Tell It

Head space: In canning, one must leave some in order to get a good seal. In life, one must to leave some in order to gain perspective, which is basically the same as getting a good seal. I mean, you want to be able to enjoy what’s in the jar, you know?

The Autumnal Equinox approaches – it’s this Wednesday. I’ve taken the day off and am giving it over to whatever (Canning tomatoes? Power napping? Writing?). The moon should be waxing under mostly clear skies this entire week, which thrills me. The signs of the change in seasons are everywhere in central IL – leaves starting to turn, squirrels acting stupid and running out into traffic, and the last of the peaches at the farmers markets.



There’s nothing finer than the ultra-blue skies we get this time of year. ANYTHING thrown against that sky looks awesome, even (especially?) withering walnut trees.



When I was a kid, I loved ladybugs and yellow was my favorite color. My love for ladybugs is now more about respect, and I’m not a huge fan of the color yellow… EXCEPT this time of year. I mean, look at it.



It’s also a really birthday-heavy time in my circle of family and friends. Jim, Lilly, and I have birthdays between mid-September and early November. Our friend Douglas had a birthday yesterday, and invited people to his workspace in Tolono (he relocated Uptown Concrete there this summer) to check it out, play parking lot games, and witness a shopping cart bonfire.



I made a rather sloppy carrot cake, per his request. I learned that it’s really important that the cream cheese frosting act as serious mortar to the bricks that are the cake layers (this is a TERRIBLE analogy), especially if you’re transporting the cake ten miles over bumpy and twisty county roads, so more powdered sugar is critical. It didn’t matter – it was delicious and it looked pretty with candles on it.



It has not been the easiest 6+ weeks in the world. One of the hardest things for me to wrap my head around has been the death of my friend and neighbor, Mel Farrell. She was diagnosed with a brain tumor in spring 2015 and immediately started kicking its ass, but toward the end of the summer, her body tripped her up a few times, and at the beginning of this month, pneumonia claimed her life. She was a rock star in so many ways, and readers will likely be finding more about Mel later, but I’ll say this for now: Though I’d known her for about 10 years, and of her for 5 years past that, there was much I didn’t know about Mel. Since her death, I’ve come to realize that she was quietly expert at filling up any gaps in her life with more friends, more fun, more food, more… and it was the quality aspect of more, not the quantity. She was so very thoughtful and truly believed in the basic conviviality that goes missing from so much of modern life. Her laugh gave serious body to so many gatherings. And… and! She had stories. Sure, the whole legitimately-at-Woodstock thing was awesome, but I was electrified when she told me a few years ago that, when she was a kid growing up in NYC, her mother’s day job was, if I recall correctly, working for James Beard. That wasn’t my favorite part of the story, and I don’t think it was Mel’s either. No, we both loved the fact that her mom came home from working all day for Chef Beard and often had the following dinner, feet up: An onion sandwich (2 pieces of white bread slathered in butter with sliced onions in between) and a beer. I figured Mel and I had all the time in the world to eventually get some of these stories saved. We did not. I do wonder if she saved any of them herself.

Seriously. If you have food stories to tell – and we all do – write them down. Tell them to someone. You know what, though… don’t stop at the food stories (you don’t have to start there, either). Stories, period. Histories. Get them onto paper, or make some audio – just talk into your smartphone, if you have one. I truly fear real storytelling – the passing along of the big stories and the quotidian ones, the bare facts and the tall tales – is going the way of ultra-curated social media (which I feel sadder and sadder about with each passing day): Cropped and filtered just so for maximum effect, negative or positive, spun emptily one way or the other. We all seem to crave the unvarnished truth (witness the popularity of Storycorps), but we seem ever more reluctant to tell it.

Tell it.

Social Needia

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I don’t know what to do about the internet.

Part of my day job is to maintain my organization‘s social media, and I reckon I’m pretty good at it. I also use it to find inspiration for video and podcasting topics and ideas for pitch meetings in the WILL newsroom. I’m nosy, so checking the analytics for the station’s website and social media is fun for me. [Analytics are a busybody’s wet dream. They’re interesting and insightful and far more powerful now than they were ten years ago, are getting more powerful every day, which is terrifying, etc etc etc.]

Backyard Industry relies on social media, primarily to notify people about blog entries or new videos, but sometimes to share things I find germane to the BYI conversation. But beyond that, it gets tricky. Like “everyone else”, I keep personal accounts on various platforms, and I feel like I live in those spaces, and lately (lately?) it’s become a problem.

I spend an inordinate amount of time on Reddit, for example. REDDIT IS THE BEST/WORST PLACE ON THE INTERNET, but I love it. I’ve learned a lot about salad-in-a-jar and free fonts and improperly attributed quotes from Pinterest. I’ve read about the myriad trials/tribulations/tiny victories/political opinions of friends of friends on Facebook. Gaining this knowledge has often come at the expense of creating my own work or vacuuming or napping or cooking or planting or just sitting with myself. When was the last time you just sat with yourself for an hour? May I ask how you did it?

