Recently in friends Category

now you see it, now you don't

One of the best things about my office is that it's next door to Weez's--which enables lots of shared music, knocking on walls, and other neighborly things.

A few years ago, we were both in our offices at the same time when a foreign student stopped by to talk to us about classes. He looked in my office, which was brightly lit, and piled high with papers and books and gadgets--the regular clutter of my chaotic professional life. Then he looked in Weez's office, which features incandescent lighting, strategically placed art, and a calming sense of feng shui.

He stood there for a few moments, clearly trying to find the right words for what he was thinking. Finally, haltingly, he said "You two are...friends?" Weez and I both nodded. There was a long pause, and then, "You are...VERY different." We laughed for a long time about that, and it's a line that's been repeated many times between us. A few months ago, our mutual friend Matt said to me "None of us really understand how the two of you are still friends," and when I reported that to Weez yesterday it resulted in more shared laughter.

On the other hand, when I shared both of those conversations with another friend, David, on Thursday, he shrugged and said he didn't think we were really all that different. And Alex, who was there when I shared Matt's comment with Weez yesterday, also expressed bewilderment at that observation.

On the surface, Weez and I are indeed very different. We have different aesthetics, different communication styles, different (but overlapping) sets of friends. And a lot of people focus on that--especially the communication styles. I'm an open book, for the most part--you don't ever have to wonder where you stand with me. And while I can be quick to anger, it's because I let negative emotions bubble up and out, and then I let them go. Weez, on the other hand, is gentler, more nurturing to an extended network of friends and students and colleagues, a mostly closed book when it comes to inner feelings, and very slow to anger...but just as slow to let that anger go.

These are not good things or bad things...they're just true things. And focusing on that can result i people seeing us as dramatically different. But David and Alex weren't focusing on that. They were thinking about the many things that Weez and I share. A fierce loyalty to the people we care about. A sophisticated and often wicked sense of humor. A love of music and food and friends and family. A collection of outspoken and often troublesome monkeys in our heads. A joy in teaching and in learning, in making and in playing.

So yes, we are very different. And also not so much. The similarities are what define our friendship...but I'm grateful for the balance she provides in my life, the reminder that a well-lived life takes many forms and that the best friendships are not just mirrors.

it ain't but a thang

"It ain't but a thang" is how Weez, my BFF, explains away pretty much any catastrophic occurrence, from car accidents to student stalkers. It used to make me crazy, because I was pretty sure a lot of those were more than just "a thang," but over the years I've learned that's a core part of who she is. It's a family thang, really. And it's not just a minimization of the problem, which is what I used to think. It's a genuine, (mostly) healthy recognition that in the larger scheme of things, this too shall pass. (My dad says that all the time. Isn't it funny how parents seem to get smarter as you age?)

On Tuesday, Weez had a stroke. Granted, it was what she--and the neurologist--called a "teensy stroke." It affected only her balance, no cognitive function or other physical aspects. Her smile is still beautifully symmetrical, her words and her wit are as sharp as ever, and even the balance issues are likely to resolve fairly quickly.

But still. It was more than just a thang, at least to me. It was a terrifying reminder of our mortality, of the value and the fragility of our well-being, of just how important a person she is in my life. The first two I'm pretty aware of on a day-to-day basis. In a general way, I'm aware of mortality, and fragility, and am very grateful for the good health that I and my loved ones enjoy. In a more specific way, however, I don't ever think about what a world without Weez in it would be like. I don't want to go there. I'm not sure I really can go there. It's not a viable option. It does not compute.

On Tuesday, when Weez emailed several of us to say that she wouldn't make our 11am meeting because she was in the hospital, to her, that was "just a thang." She'd let us know, and that was that. My first reaction was to do what I would have wanted someone else to do for me--drop everything, head to the hospital, and keep her company. But I've known her long enough to know that company isn't always what she wants. So I asked, and she said no. And I respected that. (Damn, Weez, do you know how HARD that was?) I held out 'til morning, then showed up with gifts and good cheer...and an appointment that would keep me from hovering over her for the rest of the day. That was good, on all fronts. I came back later, again just for an hour or two, and tried as best I could to sit quietly and just be there. And again this morning, with another chai soy latte and some light conversation about happy things.

We talked a bit about how much people like me (and many of our colleagues and friends) WANT to do something to help in a crisis. How it makes THEM feel better. But, as she pointed out, that's really not her top priority when she's trying to keep her own shit together...a very fair point. On the other hand, she also has said several times how wonderful it has been to see the outpouring of love and support that's come through email and Facebook and people who risked her barriers to stop in at the hospital.

It got me thinking about this whole offering/accepting help thing. Because it's not really an introvert/extrovert thang. It's a caretaker thang. When you derive some of your own self-worth from taking care of others--as a mother, as a daughter, as a sister, as a friend, as a mentor--it feels good and right to help the people you care about. It's a lot harder to accept that help. There's a skewing of perspective; offering the help seems simple and easy, but accepting help offered seems demanding and excessive.

Last year was a hard year for me, and it had some crises that were most certainly more than just a thang. And the people who loved me were there for me. Really there. Even (especially) when I didn't ask, couldn't ask. A few months ago, I told one of them how grateful I was for his help during those dark times, and he said dismissively "it wasn't a big deal." I disagreed, and said that it was indeed a very big deal for me. He laughed then and said "but you did the same thing for me when I needed it." And I suddenly realized that he was right; I had done that for him, and it hadn't felt like a big me. It's all about perspective. That's a lesson I need to hold tight to, remembering that while offering help is easy, accepting it can be much, much harder.

I love you, Weez. I'm so very grateful you're okay. And I'm so very glad I could offer help this week, even if some of it was to make me feel better.


Related Posts from WeezBlog:


This morning at breakfast, after listening to me bubble over with happiness about the just-ended social computing symposium, a friend told me that she thought I was the most grateful person she knew.

I've been turning that over in my head all day, and have come to the conclusion that (a) she was right about me being a fundamentally grateful person, and (b) I'm very grateful to have gratitude be one of my defining characteristics.

When people start in 12-step programs, one thing their sponsor often asks them to do is to make a gratitude list. Even if the world seems to be crashing down around you, it's usually possible to find something to be grateful for--the hot cup of coffee you're sipping, a hug from a child, the song that made you want to get up and dance, the way the light and shadow looks in the last moments of a sunset. The act of writing those things down--or speaking them aloud to another person--shifts your focus in a profound way. If you do it on a regular basis, it can fundamentally change the way you see your life (and yourself).

One of yesterday's speakers quoted Sheryl Crow's song Soak Up The Sun in his talk: "It's not having what you want, it's wanting what you've got." That really resonated with me, and this morning's conversation helped me to realize why.

Every year running this event takes everything out of me. I go into it a giant bundle of stress and worry. But every year I leave feeling ridiculously happy and energized. I've had my mind stretched by brilliant people who said things that informed and inspired me. I've connected people who I know will go on to do great things together. And I've had a chance to work and play with some of the people I love and respect most in the world. That's what I want, it's what I've got, and it's a pretty damn good reason to be grateful.

player testimonials from picture the impossible

I can't imagine that it gets any better for a game designer than watching videos like these:

Trust me, it's well worth taking fifteen minutes to watch the first five or six videos in the playlist. They do a better job than I ever could of explaining why all the time, effort, and money we put into this game was worth it.

friendship zero

What follows is a light-hearted parody of Ed Vielmetti's suddenly-popular "Twitter Zero" post, followed by some commentary of my own.

Disclaimer: I love my friends - I love being in the flow of the world with the comments of friends around the world triggering all sorts of warm feelings and thoughts about how lucky I am to know so many people in so many places.

For that very same reason, I'm working towards getting rid of my friends, my "friendship zero" project, where I stop being friends with everyone I know.

It's nothing personal.


Friendship Zero is inspired by a few other "zero" projects, including Ed Vielmetti's "Twitter Zero," Merlin Mann's "Inbox Zero" and Alan Gutierrez's "Reader Zero". The basic idea is that in systems where there is an infinite capacity for the world to send messages to get your attention, the only reasonable queue that you can leave between visits to the system is zero, because if you get behind you will never, ever, ever catch up gradually. Never. No matter how much time you put into it, there will always be more to do, and you will lose sleep over it.

What's that you say, you love your friends, why make them go away? For the same reason that I love my family (really I do) and I don't let any of them visit my house. And I love my colleagues (really I do) and spend too much of my time ignoring them.

I can't keep up. No one can keep up, actually - we look at someone shiny and say "ooh shiny" and start being friends with them because they were shiny then (and shiny once) and then suddenly you look back a week later and note to self "hm, not shiny any more, but it's a lot harder to stop paying attention to them once you're connected to them".

So, go to zero. Stop making friends, don't let them interrupt you any more. But still listen.


Friends are great for ambient awareness of things around your neighborhood, perfect actually. With a few phone calls or conversations you can see at a glance when there are parties, what television shows they're watching, who's winning what football games, when the Mormon Church is having a global conference, Girl's Night Out, you name it there's some super-cool local event that you can tap into without having much more than a few friends.

