centre worker when you have to phone up the water company; try to make it enjoyable.
  • Take pride in a lovely meal, and the wonderful time it provides you and yours together to chat about whatever’s on your minds.

And so on. Enjoy the journey; quit focusing on striking everything off the list. That’s what I’ll be trying to do. Join me.

Who do you want to be?

 Posted by at 21:59 on 9 December 2013
Dec 092013
 

DSCF1815b

One of the RSS feeds I subscribe to is from Snopes, the fact-verifying website we all turn to (or should) when we hear some outlandish tale. Recently, one came across entitled Pitfalls of Sending Cash as a Christmas Gift. In relevant part:

Now, let me tell you something which happened to a friend of a friend last Christmas. Her friend is a busy advertising executive and ran out of time to buy presents for family and close friends. So instead she decided to enclose some rather generous cheques with her Christmas cards, scribbling the message: “Have a lovely Christmas but, if you don’t mind, buy your own present this year!”

A little impersonal, but actually fairly practical, she thought. Except that a week or so into January, having not received the customary thank-yous from her relatives and friends, she found all the cheques in a drawer. In the rush, she had neglected to enclose them.

Snopes concludes this is a legend, and gives us an analysis of the general themes. I found the analysis of gift-giving in our society really interesting; this is something I’m struggling with philosophically these days – but more on that another time, maybe. I found the analysis of the gender issues staying with me, though, and that’s what I want to talk about (at least to start) in this entry.

Click for more …

The story contains an element of punishment for women leaving traditional duties behind in favor of competing in the business world. Working outside the home may cause them to have less time for family and friends, thus legends like this serve to warn women against taking up such lives by pointing out what could be lost or compromised.

This stayed with me because it doesn’t ring true. I currently am a homemaker, doing those traditional duties, and yet I experience endless confusion and quite a lot of outright hostility about my choice in this matter from nearly all who learn of it (friends, family, acquaintances, and strangers alike). Women can’t win by being homemakers, and women can’t win by succeeding in paid employment, either. We are, of course, supposed to do it all – a demand that leads to no end of mental health issues.

As this percolated in my head, I stepped back to take a larger view of things, as is my wont. Men, of course, have their own impossible-to-meet pressures from society. Indeed, any group you care to name runs into the same problem of not being able to win, such is the stupidity of the pressures. If we don’t measure up to all these conflicting demands, we risk rejection; this is a problem in a species bred for tribalism. The larger part of the problem, I think, is that we tend to internalize these societal pressures and carry them with us – so we have a very large population of folks constantly feeling like they don’t measure up, like they aren’t succeeding at life. This is no good.

Image from Blisstree.

Image from Blisstree.

I wondered why we have this state of affairs. The first lot that sprung to mind were those who benefit from it: the entire apparatus of capitalism. If you already have a population of individuals convinced that they’re not good enough, half the work of selling them the solution to their woes is done. I still think this plays a large part in this problem.

arts

However, something else occurred to me: I think our circles are so numerous that we find ourselves trying to simultaneously be all things to all people. This isn’t aided by the current social media explosion, of course: when in person, you’ll talk one way to your mates and another way to your parents; it’s only natural. When they’re all your facebook friends, you have to somehow talk to all of them at the same time; this is tricky.

Then I came across a piece in the business pages of the local paper, of all places, that made me ponder this some more. (It’s written by David and Duncan Wright of BSA Marketing.) On the surface, it has nothing to do with any of this, but since when did I ever settle for surface thoughts?

In a column about online marketing, Step 1 is to Turn Off Your Computer. The idea is to realize that the various places on t’internet only provide the channels of communication with your target audience – the how. You need to stop before diving in to consider what you want to say, who you want to say it to, etc. I especially like this line:

By leaping straight for the web browser before answering these questions, there is a real danger that you will just … be sold the next magic wand, unlikely to deliver any sustained marketing benefits.

I was blessed to be taught marketing by Dr Wolfgang Hinck, who I see has moved up to Dean of the School of Business at Berkeley College in New York & New Jersey. Congrats, Dr Hinck! He’s an exceptionally good teacher, and one whose classes I thoroughly enjoyed. One of the things he drummed into our heads was:

Marketing is Everything & Everything is Marketing

I saw the truth of it then, and I see it more with each passing year.

Image from here.

Image from here.

