Friday, May 27, 2011

Dear Facebook, Who Am I?

Since April I have been on official sabbatical from work, an amazing opportunity for which I am truly grateful. To make a small inroad into what for me has been unchartered territory, I commited to deliberately and consistently immersing myself in several forms of social media - along with resting and reflecting (still working on the rest part!). Relative to the virtual realm, my objectives were to 1) Experiment with several social media tools to become comfortable; and 2) Begin to understand how the integration of social media tools can improve my efficiency, communication and decision making when back at work (and time is quickly ticking away!) .

Although I signed up for Facebook (two pages), Twitter, and LinkedIN, and started a blog on Blogger, probably not surprisingly, my personal Facebook page has been the most accessible and is where I most interact. It's been fascinating: an international society page; inter/intra cultural forum; motivational seminar; newsroom; classroom; want/help/complaint resource; concert; comedy show (staged and impromptu); high school, college and family reunion; therapy; prayer service and more... all in one convenient click.

Truly, I have not yet figured out who i am in in this world nor how important it is that I do. However while going through some old emails sent by helpful colleagues as i embarked on this quest. One in particular- The 12 Most Annoying Types of Facebookers ( may be "old" news to many but as a newbie, I resonate with the descriptions, and have seen in myself more than one type.

Ouch! Can anyone else relate?

(CNN) -- Facebook, for better or worse, is like being at a big party with all your friends, family, acquaintances and co-workers. Facebook can be a great tool, and an occasional annoyance. What kind of Facebooker are you?

There are lots of fun, interesting people you're happy to talk to when they stroll up. Then there are the other people, the ones who make you cringe when you see them coming. This article is about those people.

Sure, Facebook can be a great tool for keeping up with folks who are important to you. Take the status update, the 160-character message that users post in response to the question, "What's on your mind?" An artful, witty or newsy status update is a pleasure -- a real-time, tiny window into a friend's life.

But far more posts read like navel-gazing diary entries, or worse, spam. A recent study categorized 40 percent of Twitter tweets as "pointless babble," and it wouldn't be surprising if updates on Facebook, still a fast-growing social network, break down in a similar way. Take a CNN quiz: What kind of Facebooker are you? »

Combine dull status updates with shameless self-promoters, "friend-padders" and that friend of a friend who sends you quizzes every day, and Facebook becomes a daily reminder of why some people can get on your nerves. Watch as Facebookers reveal bugbears »

Here are 12 of the most annoying types of Facebook users:

The Let-Me-Tell-You-Every-Detail-of-My-Day Bore. "I'm waking up." "I had Wheaties for breakfast." "I'm bored at work." "I'm stuck in traffic." You're kidding! How fascinating! No moment is too mundane for some people to broadcast unsolicited to the world. Just because you have 432 Facebook friends doesn't mean we all want to know when you're waiting for the bus.

The Self-Promoter. OK, so we've probably all posted at least once about some achievement. And sure, maybe your friends really do want to read the fascinating article you wrote about beet farming. But when almost EVERY update is a link to your blog, your poetry reading, your 10k results or your art show, you sound like a bragger or a self-centered careerist.

The Friend-Padder. The average Facebook user has 120 friends on the site. Schmoozers and social butterflies -- you know, the ones who make lifelong pals on the subway -- might reasonably have 300 or 400. But 1,000 "friends?" Unless you're George Clooney or just won the lottery, no one has that many. That's just showing off.

The Town Crier. "Michael Jackson is dead!!!" You heard it from me first! Me, and the 213,000 other people who all saw it on TMZ. These Matt Drudge wannabes are the reason many of us learn of breaking news not from TV or news sites but from online social networks. In their rush to trumpet the news, these people also spread rumors, half-truths and innuendo. No, Jeff Goldblum did not plunge to his death from a New Zealand cliff.

The TMIer. "Brad is heading to Walgreens to buy something for these pesky hemorrhoids." Boundaries of privacy and decorum don't seem to exist for these too-much-information updaters, who unabashedly offer up details about their sex lives, marital troubles and bodily functions. Thanks for sharing.

The Bad Grammarian. "So sad about Fara Fauset but Im so gladd its friday yippe". Yes, I know the punctuation rules are different in the digital world. And, no, no one likes a spelling-Nazi schoolmarm. But you sound like a moron.

The Sympathy-Baiter. "Barbara is feeling sad today." "Man, am I glad that's over." "Jim could really use some good news about now." Like anglers hunting for fish, these sad sacks cast out their hooks -- baited with vague tales of woe -- in the hopes of landing concerned responses. Genuine bad news is one thing, but these manipulative posts are just pleas for attention.

The Lurker. The Peeping Toms of Facebook, these voyeurs are too cautious, or maybe too lazy, to update their status or write on your wall. But once in a while, you'll be talking to them and they'll mention something you posted, so you know they're on your page, hiding in the shadows. It's just a little creepy.

The Crank. These curmudgeons, like the trolls who spew hate in blog comments, never met something they couldn't complain about. "Carl isn't really that impressed with idiots who don't realize how idiotic they are." [Actual status update.] Keep spreading the love.