Friend friend friend friend...

I'll argue for the sake of arguing that we as human beings have a finite supply of attention for ambient awareness of friends around the world; there's only so many neurons that can fire in one moment to keep track of what's happening, and my poor aging brain has some finite ability to keep track. You make tradeoffs, you have to. And the fact that I know just a little bit too much about popular television due to my friends has to be responsible for some other deficit in my life, like not getting quite enough sleep, or not cleaning the garage (or even more to the point noticing that there are parts of it that need attention).

Or paying attention to my boys. They are little. They won't be little forever. They don't have friends, yet - yet? - though the older one was asking about connections between the kids in his class.

Attention is a precious resource. Friends are a distraction. Family is a distraction. Work is a distraction. Pretty much everyone is a distraction in the real world, either designed to capture an eyeball or rewire a neuron or to short circuit the brain to wallet function. And sometimes the only reasonable response to a thoroughly enjoyable distraction is to make a very visible, very annoying, very painful decision to skip this particular distraction and move on.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

Why this particular post of Ed's is getting so much attention is beyond me. It's the kind of silly generalization that I think of as essentially curmudgeonly. It's a dismissal of an entire ecosystem because you haven't found a way to make it work well for yourself.

Here's the thing--Twitter doesn't have to be a time suck that distracts you from the things that really matter. It can be a tiny investment of time that instead connects you more deeply to the people you love who don't happen to live in your house. The choice doesn't have to be between overload and nothing. That's a false dichotomy. It's about learning how to live a balanced and healthy life both online and off.

With email, with blogs, with Twitter, with games, with real-life friendship, we have choices to make. We can choose to use them, or to let them use us. We can lose sleep over the things we missed, or we can focus instead on the things we see.

I was telling danah the other day about how I use my delicious inbox. It's my start page in Firefox, and when I launch my browser I glance at the items on the first page. Often there are interesting, useful, important things there, and it's the launch for a brief morning exploration. I miss a lot of things that people in my network bookmark because they're not on the first page, and that's totally okay. I don't lose sleep over the ones I didn't see. Instead, I'm grateful for the ones I do, since they keep me in touch with the zeitgeist of the technical world I'm most interested in. (And, in fact, that's how I saw the Twitter Zero post to begin with.)

I do the same thing with Twitter. My twitter page is the default page in my mobile phone browser. The number of people I follow is under 100, and I seldom page back through old tweets. I pop in to see what's at the top of the stack, I occasionally go to a close friend's feed to see what they're up to, but again I don't really worry at all about what I missed. I tap in for some of what Clive Thompson so beautifully termed "social propriception," I post an update or two of my own, and I move on.

Ed's post reads a bit to me like how an alcoholic might write about alcohol. "Admitted I was powerless over social media and my life had become unmanageable." Yes, there are obviously people who can't effectively manage their use of these tools and integrate them into a rich and full life. But it's important to remember that some people really can have just one glass of wine, too.

busy buddies

I'm a deeply social creature. I work better, play better, think better when I'm with other people. I learn best from examples, and work complex ideas out best when talking or writing about them to someone else.

So it's no surprise to me that Weez's return to Rochester has spurred all kinds of positive behaviors in me. First, there was the pact to get healthier together, spurred by a bit of competitive spirit. (The regular gym meeting time that she invited me to via Exchange is entitled "To 125"!) Every time I'm tempted to say yes to a milkshake from McD's, or a second helping of dinner, I think "125" and it's much easier to just say no.

Now, I find myself inspired by her kitchen cleanup. Our fridge actually gets cleaned out pretty regularly, but the pantry...not so much. Yesterday I tackled that challenge, and ended up throwing away 2.5 kitchen garbage bags full of expired/empty/stale/unwanted items. (Who knew we had three jars of Marshmallow Fluff? Or four more boxes of Macaroni and Cheese?)

when there are no words

I found out on Monday morning that a close friend's husband had died suddenly on Sunday. He was only 56, and next month would have been their twentieth anniversary.

This week was a blur, spent mostly in Buffalo helping with arrangements and providing as much comfort as I could.

At least three times I've sat down to write about Chuck, and each time I've abandoned it. There are no words. So I'm going to stop trying. Not everything belongs here on this blog, and it seems clear that this doesn't.

But don't expect much chatter here for a while.

goodbye, lilo

When I first started hanging out on Joi Ito's IRC channel, #joiito, one of the people who'd drop in on a regular basis was lilo. In real life, lilo was Rob Levin, founder of freenode--the IRC server network that #joiito was housed on.

Rob didn't just hang out in Joi's channel, of course. Every time I'd create or use a freenode IRC channel at a tech event, lilo would pop in and cheerfully greet friendly "faces" and help with technical problems.

I saw tonight, via AKMA's blog, the sad news that Rob died on September 16th.

I'll miss him. And I'll think of him every time I log into a freenode IRC channel.

goodbye, meg

mandarin megIf you're a long-time reader of my blog, you've probably seen a number of comments over the years from meg, aka Michelle Goodrich, of Mandarin Design.

Back in 2003, only six months after I'd started blogging, she made an icon to represent me in her "House of Mandarin" (also known by many as her "blogger's quilt")--and I was so touched and honored by that gesture.

Yesterday I saw in AKMA's blog that meg had passed away over the weekend. I don't know what happened, but I'm deeply saddened by the loss of meg's voice--not just on her own blog, but on the many, many blogs that she visited and commented on. She was so a part of the tapestry of blogs and bloggers that I know and love, and she will be missed by many.

my not-book group

A few months ago, the wonderful Maryam Scoble invited me to be part of a new women's book group she was forming. It seemed like a great opportunity to meet other interesting women here in the area, and I love spending time with Maryam, so of course I said yes. But I forgot how bad I've always been at doing "assigned" reading. It's not that I don't love to read. But I can never seem to anticipate when the book reading bug will bite (and it usually coincides with travelling, since that's enforced time sans electronic devices). I made it halfway through the first book we read, and after that it became clear that I wasn't going to be able to do it. I wasn't the only one, though, so Maryam came up with the excellent idea of alternating book club meetings with a movie night. My kids were pretty amused by that--a book club for people too lazy to read the book was how they saw it.

Last night the movie group met chez Scoble, where we were all looking forward to watching Brokeback Mountain on the Scobles' brand new HDTV. There were five of us, and we started the evening with some red wine and a delicious potluck dinner--lemon-rosemary chicken, slow-cooked pulled pork in a Tuscan sauce, enchiladas, garlic bread, a delicious strawberry shortcake dessert, and more. (Yes, for five of us. We overcooked a bit...)

But then the conversation at the table got so good that we never actually watched the movie. We laughed and talked and gossiped and shared and encouraged each other...and the next thing we knew it was 10:30pm and those of us with kids had to hightail it back home.

When I walked back in the door, my boys (whom I'd said could wait up for me) asked how the movie was. I told them we had ended up talking instead, and Lane thought that was really entertaining. "Geez, not only can you not read the books, you can't even watch the movies you're supposed to watch instead of the books!" Yeah, I guess we're failures...

But failure never felt so good, I'd have to say.

sxsw serendipity

The best part of SXSW isn't the panels (though there are often excellent presentations). It's the serendipity. The hallway/restaurant/party connections and conversations. The friend-of-a-friend introductions. The silliness and the creativity and the laughter.

I slept late this morning, and made it to the conference in time to bump into Justin Hall, who led me to where Joi was speaking--so I got a chance (after what I think has been nearly 1.5 years) to give him an in-person hug and hello. After that I was hungry, and couldn't find anyone who wanted to eat (even using Dodgeball didn't yield its usual excellent results), so I wandered off to Iron Works BBQ for one last hit of regional food. As I sat down, Lili called out my name--she, Jenny, and Scoble were there, along with Craig Newmark (yes, that Craig), and Cathy Brooks. It was a lovely lunch, with lots of laughter. One lunch like that, and the camaraderie it fosters, is worth the price of the trip to Austin.

This afternoon I'm sitting in the overflow room for the Burnie Burns keynote, getting caught up on email and blog posts and text messages. At 3:30 I've got to decide between games and stories, and then I'll grab my suitcase and try to catch 20 minutes of Bruce Sterling before I head for the airport, and back to my family and bed and kitchen and other comforts of home. As always, I'm glad I was here, but I'm also more than ready to head back home.

here, and gone again

I dropped Weez off at the airport this morning at 7am. Yesterday afternoon, my friend Linda asked her "what's Liz going to do when you're gone?!" Now she is gone--and I miss her already.

The drive back home from the airport was beautiful. Early light showing vague highlights of mountains, edges smudged by clouds, framed by silhouettes of trees. I love Seattle--the mountains, the water, the richness of texture. We took Weez out to the Olympic peninsula on Friday, and even in the rain it was stunning. (You can see the trip through my eyes...and through hers.)