So I read this article about online marketing and immediately clicked it together with this other stuff I’ve been thinking about – and I realized how true that is for all of life. How often we leap into the speaking without the thinking! In this particular case, how common it is that we’re trying to be all things to all people all the time, instead of making decisions about ourselves first and then finding the right people to gather round us.

How much easier would it be if we first decide things like:

  • Who do I want to be?
  • What qualities and skills do I want to develop in myself?
  • What qualities and skills would I rather leave behind?

Once answered, we could dismiss societal pressures to be somebody else simply based on the fact that we aren’t that person – being that person isn’t right for us at this time. Easier said than done, I know, but it’s a start. Moreover, we can then gather the right people to us who help us further these goals we’ve set and who don’t criticize the decisions we’ve made.

We must, of course, be open to amending these ideas from time to time. A person should have many different answers to “What’s right for me now?” over the course of their lifetime. We must also be ready for our nearest and dearest to likewise go through these changes!

So, who do you want to be?

2013_1209 collage sm

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Why I use Twitter

 Posted by at 20:57 on 1 September 2013
Sep 012013
 

I’m famous!

My tweet is in this youtube video! I’ve also had at least one tweet published in the local(ish) paper The Metro (I don’t even read that paper). Clearly, I’m famous! 😉

Discovering my cameo in that video yesterday got me ruminating about the uses – and power – of social media, and why I use it, particularly Twitter.

I used to be a massive Twitter-hater. This wasn’t based on having tried it, naturally: I hated the notion of limiting expression to such a small snippet. I still maintain that the soundbite society we live in is no good for us: we need to explore issues and discuss them in more than clichés; we need to realize that most of what happens are complex, many-layered things that the short form will simply never capture adequately.

Life is like a fractal ... complex at every level of zoom.

Life is like a fractal …
complex at every level of zoom.

At some point, however, I realized that the thing is: I must live in this soundbite world. I must express myself in this world. I started using twitter as a means to make me focus on and reach a point very quickly.

I’m not limiting myself to 140 characters per post on my blog, however.

Left to my own devices, I can talk. I talk in layers. For example, I might start with topic A, then bring in topic B, then C, then D, which I use to make a point about C, so then I carry on with C for awhile, then I bring in E, until I’ve linked that back up with B, which I carry on with for awhile, til I reach the point about B that I wanted to make, which brings me back to my point about topic A. This is how I work.

Thing is, most people aren’t interested in the multi-layered discussion, especially in writing; because they are used to soundbites, they want a concise and to-the-point pieces. If something appears too long, they’re loathe to read it. So, when expressing myself for public consumption, I need to discipline myself to focus more tightly on the topic at hand. Enter twitter: if I can manage to express myself there, how much clearer and stronger will the rest of my writing become?

What I’ve found in twitter is many-fold: a brilliant way to keep abreast of what’s going on locally (much of Glossop is on twitter); links to ideas, photos, information, and more that I’d have never come across in my usual internet haunts; some companies that actually respond when their customers have a problem; a vastly more reliable way of following people than facebook1; and most of all, a good bit of fun along the way.

SolihullWerewolf

All that ruminated around my head yesterday. Today, I came across Wil Wheaton’s post about what to expect from him if you follow him on twitter2. I am obviously no celebrity, and 4,000 people have never looked at a picture of my socks, but otherwise I’m going to reiterate one of his points, since I agree with it so strongly:

My favorite socks!  Hand-knitted to my measurements and desires by Michelle.

My favorite socks! Hand-knitted to my measurements and desires by @knitstixnstring.

The way I continue having fun with Twitter is that I do what I want with it, and I hope you’ll come along for the ride if you think it’s worth it. … [If] you just don’t think I’m very interesting, that’s cool — no one likes everything or everyone. … Just unfollow, and we’ll each go our own way, cherishing the time we had together and moving on. No regrets.

I must say, the lack of drama over following and unfollowing is another thing I truly like about twitter. At least, that’s how I treat it: it’s all a bit of fun. When an account stops being informative, interesting, and/or entertaining, I quit following it. I expect the same from everyone else – really, through all mediums.

If a piece of writing of any length doesn’t inform, interest, or entertain you, there really isn’t much point in reading it, is there?