The Paparazzo. Ever visit your Facebook page and discover that someone's posted a photo of you from last weekend's party -- a photo you didn't authorize and haven't even seen? You'd really rather not have to explain to your mom why you were leering like a drunken hyena and French-kissing a bottle of Jagermeister.

The Obscurist. "If not now then when?" "You'll see..." "Grist for the mill." "John is, small world." "Dave thought he was immune, but no. No, he is not." [Actual status updates, all.] Sorry, but you're not being mysterious -- just nonsensical.

The Chronic Inviter. "Support my cause. Sign my petition. Play Mafia Wars with me. Which 'Star Trek' character are you? Here are the 'Top 5 cars I have personally owned.' Here are '25 Things About Me.' Here's a drink. What drink are you? We're related! I took the 'What President Are You?' quiz and found out I'm Millard Fillmore! What president are you?"

You probably mean well, but stop. Just stop. I don't care what president I am -- can't we simply be friends? Now excuse me while I go post the link to this story on my Facebook page.


Sunday, May 22, 2011

Creative Deconstruction: Pottery and Life

Recently I have been exploring some of my creative inclinations, seeing if in any of them I have the talent I always hoped for. It's a bit sobering, testing the reality of what you imagine you could do given the opportunity.  Of the three activities I've tried so far: belly dancing, pottery (hand building, not wheel) and abstract drawing, I love pottery.

I love the clay: feeling it, shaping it, painting it.  I love that with clay you begin with something you can see, touch, and smell. In hand building, the magic lies in the opportunities you have to shape your creation. Opportunities which, in so many ways, mimic life.  In "pinching", when I use my thumb from the inside to shape and mold, my finger becomes my heart that throbs and hurts and sometimes soars. "Coiling" is using rope-shaped pieces for reinforcement, like I feel when my mom and big sis and girlfriends buttress me when I falter. "Scoring and slipping" involves using wet clay to connect, reconnect, alter and amend, and for me parallels my commitment to reflection, prayer and fresh starts.  

Gemini that I am, clay's pliability has made me consider the alternative; how, after and despite the most intense effort and redress, does one deconstruct creativity that has gone awry?  When that which was created is not good?  Or has turned ugly?    

In my dance class, I don't try the moves I can't do well. In painting, I (continuously, incessantly) cover up or wipe clean my work, sometimes tearing up the paper.  Yet in pottery, once I have shaped, painted and fired a piece of work, I have learned that you only have two choices: ignore it or break it. And if you break it, you must smash it up so well that its pieces retain no relation to what once was its whole.

We often go through the same steps when life isn't working the way we like. Many times we ignore what is not right. We try to fix ourselves and the circumstances. We act differently and we change or rewrite the rules. Yet, like pottery, in life there are some situations that, by certain points, at particular times, and in dysfunctional circumstances, must be broken to be fixed…shattered to be made whole.   


A little about my fellow sculptors, all of whom have attended class together for several years:
The CDC employee, whose political ideology is likely far from my own, who lives in anxiety amidst chaotic, nonsensical political squabbling that threatens her home and livelihood. Who sculpts for her peace of mind and her five year old son…
The talented Argentinean engineer, a man of finite absolutes, who, despite his halting diction, is gregarious and comfortable in this place of abstracts, dust and colors. He recently returned from trip to his native county, checking on his sister who is undergoing her second bout of thyroid cancer…
The quiet, attractive redhead who vigorously "throws" all of her work, which is the process needed to create bowls, plates and large items. She uses unique materials and counsels the engineer comrade on how to support his sister-as she is a survivor herself for five years….
The instructor-a renowned southeast sculptor who has taught at this location for more than five years. Comfortable with herself and her craft, she laments the lack of opportunities for individual artists to grow their work and discipline.  Students from her four classes help her complete her first grant application for funding; as natural as she is in her craft, the art of Microsoft is foreign and frightening…
The restaurateur, who comes in weekly with woes of incompetent staff, facility mishaps and weak patronage. Her greatest pain, however, comes from the recent wedding of her only son to a woman for whom she has become clear about her dislike, who went so far as to select the dress she was to wear to the wedding…
The retired executive who wears his Georgia Tech tee shirt every week and can't stop himself from taking charge and knowing a little bit about everything—except when his pottery goes awry. Then he is reduced almost to tears and shuts up for fifteen minutes at a time…
The friendly, efficient soccer mom, who's keeps life going with her IPAD and phone in one hand and her paint brush in the other. She claims 50+ pieces of self-made pottery in her home (40+ in her attic), which she completes for the peace and surety it provides that her teens do not…
The wholesome, quiet girl-woman, in her first job, first apartment, who lives in north Fulton, works in Smyrna and has never been to Little Five points. She seeks positive ways to stay busy and worries what she'll do this summer since classes will be suspended.
Regular folk. Smart folk. Seeking solace. Living their lives. Playing with clay.
And me.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Ugly Babies