I love the new friends I've made here, as well. Last night we had some of those friends over, and as the conversation and laughter bubbled around me, I kept thinking about how blessed I am by the wonderful people in my life.

As Weez was preparing for her trip, our mutual friends in Rochester kept asking her the same thing--"Is Liz coming back?" She didn't know the answer. Neither do I. If it were a decision based solely on geography, Seattle would win in a heartbeat. There's something about seeing the mountains (almost) every day that satisfies a deep spiritual need in me. I can feel that I'm happier since I've been here. But...there are other practical and personal considerations. Housing costs here are more than 4x those in Rochester (and rising daily), so we'd be hard pressed to afford a home we liked within an hour of work. Gerald and the boys have a much stronger social infrastructure in Rochester than they do here. I'm currently shielded from corporate politics by my visiting position, but wouldn't be if I joined Microsoft as a full-timer. After nearly a decade in academia, I'm rather fond of my 3-month summer vacations. Unlike RIT, Microsoft doesn't offer free college tuition for my kids. And there is that tenure thing.

If I could convince Weez to move to Seattle, that might be the factor that simplifies the equation. Unlikely, of course. But I can daydream.

Life is complicated but good. And I'm grateful.

(Oh, and promised, the list of blogs from people you met while you were here: Nancy, Maryam, Ponzi, Shelly, Korby. I thought there were more, but those are all I can think of right now.)

gypsies, tramps, and thieves

I'm on my way back to Seattle right now from San Francisco, where I was speaking at the Syndicate conference (topic: "searching the syndisphere"). It was fun to speak on the topic, which involved channeling my inner librarian in order to champion the role of the user in the search context.

It was even more fun, however, to see some folks whom I only tend to see on the conference circuit, as well as some whose names I know from online contexts but whom I hadn't had a chance to meet in person. (I started to list people by name, but realized that I'd probably leave someone out and offend them, and that it sounded too much like name dropping...)

As I was sitting in the speakers room (the best place to find familiar faces, not to mention power outlets near tables) yesterday morning, two people I didn't know saw each other and exchanged enthusiastic greetings. Apparently they hadn't seen each other since they'd crossed paths at another conference some months ago. One remarked to other that these conferences had become the modern day equivalent of gypsy encampments--same faces, same setup, new town, new audience.

I loved that metaphor, and shared it via IM with my friend and MSN office mate Brady Forrest, who replied with this:

cables hanging from the waist instead of tiny bells

t-shirts instead of colorful blankets

secrets being pilfered instead of food and trinkets

demoers instead of performers

works for me

Works for me, too (although I'd probably substitute Treos for cables in the description). I love the image of a band of folks on the fringes of polite society setting up a show in town after town, gathering to entertain (and, some might claim, con) one population after another.

I'm happy to be a part of this motley crew--they're a modern mobile tribe for me, people with whom I have a strong connection and affinity, but limited opportunities to see in person. So I'm grateful that I can grab time with them in our modern-day encampments of speaker rooms and catered luncheons.

reflections on home

The boys and I got back from Rochester late (very late) last night. Part of me feels like I'm home today; another part feels as though I just left home behind. It's an odd feeling--to be not-quite-at-home in either city.

This ended up being a stressful visit--trying to squeeze months' worth of visits and dinners and meetings and conversations into a handful of too-short days. My apologies to all the people I didn't have time to really spend time with on this visit--especially Steve (who helped save the day in my mom's class!) and Eric (who's going to be stuck packing up a box of things I left in my office, without even having gotten to see me while I was there).

I had some amazing home-cooked food while I was there--Weez's eggs benedict and home fries, Tona's delicious enchiladas, Jenny's always-wonderful potato kugel, and my Mom's signature homemade crepes for breakfast. As rushed as I was, I felt loved and welcomed by friends and family, and it was a good reminder of why we've grown so fond of Rochester. It's the people, stupid! (It was also nice to spend some time in my RIT office, with its enormous window. One of the few things I don't like about my working environment at Microsoft is how little natural light I seem to encounter on most days.) Rochester is definitely where I'm most connected to friends, family, and community, and it was wonderful to see the people I care about while I was there. But being back in Seattle really makes me happy, too--the mountains are a big part of that, but so is the fact that I'm taking a lot of an enjoyment in the work that I'm doing and the people I'm working with.

Many thanks to the people who sent get-well wishes for my grandmother. I'm delighted to report that she seems to be doing much better--they've stopped the internal bleeding, and rehydrated her, and it appears that her kidney function is returning. When I spoke to her on the phone before we left (Alex had a cold, so visiting seemed unwise) she sounded cheerful and alert--a big change from how she'd been when I saw her a few days ago. I'm hopeful that she'll be back in the nursing home within a few days, and from there back to the assisted living facility where she feels so much more at home.

glory days

I'm in my hotel room, getting ready for bed while my iPod mini plays songs on shuffle. Right now, Bruce Springsteen is singing "Glory Days," a song I love but haven't listened to in ages. And it got me thinking not about high school, but about library school.

It's odd being at a library conference without the bulk of my library posse...a group of tech-savvy librarians that coalesced in LITA in the late 1980s when many of us were students or recent alums of the University of Michigan School of Information and Library Studies (at least two name changes ago; it's now the School of Information).

For years and years we've gathered at ALA conferences--for dinner, drinking, and occasional debauchery. During those years we've married and divorced (not each other, thankfully), changed jobs and career paths and addresses. We've gotten older, too. We don't drink quite as much as we used to, or go out quite as late.

The part that's the hardest for me to come to terms with cognitively. We're not the young turks at the conferences anymore...we're a bona fide old guard. We're library directors, business owners, and pundits. We're the ones giving the keynote speeches. I can remember vividly the night that two of us ended up accidentally crashing the LITA president's reception in New Orleans, and feeling so completely out of place. Fast forward to today, when at least two of our crowd have been LITA presidents themselves (including my companion that night), and the bulk of us have been on the board at least once.

Here at Internet Librarian, I see the next posse hanging in the halls. They're talking about blogs and flickr and They're laughing out loud at the stodginess around them (as well they should), and carving out their own space. And I find that I'm not at all jealous. I love seeing them blaze their own paths, create their own disruptive force. I don't want to go back to who and where I was fifteen years ago. But I am oh so glad for the friendships that were forged during those conference romps, and the memories that remain. I can only hope that this new group of go-getters will have as many joys and successes in the profession that we've had.

So here's to you, my glory day friends. You know who you are.

it's the people, stupid

A lot of people have been asking me if I think I'll come back from Seattle after my sabbatical is over. I'd be lying if I said I didn't find the prospect of working on interesting projects, for more money than I currently make, in a beautiful city, attractive.

But as we make our preparations to leave, I keep running into the one thing that will make us likely to return to Rochester next summer...the people in our lives.

We've been here for nearly nine years, and we've built a life. We have wonderful friends, supportive family, great health care providers. Relationships and connections like the ones we have here don't happen overnight--they take time and nurturing. And while I have no doubt we could eventually build up a life in Seattle that was rich and rewarding, I don't want to walk away from the life we already have built here.

Today we had a few close friends over for an informal cookout (well, as informal as my southern-born-and-bred husband can manage), and I was reminded of how much a part of my life they'd become, and how much I didn't want to lose that part--even if I could splice in "replacements" somewhere else.

So, what does my "why I'll be back" list look like?

  • My mother, stepfather, sister, and father...all close enough to have dinner together any night of the week.
  • My dear friends, many of whom are also my colleagues
  • My wonderful doctors, who know me and my health and my family, and whom I trust completely
  • My neighbors, who we're finally seeing again now that the grass is green and the temperatures have warmed
  • Our newly spruced-up house. On an afternoon like this one, with sunshine casting long shadows on the lawn, a light breeze rustling the leaves outside all the windows, and the sounds of kids, birds, and dogs outside, it's hard to imagine wanting to be anywhere else
  • Summer vacation--one of the best perks of academia
  • The low cost of living, which makes my relative-to-Microsoft small academic salary go a long, long way
  • My new lab at RIT

That's a lot of powerful reasons to come back home.

happy new year!

The boys and I put Gerald on a plane to Alabama early Friday morning, so that he could spend a week with his daughters in Birmingham. Despite my solo status, however, I managed to clean the house and host a potluck brunch for friends and family yesterday. (It wasn't going to be potluck until Gerald made his travel plans--I depend on him for much of our hospitality infrastructure, so switching to potluck was the only realistic way to pull it off.)

We had a lovely time, marred only by the fact that I'm developing a delayed allergic reaction to a sulfa drug that I was talking earlier in the week--so about an hour before my guests left, my ankles and chest developed maddeningly itchy hives. I tried taking Benadryl, which makes me incredibly sleepy, so the rest of the day was pretty much lost. The Benadryl was nearly useless, however, and by lunchtime today I was covered with the itchy red blotches (lovely image, no?). I ended up calling the doctor for a prednisone Rx, which I started today. (Will have to hit the gym tomorrow morning and take advantage of my short-term steroid boost!)