So I had to ask myself: Is personal social media worth it for me?

No and yes. I hate that I look for “likes” and “retweets” and “repins” and “reblogs” – the list of ways I can actually account for my online existence seems endless. Analytics are no longer page hits. They now tell me so much more about who’s paying attention to me and from where and for how long and which pages and which social tools or search terms they used to find me and if they clicked on any of my links… and from this I can surmise whether I’m a big deal on the internet. Or if I’m not. It’s up to me to decide whether or not I care. I find myself caring. I find myself hitting “refresh”. I’m always “just checking”, especially on my phone. I’ve become social media’s tool, and as an oversharer and voracious consumer of information, stopping myself entirely from using it would be difficult at best.

But I also adore what social media can do. I love that my father, who doesn’t get out much, can play Words With Friends with people all over the world and reconnect with old friends from college, some of whom come to visit him where he lives. I love that people use Twitter to gather in protest, to educate, and to share in real time – especially during protests or other breaking news where what people share on social is an absolutely necessary companion to the narrative being created by the media. I have a Pinterest board that is a powerful antidote to Mondays. And how else would I see James’ gorgeous goals for Real Madrid without social media? Or watch Union Carbide Productions videos?

This is not middle-aged grousing about something I don’t understand or participate in – on the contrary. If there’s one thing I deeply get, it’s two-way communication – the desire to hear and be heard, to tell and be told – on all the platforms. Old ones, too, like print media and radio and stuff. I’m very curious about why people use what they use. It’s part of my job to figure that out. But, man – social. There’s literally no end to the ways social media can be used to push or digest information; new ways are being hacked all the time. Now that all of it is optimized for mobile, social media is always with those of us who opt in. So are our friends. And their friends. Maybe some enemies. The organizations and businesses and causes we follow are in our pockets – and so are many that we don’t – and we’re always with them. There’s never any down time unless we opt out.

It feels weird. For me personally, social media is no longer paradise, but I’m not sure what I’d do without it. I get something out of it, for sure, but I can’t gaze out over it at the end of the day and be like, yeah. I made something. Or, hey, look at those freaking beets, just growing away out there! I’m not sure it’s a paradise for organizations, either. We spend a lot of time being yanked around by changes in algorithm, experimenting with new tools, competing with other organizations to capture figurative eyeballs, and sussing out how to be everywhere at all times, ready to engage.

I’m not wringing my hands over the state of the world. This technology is awesome. Great things happen EVERY DAY because of social media, and it’s incredibly useful (and fun – I love livetweeting my daughter’s soccer games using the hashtag #UniHighSoccer, so the team can read the tweets later and their parents and friends and fans can follow along). But in the past week, I suddenly understood that I spend too much time being used by social media and that I don’t feel good about it and that it’s not really sustainable. I’ve reached personal peak social. I probably reached it a year ago. I’m embarrassed it took me so long to make such an obvious observation about myself. I’m not sure what the trigger was – probably the desperate eye I gave my 2′ pile of unread books and magazines a few days ago. Or it was noticing the unfinished projects I don’t have energy to work on after a day of reading what hundreds of other people think. Actually, it was likely the mortifying number of times that day I caught myself thinking in terms of my activities’ tweetability and held myself back from posting anything anywhere, just as an experiment. (True story. And I was quite agitated.)

I know I’m hardly the only person coming to this conclusion.* I also know I’m hardly the only person who’s not sure what to do about it. Device discipline is hard, especially when your personal and professional life is built around two-way communication. So I’m guessing that, like most people do once they understand the concept of peak resources, I’ll keep using social media, but feel kind of weird about it.

PS: I was getting ready to post this when this week’s horoscope from Free Will Astrology came through:

LIBRA (Sept. 23-Oct. 22): According to the three science fiction films
collectively known as *The Matrix,* we humans suffer from a fundamental
delusion. What we think is real life is actually a sophisticated computer
simulation. Intelligent machines have created this dream world to keep us
in suspended animation while they harvest our energy to fuel their
civilization. Now as far as I can tell, this scenario isn’t literally true. But it
is an apt metaphor for how many of us seem to be half-asleep or under a
spell, lost in our addiction to the simulated world created by technology. I
bring this to your attention, Libra, because now is a favorable time to
diminish the hold that the metaphorical Matrix has on you. What can you
do to at least partially escape your bondage? (Hint: A little more contact
with nature could do the trick.)

*Cody did a social media break for a week recently, and then the guys at the Invisible Office Hours podcast, which I was catching up on over the weekend, took turns late last year doing social media breaks. Hearing about their experiences confirmed my suspicions and made me try sitting in the coffee drive-thru lane with my phone in my bag. It was difficult.