There’s nothing quite so disconcerting as an ugly baby. You know it’s true. Babies are supposed to be cute, cuddly, and adorable. Even when we know it’s a stretch, we automatically give them the benefit of the doubt; an upgrade to “lively” or “interesting”.
Yet…every once in a while,  when we peek below the bonnet, lift the stroller top or find ourselves face to face with the babe whose mother is burping him or her on the shoulder… we glimpse what we do not expect. And as much as we know that we’re all God’s children, that we all deserve love, that there’s time and lots of hope for all of us – when we see an ugly baby we react with just a little shudder. We look away. We move on.
So what’s my point? Recently I was in a discussion with a group of colleagues about the need for strong leadership in public education—particularly in our inner cities. Having spent a substantial portion of my career in and around this world, I’ve got a lot of opinions. We agreed that public school leaders have the same requisite skills for success in any field: strong content knowledge fueled by continuous learning; ability to form effective relationships; solid communications; strong work ethic; intelligence; and creativity.  Because school systems are public enterprises with multiple customers and complex business concerns, public school administrators must know business principles such as human and project management, quality assurance, business management and organizational development to be effective leaders.
Finally, we agreed that there could be no success without the belief that all children can learn. In fact the best educational leaders have a vision that all children will learn and achieve.
And then I proposed what I believe is an absolutely essential qualification that you won’t find listed on the job description, highlighted in a candidate’s job vitae nor discussed in the interview. Required: a love for ugly babies.
Our urban systems are filled with ugly babies-children for whom educational achievement has not been a given; whose families experienced limited academic success; who hail from depressed communities and distressed living environments. These are babies who make others cringe because of all that they don’t bring to the classroom. They can be unkempt. Their mothers and fathers, many of whom were ugly babies themselves, aren’t able to help them and may in fact be hurting them. Their pictures aren’t being carried in many wallets and they haven’t been bounced on many knees.  
So a vision that stops with academic achievement is not enough. The best-and most successful educational leaders, regardless of their tenure, status, contracts or politics, have to able to look at these ugly babies in all their inglorious unsightliness and let them know they are loved.  They must carry these children’s visages in their minds when constituents are yelling, school boards are demanding, teachers are stressing and corporations are exacting. When internal and external support wanes and special projects falter.  
Because here’s the truth: ugly babies and their sometimes ugly parents won’t ever care how much the world can offer to them until they first know how much the world really cares. 
With uncompromising love, however, a metamorphosis can occur. Our lens  sharpen as we realize that our repulsion is not for these babes, but for the reflection of ourselves that we see in them. In ugly babies, we see our neglect.  Our superficiality.  Our abuse.  We feel shame that can propel us to act.
The first action is to love them. Love our ugly babies. Only then can we help them let their beauty shine through.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

View from the Sidelines

When I decided to spend some of my sabbatical in Nicaragua I did it because I wanted to stretch; I wanted a hands-on volunteer experience; and I wanted to push myself physically.  But most of all i wanted to be that I could do and act and be myself without others' expectations. 

So I took off to a foreign land with a foreign tongue -- and my lack of Spanish and limited knowledge of the country did indeed keep me on the periphery. All people knew of me was my willingness to help-carry, type, serve-accompanied by an omnipresent smile (BTW this "condition" may have finally been cured: having never hung out in the jungle before, I ate quite a few bugs before learning to keep my mouth shut!).

I went into this experience trusting anonymity would bring me quiet and invisibility, freeing me from the responsibility to join the crowd without a need to avoid the crowd.  I learned that when anonymity is a choice it is a right and an opportunity.

I was struck by the clarity of perspective and perception that I experienced as an anonymous voyeur. I gained heightened meaning from tones, physical gestures and actions. I became a relentless observer. I laughed, not because I got the joke, but because I wanted to be in on the fun. My humanity had to be expressed through my eyes and touch. I intuited and synchronized my moods to those around me. I noticed much more quickly who was in pain...who had got beautiful eyes...who led and who was being led.

I recognized the attitude of adolescence worldwide and the grace that comes with age. I inhaled weird smells, notice interesting foliage and hear strange sounds. I got to know - and if I was lucky, understand - my own thoughts.  All of this I was able to share via my blogs, even as I struggled to articulate in person.

Being anonymous also meant that no one missed me when I was not there; my inclusion and input were not germane.  I saw how, if anonymity were not a choice, its evil underside can be isolation and illegitimacy. 
I guess you might think that I could have gained this clarity and perspective without going to Central America. You're right.

I guess you might remind me that in every room there is always an anonymous person who's thinking and feeling and watching much as I have described. Again you would be right. 

I guess you can tell that I have gotten used to being known and am usually somewhere near the center of things.  You're right. Yet I knew that right here, right now in my life, I needed to experience the realities of silence and obscurity. I needed to be on the sidelines.  

I'm home now, rested and grateful. These lessons were poignant, and with the help of my friends, I hope to remember them. And to always look -- and look out for -- the anonymous among us.