My mom took the boys this afternoon, so I did the back-to-school lunch shopping, and more household cleaning--trying to get organized enough to make it through a week of single-parenthood. I even signed up (again) for FlyLady, in hopes that I can defeat the C.H.A.O.S. around here ("can't have anyone over syndrome"). It's not a new year's resolution, exactly--it's more a realization that I'm happier in a house that's not a mess. We'll see if it's possible to change my years of bad habits--and to get the boys to adopt some new ones, as well.

reasons to be happy

  1. My web design class this quarter has a critical mass of interesting, engaged, talented students--which, in turn, makes me want to engage with them, which gets a wonderful cycle going. I'll be looking forward to seeing their post-break projects.
  2. There's a little bit of blue sky outside my window right now--a rarity at this time of year.
  3. I have full-spectrum lights in my office, which compensates for the usual lack of sun.
  4. Party Shuffle on iTunes.
  5. The family latke recipe. If you're nice, I might even share it here. You would be so lucky if I did.
  6. Weez and I made it to the gym this morning, and managed a serious workout between giggles.
  7. An exciting announcement about social computing at RIT is forthcoming later this week.

There's more, but I'm off to run errands and light candles. Ho, ho, ho.

"there's something big happening"

I'm taking a break from grading my students' web pages to read David Weinberger's ongoing coverage of the Harvard "Votes, Bits, and Bytes" conference. Wish I'd been at the session he wrote about this morning, organized by Ethan Zuckerman and Rebecca MacKinnon.

Ethan says that we're here today to talk about blogs as bridges, borrowing Hoder's metaphor from yesterday (blogs as windows that give you insight into someone's world, blogs as cafes where people can talk together, and blogs as bridges). There's something big happening, Ethan says.

Indeed there is.

Omar from Iraq talks about the importance of blogging as a way of routing around propaganda. Then he talks about how the open comments from around the world on his blog helped his nephew "If I visited America a year and a half ago, I would have felt llike a stranger. This time I feel like I'm with friends, and that is the greatest gift I can think of."

This is how I feel, as well. From Norway to Australia, France to Japan, Brazil to South Africa...I have friends around the world now that I would never have had without this blog to facilitate connections. I can say without a flicker of doubt that my blog is the one technological tool that has most fundamentally changed my professional life.

new blogs of note

Two new blogs added to my aggregator this week.

The first, "Bad Mother" by Ayelet Waldman, was recommended by my friend Allison. Ayelet is a published novelist, married to a Pulitzer-prize winning author, with four kids ranging from 1 to 10 years. Her blog is delightful--what's not to like about a site with an entry that begins "There are not enough drugs in the world to alleviate the horror of being home alone with four children, one of whom is completely enraptured with his father."

The second, "Hurtling" by Richard Hodkinson, is more of professional interest to me. Richard is a graduate student at USC's Annenberg School, and shares my interest in backchannels as a destabilizing communication tool.

snap, crackle, glow

Last night I had a wonderful workout at the gym with my best friend Weez, followed by a nice soak in RIT's new hot tub. When I got home and stepped out of my car, I could smell wood smoke from a neighbor's house, and could see the brightly colored leaves up and down the street illuminated by porch lamps. I took a few minutes to soak that up, feeling about as lucky as I ever have.

As I drove to work this morning, the sun was coming up over the multi-colored trees, and mist was hanging over the river and ponds that I passed. There's a hint of frost on the ground in the shady areas, and I could see my breath in front of my face when I got out of my car. (No photos, alas; I didn't bring the camera with me.)

Fall has always been my favorite season--I love the crisp air, the take-your-breath-away blue skies, the luminous oranges, yellows, and reds of hardwood leaves. I know that the shortening days and intermittently gray skies make fall a depressing time for some, but for me fall has always felt alive with possibilities. As a "faculty brat," my household always buzzed in the fall; that buzz followed me through college, grad school, and now life as an academic. Fall is a time of new classes, new ideas, new students, new projects. It's excitement and discovery and renewal. And for those of us lucky enough to be in the northeast, it's accompanied by this perfect weather--perfect for sleeping, for thinking, for walking, for playing. Cool days, crisp nights. Bliss.

textual gratification

I met both my husbands online. The first on a DC-area BBS called TMMABBS (Terry Monks' Macintosh Apple BBS), and the second on a FidoNet echo. In both cases, I fell in love with the prose before I met the person. And also in both cases, their ability to speak as well as they wrote and to engage in verbal banter sealed the deal.

I don't know how typical that is, but after a conversation with a friend this weekend who mentioned how instrumental IM had been in the start of one of his relationships, I realized that I'm certainly not unique in having this particular weakness. There's something about well-crafted text that just does more for me than six-pack abs (not that the latter is necessarily a bad thing, mind you...).

I don't read FidoNet echos anymore, but I do read blogs--and am still as delighted by good writing there as I was when I encountered it on bbs's and mailing lists. And now I add to that tools like IM and IRC, which give me real-time textual gratification. While I'm completely uninterested in tools like Skype (I avoid most voice communication, other than face-to-face, like the plague), I love IM. I love the way it lends itself to banter, to creative exchange, to plays on words. (I'm happily married now, and so my interests and needs have shifted a bit...but just as I don't mind watching handsome actors on TV, I also enjoy watching skilled writers show off their talents.)

In my IM and IRC use I've resisted the move to increasing brevity, to the SMS-speak that's gaining such popularity among my students. There doesn't seem to be a lot of nuance in phrases like r u ok, or s^ (which my son had to teach me is shorthand for "what's up"). Yes, I let an occasional "LOL" slip into my communication, but not much more than that.

Written language has a long history in flirtation and courtship...I worry a bit that mobile culture and its focus on speed and efficiency will lead to the death of seductive prose. Although I suppose I'm simply part of a continuing stream of elders who express that kind of worry about every new technology, from typewriters to SMS. Damn. Now I feel old. <sigh>

waiting for my midnight plane to georgia

Yes, I'm taking the redeye home tonight--my flight leaves for Atlanta at 11:56pm.

Happily, I'm not stuck in LAX right now, perched on an uncomfortable chair near an impossible-to-find-outlet, paying by the hour for wifi. Instead, I'm in a soft, comfy chair at the Westin near LAX, taking advantage of Simon Phipps' hospitality--we're sharing the network connection over his Airport Express, and I'm streaming Genius Loves Company over it to his portable speakers.

We had a lovely day today. First we went to the Apple Store at the Grove, and then had a nice brunch at a nearby restaurant and did some retail therapy at the Nordstroms next door.

From there, we drove south until we got to Long Beach (Allan, so sad you're not around this weekend!), which was more polluted and less picturesque than I'd hoped. It didn't satisfy my ocean craving very well, so we headed north to Santa Monica instead.

Arlington WestWhen we got to the beach near the pier, the first thing we saw was a memorial to soldiers killed in the Iraq War. It's a temporary memorial, put up every Sunday by volunteers.
Memorial Signs There's one cross (and some stars and crescents) for each soldier killed. There's also a posted list of all the names of those killed, and photos of each.

They provide pieces of paper and pens, as well as rubber bands and fresh flowers, and ask people to write the name of a soldier on the paper, and then use the rubberbands to attach the name and the flower to the crosses.

Boy at Memorial DCP_2881.JPGI wrote the name of one young man, and attached it to a white cross, along with a red flower. Then I watched as many other people did the same thing. It was clearly an emotional moment for many of them. It certainly was for me.

Santa Monica sunsetThe rest of the afternoon was more cheerful, however. We wandered the pier for a while, then had a nice dinner at a restaurant there, and watched the sun set over the beach--which wasn't spectacular, but was still quite pretty. Then we headed over the Westin, and I'll catch a shuttle to the airport soon.

Simon in Santa MonicaI'm so glad Simon and I ended up with a free day in the same place at the same time--it was a lovely way to spend a sunny Sunday, and I'm feeling relaxed, refreshed, and ready to head home (even if it is on the redeye).

ichat synchronicity

I had a lovely dinner last night in LA's Chinatown with Annenberg grad student Richard Hodkinson, which reminded me of how much fun it is to spend informal social time with people who share some of my intellectual passions.

When I got back to my room, I started thinking about how I was going to get to the ocean on Sunday--it would be criminal to fly to LA and see nothing but sidewalks and conference rooms. I was feeling sad that so few of my LA-based friends were in town this weekend, and that I wouldn't have someone to chat and banter with as I wandered.

Before I turned the computer off, though, I took a quick look at my buddy list, and discovered that my good friend Simon Phipps, with whom I almost never cross paths in the real world, had an iChat status line that read "Ventura, CA".

For those of you who don't know California, Ventura is just north of LA--about an hour away in light traffic. I immediately pinged Simon, and discovered that not only was he there, but that he also had all day Sunday free before flying to a business meeting on Monday. Woohoo!

So later this morning he's going to drive down to LA, pick me up at the hotel, and we're off to play at the Apple Store (I've never been to one, can you believe it?) and the shore.