  1. Facebook doesn’t show any user all the updates from the people, businesses, groups, and organizations that they’ve liked/friended/joined/etc. Making an interest list helps, and so does the browser plugin Social Fixer, but some posts still remain hidden, since facebook is so full of bugs. []
  2. Also interesting from that post is the link to How twitter was born. []

Accents

 Posted by at 00:18 on 31 August 2013
Aug 312013
 

I met my first fellow American-Glossopian today!

Granted, we’re both far too new to Glossop to call ourselves Glossopians: one man I know is quick to point out that he’s still a newcomer, having been here a mere 40 years.

Anyway, I had this conversation today:

Her: Where are you from?

Me: The US.

Her: Same as me, then – I’m from Philadelphia.

Me: Wait, you’re American?

D’oh. Not only is she American, but she’s still pretty new, only having lived in the UK for 6 months, so I’m sure her accent hasn’t changed much yet. And I didn’t pick it up at all. I didn’t actually even notice it after she’d identified herself. I knew I’d gotten horrible with accents, but yeesh, I didn’t think I was this bad.

What’s happened?

Upon further reflection, I figure: I gave up. I simply gave up trying to identify accents.

Once upon a time, I was an American who’d only ever lived in America, and I could easily pick out accents from different parts of the country. It didn’t require effort, usually: it just happened. I derived great enjoyment when people tried to figure out where I was from based on my accent: thanks to my upbringing, mine is the most pan-American accent I’ve ever found. It encompasses west, north, east, south, and even the Great Plains likely filtered through at least some – Dad grew up in Kansas. So yes, it was always vastly amusing to watch people try to peg my accent to one place.

Then I moved here to England. Before I did, I’d always thought there was just one English accent. I couldn’t have been more wrong! I’ve moved to a town with such a conglomeration of accents I can’t even count them all. Why so many here? From what I’ve read, moving about the country has only become fairly widespread in the past generation or two. So, people pretty much stayed in the towns they were born in for their whole lives since … Roman or possibly Celtic times (depending on the town, I suppose; Glossop only dates back to the Romans). They didn’t move about as much; very small geographic areas developed their own accents, far different from their neighbors’. (Also word choices, but that’s a whole nother post). Remember rule #1: Everything is smaller here. So yes, there are quite a lot of accents; they just each cover a smaller area. I think, actually, that there are more accents in England (which is geographically only the size of Louisiana) as there are in the whole of the US. Thing is, now people move about, and lots of different people are drawn to my town, for various reasons, so we now have quite a variety of accents. I’m sure many of theirs are blended accents, too.

I never dreamt I’d live in England. I didn’t study it before I came. I knew next to nothing about it when I got off that plane behind that line of Piggly Wiggly t-shirts. I’ve been a miserable student of it since I’ve come; I still haven’t learned where all the counties are. I have, however, learned that when I don’t know the places people talk about, they become meaningless words that simply wash through my consciousness. I probably asked where various accents were from, at first, but the places didn’t register, so I couldn’t place these accents that swirled around me. After awhile, I simply quit hearing them altogether. I focused on word choices, on understanding and being understood. These days, only extremely pronounced accents and accents so strong that I can’t actually understand the speaker register at all.

I never thought I’d overlook an American accent, though. And a Yankee one at that!

Everything is smaller and milder here

 Posted by at 22:50 on 26 August 2013
Aug 262013
 

Sometimes I have a quick interaction – say, with a cashier – that includes this: “You live in England? What’s it like?” or the English version: “How are you finding it here?” How to summarize the whole of my experience of Glossop and its surrounds into a soundbite? Surprisingly, I didn’t actually struggle with this question.

Everything’s smaller here.

That was the first incarnation of my answer – it was one of the first things I noticed. Houses are smaller, cars are smaller, roads are smaller, yards are smaller, packs of things at the store are smaller, paper towels are smaller, mountains are smaller, trees are smaller, what they call rivers are smaller, everything is smaller. The people aren’t smaller – I don’t find myself surrounded by four-foot tall people, thankfully.

Then I stayed here awhile, and I realized something else: Everything’s milder here, too.

