Weekly Assignment: Make Contact

Day 090/366 Outtakes - March 30th

Who would you like to be friends with?

Who would you like to work with?

Who would you like to brainstorm with?

Why not just reach out to these people and make contact? We often consider networking a scummy, insincere activity done by shifty people who intend to take advantage of you. But actually, making a valuable connection can be simple, sincere and enjoyable.

This week, write an e-mail, tweet, or Facebook message to someone you’d like to have a connection with. There’s no need to be salesy if that’s not genuine for you. Just be nice. Be sincere.

Why do you want to be connected with this person? Why don’t you just say that? For example: “I have a new project that I think you would find interesting.” Or you know what’s always nice? Compliments. “I really like the work you’ve been doing and just wanted to let you know.” If it’s someone you’d like to be friends with, just try sharing something of interest to you.

Most people appreciate any sincere contact from another person, but if they don’t respond the way you’re hoping, it’s not a big deal. They might not respond at all, in which case it’s best to assume they’re just really busy. The worst thing that could happen is they respond rudely, in which case you obviously don’t want to be friends with that person and you can just let it go.

This one will feel like a risk, but I promise it’s worthwhile. You’ll get more positive responses than negative. Branch out.

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Weekly Assignment: Unfollow

NOISE®

They say we attract what we pay attention to. If you’re thinking grateful thoughts, you find more to be grateful for. If you’re thinking about defeat and chaos, that’s all you see.

It’s hard to police your thoughts all the time, but you can use your internet use as a way to curate your intake. This week, take note of who you’re following on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Flickr, your RSS feeds and any other social media tools you use. As you scroll through your many timelines on a daily basis, something many of us do not just once but repeatedly throughout the day, notice what you’re taking in and what you’re exposing yourself to. I’m willing to be there’s some negativity you could weed out and some snark you could do without. Is your Tumblr feed full of unhealthy body images? Unfollow. Is your Facebook page full of passive aggressive statements aimed at someone else’s nasty ex? Hide that shit. Is someone else’s wishful thinking cluttering up your inbox? Block it.

We can’t take away anyone else’s right to experience life the way they choose. If they want to be angry and spend their time yelling into the void of the internet, that’s just dandy, but we don’t have to listen.

Choose to pay attention to people who uplift you, inspire you, and shine as examples of the goodness and joy you want to create in your life. This doesn’t mean looking away from bad news — that’s part of our reality — but it does mean declining to indulge in needless nastiness and choosing to focus on possibilities, solutions, and basic human kindness.

Go on. Try it right now. Unfollow someone. I bet it feels pretty nice.

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Weekly Assignment: Social Media Fast

Twitter

It may seem odd or wrong for a blogger to tell you to go off social media for a week, but that’s what I’m going to do. Back when I had a desk job, things would occasionally get really glum. I would feel despondent, bored, irritable, and unfocused. When that happened, I sometimes turned to compulsively checking social media sites, mostly Twitter and Facebook, but also Reddit and a variety of blogs where I often found content that could drag me mentally if not physically away from my dreary days. The result was that I would accomplish strikingly little and become even more despondent. Depending on how self-aware I was feeling at the time or how long my to-do list had grown, I would eventually put myself on a social media fast.

It became a game to catch myself typing in the URL of some time-wasting web site and stop myself before another hour or two went down the drain. Suddenly, I would have a huge (although entirely predictable) increase in productivity. Less predictable was the fact that I simply felt better when I was ignoring Twitter. On thinking more about it, I realized the reason I start to feel so down when I’m compulsively checking things on the internet is that the checking isn’t just looking for something interesting to read. Rather, it’s usually checking for interaction from others, comments on something I’ve written, responses to my tweets, and “likes” on my status updates.

Every time you check and find nothing, it’s a bit of a downer, especially if you’re doing it to escape an already foul mood. Furthermore, so much of the internet is carefully curated. People post what they want you to see online, whether that’s their badass attitude, super sweet new shoes, or vacation photos from Hawaii. Even if they’re complaining about waking up at 4 a.m. to feed the baby, they’re probably not going to tell you if they fought with their spouse about it in the morning.

This week, do yourself a favor and sign off the social media sites for a while. If you don’t think you can stay off them completely, make yourself a rule that you will only check them before or after work. Exert some control over the technology in your life and reclaim your brain. You may notice a subtle difference in the quality of your thoughts when you free up those cycles that you would normally spend on hitting the refresh button. You may feel more focused, calmer, and even more creative. You may even feel less critical of yourself, and your productivity will definitely improve.

If your self control could use a boost, try these browser plugins to block time-wasting web sites:

StayFocused: I can vouch for this one in Chrome. It’s pretty easy to use and customizable. I like the Nuclear Option for getting a lot done at once: no Twitter for three hours!

LeechBlock: This one is for Firefox and is highly customizable.

WasteNoTime: Another highly customizable plugin, this one works for both Chrome  and Safari.

At the end of the week, check in with your internet habits and see if you want to make this a permanent change. How can you make better use of your energy and attention online?

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cross platform meaningless approval seeking

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Do you remember when passing a notebook among your friends was your idea of social media?