To me, that's the best part of social software. Not the use of the tools themselves, but the way they facilitate opportunities in the "real world." Without IRC and AIM at the symposium, I probably wouldn't have ended up having dinner with Richard. And without the tagline on Simon's iChat account, I'd never have known that we were close enough on this trip to actually spend time together. But because of those social software tools, my trip to LA has been immeasurably enriched.

blog networks as faculty commons

The past week has been hectic--the combination of japanese, houseguests, and pulling off a wonderful blog panel at MEA took a lot out of me. So blogging has been unsurprisingly light. However, when your houseguest is Jill Walker, and your weekend cookout guests include both Jill and Seb Paquet, it's hard not to generate some new blogging may pick up a bit as I work those out.

The blog panel at MEA was not as well attended as I'd hoped (we were towards the end of the day, alas), but it was great fun to be a part of it. If you couldn't attend, Collin Brooke did a wonderful write-up of it. Thanks, Collin!

And if nothing else, the panel provided a wonderful opportunity for the five of us to all meet each other--Jill and Seb had never met any of us before, and Alex and Clay had each only met me. The face-to-face interaction is obviously not a necessary component for collaboration and connection, or the panel never would have happened to begin with, but it certainly is a welcome and strengthening addition.

Last night Seb and Jill and I were talking about how the connections we've formed through our blogs are actually more important to us in terms of collegiality than the connections we have to people that we work with. I "know" Jill and Seb better (at least professionally) than I know most of the people in my hallway. I think this will be increasingly the case for academics--social software tools will foster and support collaborative networks that cross disciplinary and institutional boundaries, and those networks will become the important spaces in which creativity research develop. As Jill said, these social-software-supported networks have become closer to the ideal of the faculty commons than anything on a real campus has ever been.

So, what happens to research and scholarship--what happens to the current concept of a university, in fact?--when these formerly invisible colleges become not only visible, but more important than the traditional, geographically and disciplinarily (not a word, I know, but there isn't one for what I want) bound colleges we're accustomed to?

Virtuality simply isn't going to replace physicality in toto; there's too much value in physical presence. That's why Jill and Seb and Clay were all willing to trek to Rochester for this panel--it was worth the expense (in time and money) to be able to connect in a physical space. Location matters--I live where I live for many reasons unrelated to my job, and that's true for most of the people I know. So how do we blend our modes? How do we get the most out of the emerging blog commons? I don't have answers yet, just questions.

because anil's my friend


when worlds collide converge

I spent most of the day Thursday at a workshop on cyber-communities sponsored by the sociology and anthropology departments here at RIT. (It was planned in conjunction with Howard Rheingold's visit, who gave a great talk last night; Weez and I streamed it from my laptop for #joiito members, and the official archived version is already available on the RIT web site in .ram format.)

There weren't very many people at the cyber-communities workshop, unfortunately, which was primarily due to the lack of good publicity for the workshop. Even though I was speaking at it in the afternoon, I didn't realize that some really cool people were going to be giving talks, including Keith Hampton (I'm writing up his excellent talk for M2M this weekend--in the meantime, check out his site and read his papers!), and Lori Kendall (whose book, Hanging Out in the Virtual Pub: Masculinities and Relationships Online, I'm going to have to get and read this summer). The only web page I could find for the workshop was a press release on the RIT news site--which seems surprising for a cyber communities activty. Why weren't "cyber tools" being used to promote this?

Part of the problem, I think, is the tendency for people who study about technology and its impact to disassociate themselves from those who study it directly. Happily, that's happening less and less at RIT--this week was a great example. On Wednesday, digital poet Loss Pequeño Glazier , founder of the Electronic Poetry Center at SUNY Buffalo, gave a wonderful talk on campus. He was there as part of a series of talks for a digital poetry my mom is team-teaching this year, and they've brought in a number of technology focused people (including me...) to talk to the class. The cyber-communities presentations included talks by several people from IT or technology fields, as well.

What was particularly nice about my day yesterday was that it marked the first time that my RIT world has significantly intersected with my social computing world. Having Howard and Keith on campus, going to dinner with them and colleagues from RIT, was both strange and wonderful. I've felt for the past year or so as though I've been living dual professional lives, and yesterday was the first time it felt as though the two might be converging rather than diverging.

So yesterday was wonderful, and today I woke up to a birthday with sunshine and spring air and birds chasing each other around the backyard. It's shaping up to be one of the best birthdays ever. And on that note, I'm headed outside to play!

havin' a party

dc_e_fuzzyWe're having a (small) party on Friday night for my birthday, and Weez has been dropping fabulous discs in my office to fit the "cocktail lounge" theme that we've chosen.

The best of the bunch is one called Ultra-Lounge, which has (I kid you not) a leopard-print velour cover on the disc.

Turns out that UltraLounge has a web site, complete with streaming lounge music and a whole lotta compilations. w00t! I'm craving the Tiki Sampler...may have to acquire that one for myself.

city envy

It's hard to read this (extraordinary) interview of Clay Shirky and not wish, just a little, that I lived in NYC.

But I live where I live for a lot of good reasons. Because I have family here. Because I have a job that (on most days) I love. Because I grew up in western NY and it feels like home, even when it's at its most gray and cold and depressing. (Oooo, look, I used it's and its properly in the same sentence!) And yes, because our four-bedroom house in a nice suburban neighborhood has lilacs budding and kids laughing in the front yard today, and cost us less than $120K six years ago.

Still, the interview gave me a serious case of city envy.

early birthday gift

LAFJust received a Librarian Action Figure in the mail. It was a gift from my new friend, the delightful Linda Stone (aka "The Valley Node").

Thanks, Linda! I love it!


step away from the laptop...

I had a lovely dinner last night with Allan Karl, at an excellent restaurant here in San Diego called Rainwater's on Kettner. No laptops or electronic devices of any kind were involved, which was a huge relief.

One of the things I've found most disconcerting about this conference has been the unwillingness of so many of the participants to shift their mode from the keyboard and screen to the real world of face-to-face communication. There's great value to the backchannel, especially in conference presentations where you can't speak out loud with your neighbors to discuss what's being said. But in the hotel lobby? In the restaurants? In the participant breakout sections? I remember when Steven Johnson posted about Clay Shirky's social software gathering last year--he noted that the backchannel seemed to suck the humor out of the room and into the chat. But at this conference, the backchannel seems to be sucking everything out of the room and into the chat, which I find depressing.

So, anyway, dinner. It was a great reminder of the real-world rewards of this new electronic community I've become a part of. Allan and I had a great time talking, laughing, eating, and sharing a bottle of wine. That kind of experience cements a friendship in a way that instant messenger just can't do. I don't use technology for the sake of using technology--at least, I try not to. I use it to enhance the things that I care about in my life--friends, family, my research. Yesterday afternoon I spoke to my kids over iChat audio. I arranged to meet Allan using email and IM. And I participated in great discussions about my areas of research interest during presentations. But all of those spill over into the real world, and I use them to enhance the real world, not replace it.

partying in accordion city

Yes, the conference is great, and I'm learning a lot, and it's good to be back in the academic swing of things. But I have to say that the highlight of the conference thus far was going out on the town with Kathleen Fitzpatrick of Planned Obsolescence, and Joey deVilla, Toronto's infamous "Accordion Guy."

We dined at Smokeless Joe's, on chowder for them (and when they say a big bowl of chowder, the mean a big bowl of chowder) and pesto pasta for me--with beer to wash it all down, natch. Then we embarked on a tour of Accordion City. (Kathleen has a great post about the tour, and Joey is promising more details soon on "lizapalooza".)

We wandered past the Rivoli, home of Sunday Night Kickass Karaoke, and setting for Joey's recent "ground rules" post. Then we stopped for drinks and conversation at the infamous Tequila Sunrise (which will be recognized immediately by regular readers of Joey's as the spot where Joey met "The Waitress," his co-star in the Worst Date Ever series of posts). Kathleen headed back to her hotel at that point, and Joey and I headed to the Bovine Sex Club. (Yes, that's really its name. Joey says the back of their t-shirts reads: "Pet me, milk me, kill me, eat me.") Happily, I had worn black clothes, so I didn't stand out too much--it's a pretty goth sort of place. And loud. Very loud.

We sat and talked there for quite some time. Much of the time I was trying to avoid looking at the video monitors behind the bar, which were showing a variety of disturbing images, featuring plenty of blood-caked clothing and cruel and unusual mistreatment of characters. It was like an ongoing visual trainwreck--I didn't want to watch, but kept finding my eyes pulled towards the images.) Despite the distractions (did I mention that it was loud?), we had a nice chat. We walked back to my hotel (quite a distance, but it was a nice night for a walk, particularly given the amount of anti-freeze I'd poured into my system at that point), and said good night.

You will notice, however, that there was no accordion playing whatsoever during the evening. <sigh> That means, of course, that I will have to kidnap Weez one weekend soon (maybe November?) and come back up for an encore, this time with accompaniment.