Let me tell you how …

DSCF2099

Some examples to start:

  • The weather is milder.
    • It simply doesn’t rain as hard here as I’ve experienced in the US. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told, “It’s raining cats and dogs!” only to look out and see a light rain (sometimes a drizzle). For all the increased perception of certain things the English usually have (see point 2), they always seem to miss the look I give them after this exchange.
    • It doesn’t rain as long: most days with rain are really days of showers: rain for about 10-15 minutes, stop for awhile, rain again, stop again. They say, “It’s been pissing with rain all day.” They mean, “Tt’s been spurting drizzles all day.”
    • It doesn’t hail hard: hailstones tend to be pebble-sized, perhaps 1/16″ diameter at most. Thus, you don’t park your car in the garage to protect it from the (frequent) hail: you obstruct the street with it and keep your junk in the garage – the only difference is that the American motorist will usually keep it on the driveway.
    • Thunder and lightning are very rare here. Shame, I’ve always liked a good lightning storm.
    • When it’s hot, it isn’t as hot here as I’ve experienced – even in Michigan.
    • When it’s cold, it isn’t as cold here as I’ve experienced – even in Louisiana. (Yes, really.)
  • Ideas about strife have much lower thresholds than I’m used to.
    • Abuse means verbal abuse, usually I’m still fuzzy on what precisely they mean by this, to be honest. What I do know is that I often come across accusations of one person abusing another when I thought the accused was just being straightforward.
    • Rows (which rhymes with house, not with doze) apparently have different grades. Makes sense: fights do, too, if you think about it. I’ve concluded that what constitutes the lowest grades of row to an Englishperson doesn’t even register as any sort of discord to me. The next higher grade would be a simple disagreement to me.
display of table knives

Even the weapons they use in their fights are milder! 😉

I’ve never been good at being anything other than straightforward, and I tend to actually tell people when I disagree with them. Goodness knows how many people I’ve unknowingly abused and had rows with!

So yes, everything’s smaller, and everything’s milder. I’ve left many examples out, and the milder list is really just the tip of the iceberg. What would you add to either? Is there anything that you wonder whether it’s included or not?

Comparison is an act of violence against the self

 Posted by at 23:13 on 18 August 2013
Aug 182013
 

As I start down this blogging path, today the universe has thumped me soundly to keep something in mind: I must do this for me, first and foremost, and I must not compare myself to others – in general, or in blogs. Thus, the title of this post – a quote from Iyanla Vanzant (who has some other interesting quotes here) – seems particularly apt.

The first thing I came across in this vein was this video (thanks for pointing me to it, Dr. Mabry), particularly the point starting at about 2:15:

We continually edit ourselves to present the best image we can, he says.

Click for more …

I find I can’t disagree. Obviously we’ve done this for thousands of years, but when our worlds were confined primarily to face-to-face interactions, people were more likely to gossip about each other and spread the bad as we worked spread the good. Now, many of our friend sets don’t overlap, and thus each only sees a limited part of us. We have more ability to edit out the less-good-bits, and we’re using it (myself included).

Then came this article: a newly released study says using Facebook can lead to unhappiness. Especially on the heels of that video, that makes perfect sense to me. If we’re all editing our social media to provide the pretty picture of who we’d like to be, then that means when we look at our social media feeds, we get screens full of our friends’ and family members’ perfect lives. I think we look at these screens full of perfect lives and subconsciously or consciously compare ourselves (because it is human nature to do so); since we’re still well aware of our own failings (even if we never talk about them), we find ourselves lacking. Getting this message too often would, indeed, bring anyone down.

So yes, beware of comparing yourself to others. I said this all had to do with blogging; the links I stumbled across today do: Comparison is the thief of joy talks directly about comparing oneself to another when looking at blogs, and was inspired in part by The trouble with blogging, which includes this profound statement from Carmen from Mom to the Screaming Masses:

“We need to stop comparing our insides to others’ outsides.”

What a thing to remember, along with the rest of what Amy wrote, as I embark on this blogging thing. Many blogs, as she points out, are quite professional and polished – and are meant to be businesses. Mine isn’t. I just want somewhere to record my thoughts and doings; somewhere to post my pictures; somewhere to explore thoughts, mostly in medium form; and perhaps somewhere to perhaps keep local people in the loop of things going on about town, as a friend of mine suggested. All of that is what’s right for me just now. And that’s completely fine.

I shan’t compare my blog to all the professional blogs out there; I shan’t compare my insides to anyone else’s outsides. I shall use my blog as I want and need to. I shall remind myself that, just as I’ll edit what I present on here for public digestion, so too is every other person editing their public face, whether that face is digital or corporeal.