I was wondering what the next big thing after Twitter would be, and apparently it’s Instagram, but do I really even want to use that? That’s what I thought when Twitter was new, and here I am, but I don’t want to play this lame keeping up game. I don’t want to prove that I am cool, smart, funny, creative and interesting 140 characters at a time anymore. Nor do I want everyone in the world to “like” my “status.” Whenever you’re posting a status update, your true status is, “Wasting time on Facebook while real life passes by.” People used to think gamers were lame (back when they were just called “computer nerds”), but now what about all these so-called “normal” people whose emotional lives revolve around getting virtual “likes” from people whose opinions ultimately do not matter?

I’m still on Twitter and Facebook, of course, for the same reasons everyone is still on them. I am no better than everyone else. I need a way to obsessively click through photos of the lives of people I no longer actually know so I can compare myself to them in the least realistic light possible. And I need a way to tell the world I’m funny and cool and stuff. Plus, it’s how I get my news. Hate me for it if you want, but I know I’m not alone. I can hear the trolls already: “You are what’s wrong with America!” Yes, dear. Aren’t we all?

I know several people who have decided to cut back their use of social media. Incidentally, social media can be shortened to “SM” if you ever get tired of writing it out. I find that appropriate. Anyway, some have quit one site or another entirely. Some have stopped all forms of digital sharing with the general public. Some are simply being more selective than they used to be, keeping everything very professional: no profane tweets, no drunk tweets, no passive aggressive breakup drama tweets.

Others have diversified: Joining Polyvore, then Pinterest; starting a Tumblr, then reaching back to Live Journal for that old school flavor; maybe even re-activating a Diaryland account (yeah, it still exists). Some of us are cross-platform blogging and bringing in Soundcloud and Youtube clips, although it’s a little hard to call Youtube social these days. And if there were a way to ad texture to a blog post a la that fuzzy bunny book everyone had as a toddler, you know I’d be first in line for that beta … unless of course it already exists and I missed it because I’m terminally uncool. Also possible.

Some people are still on Myspace. Heh. That always makes me feel better.

For me, the impulse is a complicated combination. I need to stay focused and not waste a lot of time and energy on a lot of outlets that at the end of the day are just meaningless-approval-seeking devices. I don’t want to take endless photos of myself, add sepia filters, adn upload them to the internet with faux ironic captions indicating I am pretending not to believe I’m a rock star fashion icon.

But here I am. And just like the would-be fashion icon, I am deluding myself that I can reach the world with my art via Twitter and Facebook or Pinterest and Instagram or whatever your social media flavor of the day is.

And now it’s time for a solution … I don’t have one. I am a writer, not a social media maven. And fuck the word “maven” anyway.

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what neruda was good at

Woke up this morning to the clamor of the recycling crew pouring and tossing all our trash into their truck. They shouted to each other over the sounds of the engine and the bottles crashing on top of each other. I’m reminded of that “clink clank” poem I wrote when I was still a poet. Then after they were gone, it was the shouts of a neighbor’s child having a tantrum and the mother saying repeatedly, “Go inside!”

I was thinking last night that what Neruda was good at was following some interesting little object to see where it leads and what metaphor lies at the heart of its existence. Some bright little sound — the clink clank of the trash going out. All man-made objects are in fact metaphors for our human struggles. Metaphors made manifest. Clothing for our decoration and our shame. Cups for our thirst. Beds for our dreams and our lust.

Neruda — how does one become a renowned poet like you? By observing mankind intimately and tenderly? By collecting colorful words, of which you had so many? By forcing your work on the world like a graffiti artist of the soul? Is there even such a thing as a poet anymore?

Maybe the world has no room for that. Maybe all the poetry we had left was wrapped up in Steve Jobs’ turtleneck, it too now in the grave. Maybe there’s no room left for meter and finesse and jimmying our way inside some object to find out what it really means. Our world of objects created from the mind has solidified so much that many of us have come to believe this is reality. Those who still stand outside and try to pry things apart are looked at askance — you need to upgrade, we’re told. Upgrade to what? For what?

I’m asking perhaps a vain and selfish question — where is the place for poetry now? And not ust riddles broken into mystifying lines but the actual prying and picking and tinkering with the stuff of the mind, the stuff of reality.

Perhaps once you can get a degree in something it’s no longer art, art being original, provocative, passionate and not the product of some poor grad student, some arrogant grad student, some underpaid professor with something to prove — no not a point or a cause but an ego to bolster. Which is not to say art is egoless, but it also does not aim for the rubber stamp of approval.

Art does not pay for a degree. Art does not get a grade. Art does not care if you like it, even if the artist does.

We must differentiate between art and artist. The artist lives in service to the art, the question, and the metaphor. The artist, yes, wants your approval yet submits the ego to the will of the work. The artist upholds the question first — like a scientist of the soul, the artist looks into a microscope and cannot lie about what she finds there. To lie would be a betrayal of all that she believes. the artist came here to discover, and that requires honesty.

So, what is the place of the artist now? Maybe there will be no more Nerudas. Maybe there can be no more artists who are not also at least marketing experts or social media mavens. Maybe our objects have grown too intricate for this poetic inspection.

Or maybe not.

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