Tonight I'm going to have a quieter night. I opted not to pay the $50 for the conference dinner, and instead will get takout food, bring it back to my hotel, and spend a few hours working on the powerpoint-for-pay that's going to pay my way to Tokyo in February.

Update, 10:20pm
Okay, I lied. I went to the conference dinner, because somebody gave me a free ticket. The food was good, but the company (Jason, Kathleen, D., and Irina) was better.

jonathon's back!


When I started blogging last fall, one of the early additions to my blogroll was Jonathon Delacour. His writing was powerful and evocative, and it somehow resonated with me. I was saddened when he decided to take a break from weblogging, but encouraged that he left the door open for a later return. And now he has.

He's returned with a really thought-provoking post on weblog ethics, which will probably push me into a response later this week--or perhaps after I return from next week's offline vacation.

So, Jonathon, the answer to your public question is "yes!" (As is the answer to the private question you posed to me regarding extroverts.) Welcome back, my friend.

worth a thousand (or more) words

happy birthday, doc!

Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you
Happy birthday dear Doc, happy birthday to you!


ambulance chasing at supernova

So, I'm at Supernova, which is being massively blogged (see the conference blog, David Weinberger, etc for real-time coverage).

I, however, am much too tired to be listening carefully, let alone real-time blogging. Why am I so tired? You probably think I was out late, belly-dancing at Joi's party. Nope. In fact, Halley and I left the party early, since we were tired. A funny thing happened on our way to catch a cab, however.

After waiting much too long for a cab on King Street, we decided to walk down King Street to find one at the metro stop, joined by Paddy Holahan, a nice Irish gentleman who'd been at the party, too. When we got to the stop, there was a line of cabs...but we were on the wrong side of a wire fence, about 3-1/2' high. Halley and Paddy decided to climb the fence. Being the less adventurous sort, myself (and about a foot shorter than either of them), I decided to walk around.

By the time I got around the fence to them, Halley was limping. Apparently she'd tossed her (spiky-heeled) shoes over the fence first, then hopped over...right onto the heel of her upside-down shoe. Yeah. Ouch.

"When was the last time you had a tetanus shot," I asked. She couldn't remember. Uh-oh.

Got to the hotel, and the assistant manager grabbed a first aid kit and took a look. A short look. After which he suggested it was time to call the EMTs. He was was a nasty puncture wound. A few minutes later, three delightful EMTs showed up in a big-ass ambulance. Next thing I knew, I was in the front seat, Halley was in the back on a stretcher, and we were on our way to Arlington Hospital. That was around 11pm.

At 3am, they finally wheeled Halley back out of the ER, heavily drugged on Percodan, and unable to walk. We called a cab (which the hotel gave us a voucher for!), and we were back in the Hyatt at 3:30am, where they even provided her with a wheelchair.

Ever the go-to girl, however, at 8am I dragged my sorry self out of bed, grabbed some coffee, and ended up sitting between Joi Ito and Sam Ruby.

Now Clay's talking, and it's (unsurprisingly) entertaining and interesting enough that it's almost penetrating my sleep-deprived brain. Sure hope the blogging accounts fill in the content blanks for me later, once I've had enough caffeine to be rational.

supernova/blogger party in dc

The Supernova conference is fast approaching (just made my plane reservations! yay!), and so is Joi's party. The party's not just for Supernova attendees, however. It's open invitation to bloggers generally, and I'm surprised to see the (relatively) short list of attendees on Joi's wiki.

(Well, maybe less surprised than I would be if I didn't have such a bad attitude about wikis... )

At any rate, if you're in or close to the DC area on Monday July 7th, I hope you'll come to the party. Just add yourself to the list!

more on gossip

Not everyone agrees with my post in defense of gossip. But I suspect it's as much an issue of unclear definitions as it is differing perspectives.

Let me be clear--when I say "gossip," I mean it in the broad sense of "discussion about other people." Not lies, not innuendo, not (necessarily) trash talk.

If I say to you "Hey, I just found out that Bob got a big NSF grant!"--that's gossip. If I say "It's been over a week since our usually compulsive next-door neighbor cut his grass--I wonder if he's sick," that's gossip, too. So is "Elouise sure looks good...I heard she and Liz are working out regularly at the gym."

Last night, I noticed Howard Rheingold's Smart Mobs on the bookshelf next to the bed, and I had the clever idea of looking in its index for the term "gossip." There it was. Pages 128-130, in the chapter entitled "The Evolution of Reputation." Makes sense, doesn't it?

Rheingold talks about gossip in the context of economic theory games like "The Ultimatum Game":
The Ultimatum Game takes place between two players who play it once and never again. The players can share the sum of money, but only if they agree on a split. A coin flip gives one player the option of determining how much of the total to keep, and how much to offer the other player. The other player, the "responder," can accept the deal and the money is split as proposed, or the second player can reject the deal and neither player gets any money. The result that is not surprising to people who value fairness but puzzles those who see humans as rational creatures who act in their own self-interest is that two-thirds of the experimental subjects offer between $40 and $50 out of $100 total. Only four in in one hundred people offer less than 20 percent, and more than half of the responders reject offers smaller than 20 percent of the total.

What's the relationship to gossip? Read on ...

Why would anyone turn down 20 percent of something in exchange for nothing? Martin A. Nowak, Karl Sigmund, and Karen M. Page of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton propose an evolutionary model. Emotions evolved over millions of years of living in small groups. In such groups, gossip distributed information about who accepts unfair treatment and who resists it passioately. If others learn that an individual is willing to meekly settle for smaller than their fair share, they are likely to make lower offers to that individual in the future. [ ... ] Reputation for being a sucker is costly.

(Several of my colleagues at RIT may see some relevance in those last two lines.)

As the chapter continues, there's more discussion that I think is relevant to what I'm defining as gossip. Rheingold goes on to talk about the role of self-monitoring in defining and maintaining communities, and he quotes sociologist Marc Smith (the first social scientist I'm aware of who did significant study into participant behavior on Usenet):

Effective self-regulation relies upon sanctioning, which relies upon monitoring. If it is difficult to identify either the largest contributors or the most egregious free riders, sanctioning, whether in the form of reward or punishment, cannot function effectively. [... W]ithout the background of a social network of general awareness among neighbors, most neighborhoods become more dangerous and shabby.

I think all of that applies in the context of a work community. We use office gossip to self-monitor, to apply (informal) sanctions to those who violate norms, to reward those who exceed expectations.

Does this mean gossip is never mean-spirited, that it's never based on lies and innuendo and unsubstantiated rumors? No. But my definition of gossip is broader than that. And to dismiss gossip as a "bad thing" because it is sometimes used in bad ways seems to be a classic case of throwing the baby out with the bath water.

(So, Tom...yes, perhaps I was dismissive. But it's not because your blog is on LiveJournal. :) It's because you made some pretty strong comments of your own, dismissing gossip--and gossipers--as mean-spirited petty power-grabbers, and I thought that was a very simplistic view. )

in defense of gossip

My friend Weez has been writing about gossip this week (here, , here, and here) and in response, she's gotten some relatively predictable comments about gossip as a "bad" thing--and the people who indulge in it as "those kind of people."

So, as an inveterate workplace gossip, I felt some need to come to my own defense. And as a former research librarian, I turned immediately to "the literature." I wasn't surprised to find that gossip is a topic that's of great interest to researchers in a number of fields--sociology, psychology, anthropology, and organizational behavior.

(Most of what I found was in proprietary journal databases, rather than freely available on the web, so all I can do is cite and quote, rather than linking.)

The most interesting (to me) and accessible piece was a 1993 article entitled "News from behind my hand: Gossip in organizations," written by Mike Noon and Rick Delbridge, and published in Organization Studies.

Early in the article, Noon and Delbridge quote a 1961 article by J. Loudon entitled "Kinship and crisis in south Wales." (British Journal of Sociology 12: 333-350):

Gossip is undoubtedly the most important channel for constant reaffirmation of shared values about behaviour. Those who cannot join in gossip about their neighbours, friends and relatives...soon find themselves excluded from conversations at local gatherings.

That resonated with my sense of the role of gossip in the organizations I've been in--that in large part, it's about reaffirmation and development of shared values.

The bulk of the article's argument, however, was even more on target (probably since it was focused on "office" gossip). Here are some portions, interspersed with my comments.

For the individual, gossip can be a powerful tool. It provides a person with the opportunity to pass on information about key members of an organization, with the potential to influence opinions and attitudes. One's own position may be enhanced because one is seen as a gate-keeper of 'important' information, and because the gossip might seek to lower the prestige and standing of the 'victim' in relation to oneself as gossiper. In this sense, gossip may be related to careerism within organizations; gossip is a central feature of networking as one seeks self-promotion, information control and the denigration of competitors.

Yeah, that's probably part of it, much as I hate to admit it. This would be the part of my own gossiping behavior that I'm least proud of. I'd like to think that the power it generates is used for good, not for evil...and I'm relatively certain that many of my colleagues, for whom I've put that power to work, would agree. And my rationalization is that if I don't do it, someone with far less admirable goals and motivations will fill the power vacuum.

Alternatively, gossip might be the only means of influence available for those excluded from the formal power structure within the organization. Kanter (1977) notes the important 'power' positions of secretaries because of their access to information, which had the effect of opening up channels of communication across the organization which were otherwise closed. Moore (1962) suggests that the circumstance of knowledge without formal power creates a 'shadow' organization through which individuals can exert influence. This might undermine the formal hierarchy by denigrating those in positions of authority. Alternatively, it could provide social mobility/influence for individuals who might otherwise direct their energies to confronting and challenging the formal hierarchy, thus the structures of power are preserved, whilst the personnel is in a state of flux. Gossip can therefore help to perpetuate the organization by protecting it from direct challenge and attack.

Ah. Now, that sounds more like what's going on. Few of my colleagues would deny that we have both a formal hierarchy and a shadow organization, and that often more good is done by and with the latter than the former. Gossip, it seems, is the power tool of the untenured. I like that. :)

And finally...

More fundamentally for the individual, gossip can be fun. As with humour, gossip gives an escape from the monotonous drudgery many workers experience for hours on end during the working day. Whilst the effects of such 'lightening' factors as humour and gossip can be over-stated, so too can they be under-emphasized. As aspects of 'play', they may provide 'release' both from routine or stress. Elimination of gossip, were it possible, may therefore not only make employees' lives more boring, but might also give them greater opportunity to ponder the futility and overarching tedium they are often obliged to endure in their work tasks.

Now we're talkin' Yes, yes and yes!

So, yes, I'm a gossip. An unrepentant one, at that. But Weez is still my best friend, so clearly that characteric's not a deal-breaker. I'm glad. :)

summer blogs blooming

Remember how it felt to be a kid at the end of the school year, free of constraints, summer stretching out in front of you like an endless open road? That feeling, my friends, is one of the reasons that so many of us put up with the vagaries and frustrations of the academy.

You can almost hear the chant beginning in the minds of the professoriate as we emerge, robed and grinning, from the commencement ceremonies. No more classes, no more books, no more students' dirty looks! (What, you thought we were more grownup than that? Ha! Ha HA!)

But once we've plowed through a few novels, taken in some movies, soaked up a little trash TV, and caught up on 9 months' worth of lost sleep, many of us start looking around for A Project. Something fun, but with tangible ROI. Something relaxing, but still challenging.

What better time to take up blogging? Apparently some of my colleagues agree. To wit, two of my best friends at RIT, Elouise Oyzon and Cathy Irving, have launched new blogs in recent weeks. With luck, they'll take root quickly and bloom during the summer months! Why not stop by, and extend an encouraging comment or two? Think of yourself as a blog gardener, pouring much needed water (or, depending on how you view your contributions, fertilizer...) on newly planted perennials.

keep the bird burning

One of the most articulate, interesting, and enjoyable voices in my corner of blogaria--Shelley Powers, aka Burningbird--is at risk of being silenced due to financial constraints.

Happily, Jonathon Delacour has organized a "Keep the Bird Burning" fund. I've contributed. I hope you will, too.
Contribute via PayPal to keep Burningbird online!

Update, 27 April
The campaign was a success. Thanks, everyone! I've disabled the paypal button above.

introversion and presumption

Let me start with a disclaimer. I like Jonathon Delacour -- at least, I like the persona he displays to us through his weblog. But he had to know that I'd be compelled to respond to his recent post "The Unbearable Lightness of Babble." I hope that he also knows that what I'm responding to here is the ideas, not the person...and that I find this kind of debate quite enjoyable. I'm writing this while laughing, not cursing or muttering. That being said...

I suspect that my husband will weigh in on Jonathon's comments, if only to reassure him that the past ten years have not felt to him like an extended session of fingernail-pulling. But there are a number of things that Jonathon says that I want to respond to myself.

For example:

One only needs to spend ten minutes or so with most people in order to predict, with a high degree of accuracy, their position on any issue. The introvert�s pain at being trapped in a conversation with extroverts is caused partly by boredom�we�ve already formulated all the arguments in our heads.

That statement strikes me as breathtakingly presumptuous. Jonathon do you really believe that "most people" are that completely predictable, straightforward, without potential for change or creative thought? That within your own mind, you can hold all possible arguments, all points of view, all versions of the truth? That there is nothing that you can hear from other people that could change your mind, shift your perspective, force you to challenge your own assumptions?

In fact, doesn't that fly in the face of your later statement: "But then I�m not attracted to the traditional link + quote + comment weblog, which I instinctively believe is more likely to belong to an extrovert than an introvert." Why would introverts need to spend time writing about an issue in detail, when they can assume that right-thinking people will already have figured everything out on their own? Give them a couple of links, let them think quietly to themselves, and they'll all reach the same conclusion, no?

Jonathon also says:

I suspect it�s this ability to hold simultaneously contradictory viewpoints that makes the internal triangulation possible, though the end result�a state of almost permanent ambivalence�is frustrating for those who see issues from one perspective or another.

That, to me, has little to do with introversion or extroversion. (I'm reminded of a favorite F. Scott Fitzgerald quote: "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.") I may be an extrovert, but that doesn't make me single-minded on any given issue. In fact, my desire to discuss an issue with others is a conscious attempt to add perspectives to the ones already in my mind. And I've met more than my share of introverts who seemed incapable of seeing more than one side to an issue.

If we go back to the much-maligned MBTI typing, what I think Jonathon is describing here is not the difference between extroverts and introverts, but rather the difference between those characterized as "sensing" ("S") and those characterized as "intuiting" ("N"). I'm as far off the scale on "N" as I am on "E"...and I suspect that many of the bloggers that I (and Jonathon) read and respect are heavy on that side, as well.

Jonathon then asks me a specific question:

does Liz make ten times as many calls as her husband? Does he, as I do, have his phone switched off most of the time? Does he, as I do, delete all messages before listening to them? (I guess not�if I were married, with children, I think I�d listen to my messages.)

We have one mobile phone, which we share. I take it to work, he uses it when I'm home with the kids and he's out and about. We seldom even come close to using our low-end 200 minutes/month plan. Very few people know the number--my best friend, my mother, the regular babysitter. Its primary use is for Gerald to find me on campus, since I don't tend to be in one place for a long time--"Do you know where the boys' homework is?" "Can you pick up some Indian food for dinner on your way home?" "Call your mom, she needs to talk to you about weekend plans." "I got the grant! I got the grant!" That's about it.

Finally, Jonathon ends with a comment about intuition in relationships, mentioning his "conception of the ideal relationship (between introverts who can intuitively share their thoughts and feelings)." And Dorothea responded immediately, saying:

Yeah, sure, I can finish David�s sentences with some regularity and rather better than random correctness. That is not a function of �intuition� or anything related to introversion. It�s simply a function of twelve years of interaction and shared context. A pair of twelve-years-involved extroverts doubtless finishes each other�s sentences as well as David and I do."

Don't need to add much to that. (But hey, I'm an extrovert, remember? I'm compelled to add a bit more.) I agree completely. What Jonathon describes--the idea/l of shared thoughts and feelings--isn't a function of introversion or extroversion, it's a function of intimacy. And intimacy is not the sole domain of introverts. Yes, Gerald and I can often finish each other's sentences. (Elouise and I often can, as well.) But there's a danger in believing that we always know what the other is thinking. That's the presumption thing again. Gerald loves me. He knows me. He often knows what I'm thinking...sometimes before I know it. But if we ever reach a point where I've lost the capacity to surprise him...or him me...well, I'll be very, very sad.

On that note, I'll end with Kahlil Gibran's On Marriage, in which he says

But, let there be spaces in your togetherness, And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.

Love one another, but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. Fill each other's cup but drink not from one cup. Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.

Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone. Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.

Give your hearts, but not into each other's keeping. For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts. And stand together yet not too near togetherness:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart, and the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow.

twenty (?!?) years later

In an attempt to avoid grading this evening, I decided to do a quick Google search on the name of an old college friend with whom I'd lost touch after graduation--Cecilia Mu�oz.

Cec was an "RD" (resident director) in the dorm where I was an "RA" (resident advisor). I have many fond memories of spending Sunday mornings in her room our senior year--we'd listen to Brandenburg concertos and eat bagels (on good days, bought at Zingerman's) while we did our homework. As you might imagine, early Sunday morning isn't a busy time, even in a dorm like ours (which held over 1400 freshman and sophomore students), so it was precious quiet time for us.

At one point that year, she invited a few of us home to meet her family in Detroit. They were immigrants from Bolivia, and her mother cooked the most wonderful meal for us--explaining the significance and origins of the various foods she prepared. I don't remember any of the dishes, but I do remember how incredibly delicious it all was!

After we graduated in 1984, we went our separate ways. I got occasional stories about how she was doing from a mutual friend, but then he and I lost touch as well.

I hadn't thought about her in a very long time, but tonight for some reason her name surfaced in my mind, and I did what any 21st century blogger would do--I googled her.

Much to my delight, I discovered that she has become what one biographical source calls "an intense, prominent voice on behalf of Hispanic American rights." She's now the vice president of The National Council of La Raza, a major advocacy group for hispanic immigrants. She's debated Pat Buchanan on CNN, been interviewed on the NewsHour on PBS, and testified at a number of congressional and senate hearings.

None of this surprises me at all. She was smart, funny, and passionate about things she believed in. And it's wonderful to see that she's parlayed that not only into personal and professional success, but also into bettering the lives of others.

You go, girlfriend. I'm proud to list you as one of my friends...even if it's a friendship that's grounded in the past rather than present.

Looks like she won a Macarthur "genius" grant in 2000!

ego surfing

It's been a lovely 24 hours. Went dancing last night with my friend Elouise ("Weez"), at a relatively new club in town called Rain. We were particularly delighted by the ladies' room, which sports a lounge with couches and tables, a private window to the bar, and a one-way mirror that lets you make sure that unwanted suitors aren't hovering by the door before you leave!

DJ Lino was spinning tunes--which is relevant mostly because Weez just finished his web site. Nice, huh? She's good. Hire her. (freelance...she's got a day job, teaching with me.)

Then my husband let me sleep late--until 10am, an unheard-of luxury for me. And when I did drag myself out of bed, it was sunny and nearly 50 degrees outside. Bliss.

I was in such a good mood, in fact, that I even sat down and did our taxes (which I should have done some time ago). Hefty sum coming back to us, probably quickly due to e-filing and direct deposit. (Thank you,!)

toptenfirstnames-small.gifAnd to cap off the evening, after I sat down with a glass of an excellent local Riesling, I did a little ego-surfing and discovered that I'm to #7 in Google on a search for "Liz". (I've been hovering at #10 for weeks now.) Since it seems clear that I'm climbing rather than clinging, I've hereby awarded myself David Weinberger's "Top Ten First Names" award.

So, all in all, a day to be thankful for. Good friends, good weather, good wine, good surfing. <happy sigh>

welcome to blogaria, allison!

My friend Allison Kaplan Sommer, a writer who lives with her husband and two kids in Ra'anana, Israel (a suburb of Tel Aviv)--has started a blog. Yay! Allison and I have been part of the same mailing list for over seven years now (a list that started when all the members were pregnant and due to give birth in September of '96), so I know just how wonderfully she writes.

Unfortunately, the events she's writing about these days are frightening and often depressing. But if you want a real person's view of what's happening right now in Israel, written by someone with a reporter's eye (she used to write for the Jerusalem Post) and a mother's heart, put her on your blogroll.

an extrovert speaks (quelle surprise!)

Now that exams are over and the tenure decision is in, I'm able to pull out some ideas that have been back-burnered for a while and give them some thought.

Since I'm an extrovert, however, thought is synonymous with talking out loud. And, not coincidentally, the topic I'm thinking and talking about today is the extrovert/introvert divide.

(Caution: this is quite lengthy. I wrote it Sunday while sitting in the "parent's corner" of the local gaming store during my son's Yu-Gi-Oh tournament, but couldn't post it 'til today because I was waiting for permission to use material from private e-mail.)

symphonic blogging

I'm writing this from the balcony of the Eastman Theater here in Rochester, where in a few minutes the RPO (Rochester's symphony orchestra, for which my stepfather is a cellist) will begin playing. I like this moblogging stuff.

At intermission, we're to meet up with AKMA, his wife Margaret, who are here visiting their son, Nate. My first second blog "meetup"! (The first was Brandon Barr, who I actually met through my mother rather than his blog...)

Am looking forward to finally meeting another faculty member from "Blog U"--detils to follpw tomorrow. And now--Mozart and Rachmaninoff await. Yum.

halley's baaaack

I don't mean from her trip to England. I mean from her recent flurry (snow pun intended) of short little posts. And her ode to the guilty pleasures of blogging is delightful. (So's the dinner discussion.)

Glad you're back, Halley.

i'm an icon

liz2.gifMeg at Mandarin made me an icon! I'm delighted and flattered.

It's part of a tutorial on how to create those nifty icons she uses to navigate to blogs she reads.

counting my blessings

No, the proposal's not done, though I've made progress. Yes, departmental and college politics continue to churn, preventing any real work from getting done during the day. And, of course, I'm coming down with my son's cold.

But tonight my older son and I had a long talk about his frustrations with the growing social stratification in his elementary school. (Third grade seems to be where it all really begins.) It brought back a lot of memories of being the nerdy outcast as a kid. And as I tried to reassure him that what's popular in elementary school doesn't necessarily last a lifetime, I realized just how true that really is.

Despite the list of woes I began with, today I'm acutely aware of my blessings--all of which take the form of people. My husband, who's been leaving breakfast outside the bathroom door each morning as I rush to get ready and get to the office; my kids, who screech "MOM'S HOME" with delight as I walk in the door (later each day); my buddies at work who are always ready to grab a cup of coffee and chat, lift a beer at lunch on Fridays, or send me something in e-mail that makes me laugh; and, these days, my new friends in blogaria, whose writings inspire me, comments encourage me, and offline email warms me.

So it's easy for me to reassure my son that so far as friends and popularity are concerned--as my father used to tell me, incessantly--"this, too, shall pass." And I know--even if he doesn't--how true that is.

food, food, glorious food

Had a delightful time cooking in Sally's kitchen yesterday, and drove home feeling thankful for many things...not the least of which was the amazing smell of the still-hot food in my car. (To view larger versions of the photos below, simply click on the small ones.)

This is a not-very-good picture of Sally & Eric's beautiful cobblestone house out in Marion, NY. It doesn't do the house credit...I took it when it was already getting dark, through my car window, so it's dark and blurry. :-( But it is a lovely house. I arrived late, mostly because I'm an idiot. First, I went to an unfamiliar grocery store to buy my supplies, thinking that since it was on the way, it would save time. (Ha! Took me 20 minutes to find the pecans...) Then, as I cruised down I-90 singing to the oldies station, I blew right past the exit, and had to keep going in order to turn around. But I got there.

As noted previously, I had three items on my cooking agenda...the fabulous sweet potato & turnip gratin from Epicurious that we first tried last year, a classic pecan pie, and a maple pecan pumpkin pie. All turned out beautifully.

The gratin is described by the recipe author like this: "The cream and butter make this so delicious your guests will lie in bed and remember it happily all year long. You only serve this kind of dish once in a very long while, so the caloric intake is moderated." Words cannot describe how fabulous this is. Even confirmed turnip-haters like myself cannot resist it. (Really, what wouldn't taste good after being baked for 90 minutes in heavy cream, butter, and imported parmesan?) This is the finished product moments after it came out of the oven.

I decided against the epicurious recipe for the pecan pie, opting instead for the recipe on the Karo syrup bottle. The epicurious recipe had chopped pecans in the filling, and whole ones on top. The Karo recipe called for 1-1/2 cups of whole pecans in the filling--since it's the pecans I love, I decided to go this route and have the pie be mostly pecans with sugar and fat to bind them together. The picture shows the completed pecan pie, with the uncooked pumpkin pie ready to go in the oven. The pumpkin pie has maple flavoring and chopped pecans in it; tomorrow before dinner I'll top it with maple-flavored whipped cream and whole pecans.

back on the treadmill


After 18 months of regular and exhilarating exercise (usually accompanied by my brown doppelganger*, boxing partner, and best friend, Elouise), I dropped the ball over the summer. Between mid July and early November, I went from 5x a week at the gym or working out in the basement to 3x, to 1x, to...well...nothing. Blech.

Simultaneously, my mood and energy dropped. I knew getting back to the gym would make me feel better, but I felt too worn out to do it. Rationally, I could see how I was making it worse by not just going, but it was easier to make excuses.

Then today, I was clicking through links and ended up at Halley Suitt's blog. And she's got these inspirational posts about exercising.

So I closed the computer, went down in the basement, got on the treadmill, and walked two miles. Then lifted weights. And I feel good (you knew that I would...).

*that phrase comes from a day when she covered a class for me. we're both 4'11-3/4" tall, both born the same year, but she's very Filipino, while my german/swedish paternal lineage dominates the eastern european blood from my mom's side. she announced to my students that she was my brown doppelganger. few of them got it (no big surprise), but it still makes me laugh.

get it? got it? good!

My colleague's blogs are sprouting up all over. Jeff Sonstein has several, and Mike Axelrod has one now. Mike's started his with a discussion of whether blogs are, indeed, the "next big thing."

So now I'm looking about and I see signs of convergence again. The trackback, the ping, the post and counter post and the centralization and searchability of personal writing. We exist as individual authors, yet we live in a community. A community that does not want walls and boundaries. A community however can not exist with them. So perhaps the new walls and boundaries of writing on the internet have been redefined as "linkages" and response.

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