Is Privacy Still a Choice?

It happened in the middle of a Liz Phair concert. One moment I was dancing with friends and singing along to songs I’ve known by heart since “Exile in Guyville” came out in 1993. The next I was in turmoil.

Phair asked for a volunteer to join her onstage at the Troubador to sing “Flower.” Hands shot into the air, begging to be the chosen one. My friend turned to me and said, “You should do it!”

“Absolutely not,” I responded.

“Flower,” for those not familiar with “Guyville” or Liz Phair’s oeuvre, is an explicit song about a sexual act. This frankness is a hallmark of Phair’s early albums and, as an artist, it’s her choice to create a stage persona who shares supposedly intimate details. As a public figure, presumably she understands that singing about certain subjects is going to bring her both adulation and unsavory attention from fans. But, what of the average concertgoer, plucked from the audience? Is she given a choice?

Phair selected a young women in her mid-twenties. Let’s call her Jennie. Jennie’s friends giggled and cheered as she made her way to the stage and Phair whispered encouragement in her ear, showed her to the mic, and counted out the beat.

As the last lines of the chorus echoed around the venue, Jennie thrilled to the applause and her moment in the spotlight. When she rejoined her friends in the crowd, the first thing one of them said was, “I got the whole thing on video.”

And that’s when I grew terribly worried for Jennie. Because while her friends might have her best interests at heart and agree not to post the video to Facebook or YouTube, there were, of course, dozens upon dozens of recordings of Jennie, all taken by strangers.

If even one of them doesn’t have scruples about invading Jennie’s privacy, then she may have to live with a video of herself singing a salacious song, out there where everyone and anyone can see it, for the rest of her life. Who knows? Someone might recognize her and tag the video with her name, or perhaps her friends already have on their Facebook pages.

When she’s 27 and applying for a job. When she’s 32 and needs clearance to do research. If she wants to run for office some day. When she meets the man of her dreams. If her parents Google her. Because of one innocent and spontaneous moment in a club, she’s going to have to face the questions and consequences (like not getting a job) that stem from those four minutes of fame.

Okay, maybe this doesn’t happen to Jennie. But, if you visit popular social sites, it’s obvious that inviting audience members onstage to sing this song is a regular part of Phair’s repertoire. There are plenty of other Jennies online, dueting on “Flower” for eternity.

(This is not about Liz Phair, mind you. Obviously, I’m a fan or I wouldn’t have been there that night. What this is about is claiming privacy that we all have a right to.)

Perhaps these women posted those videos themselves, but I worry that they may never have had a choice about keeping this moment private. Moments that, when I was 23 and attending concerts dressed in safety pins, dog collars, ripped T-shirts and studded bracelets with purple hair, I never had to spend a second worrying if someone was going to video me and my friends. Think of all the crazy, fun, messed up, spontaneous things you did before the days of smartphones. In retrospect, how many of those times would you revisit if someone pressed Record and turned a camera on you?

There are so many benefits to the transparency and connection of digital and social media, along with the simplicity of online publishing: making library resources available to people who couldn’t otherwise access them, opening up the practices and processes of government, helping people find and reconnect with family during a disaster. It’s hard sometimes to see the downside.

Choose Privacy Week, which takes place from May 1 – 7, isn’t a bunch of Debbie Downers wagging their fingers at Facebook. Rather it’s about creating a conversation about privacy – and what it actually means – in the digital age as the boundary between public and private morphs and becomes more permeable.

The goal is to give people, especially young people, resources to make informed choices about how they use digital/social media and where they might want to draw the curtain.

There’s a fascinating Choose Privacy video featuring authors Neil Gaiman and Cory Doctorow, Camila Alire, past president of the American Library Association, and other librarians, as well as children and parents. It explores the practical approaches that families are taking to protect personal privacy and looks at the efforts of libraries to protect intellectual freedom. As one librarian notes, only you should be trusted with your information.

The privacyrevolution.org website offers more information, a video gallery and links to resources, events, position papers and surveys related to Choose Privacy Week.

I still worry about Jennie. But, it’s nice to know there are organizations out there, including the American Library Association, dedicated to keeping the discussion going about digital privacy and helping everyone who uses these platforms to educate themselves about the issues involved. To paraphrase one of the speakers in the Choose Privacy video, it’s indifference to privacy that makes you vulnerable.

Writing that inspired me this week:

Moss: “My mum’s on Friendface! My mum! I’ve opened up another channel of communication with my mum.”
Jen: “Isn’t that good?”
Moss: “No, it is not good. She’s put down her current mood as ‘sensual.’”

~ “Friendface” episode of the British TV series “The IT Crowd”

What is Children’s Book Day?

Today is El Día de los Niños/El Día de los Libros, a day for sharing the joys of reading with children across cultures.

This celebration day was created by children’s author Pat Mora with founding partner Reforma, the National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish Speaking. In recent years, the American Library Association and the Association for Library Services to Children have joined in to offer events, services and resources to support the founding goals: “Many Children, Many Cultures, Many Books.”

There are wonderful resources on the Día website for parents, children, teachers and librarians. (This website is in English.) There is a brochure (in English, Spanish and Chinese) recommending books for children from cultures around the world, which includes learn-to-read tips and other resources. Under the Celebramos tab, you’ll also find an interactive map to help you locate El Día de los Niños/Libros events in your area.

Reading Lessons

I’d been happily wending my way through books week after week as part of a personal year-long reading challenge, when April arrived and brought a few surprises along with its traditional showers.

April was National Poetry Month, and to celebrate and fill in a (gawping) hole in my experience, I read an entire book of poetry. This was also the first time in a very long time (at least since college) that I devoured a book in one sitting (actually, I’m lying – I was prone).

Nothing wrong with either of these events except that I was so curious about the collection of Mick Imlah poems and so thrilled to read Jeanette Winterson’s memoir after hearing her talk about how reading led to her life as a writer that, the moment these two books arrived in the mail, I set aside my “assigned” weekly reading and plunged headfirst into my new acquisitions. And it took a while before I could get back into the frame of mind to pick up The Stolen Child again – this was the book I’d stolen time from to devote to the others.

It occurred to me that I own quite a few books with tongues hanging out of their pages, some marked a quarter of the way through, some half. The reason is that I lost steam, or my mood changed, or I developed fervor for a different book and just had to read it now, as I did with Imlah and Winterson.

It also struck me that while “assigned reading” – reading one book until it’s done, then picking up the next selection in an orderly fashion – seems almost too structured for free time or pleasure, there’s still value in the discipline. Up until April, it certainly kept me on track for this goal I’m hoping to achieve. I didn’t blow it, but I could’ve, and I recognize how I’ve fallen off course with other books before. So, just for this year, I’m going to try to read sequentially instead of the anything-that-strikes-my-fancy and everything-at-once approaches I usually take, and see where it gets me.

How about you? Do you organize your pleasure reading in any way?

Standard disclosure: I bought the first four books and received the last one as a free review copy from the publisher. Several are included in my Amazon Affiliate store. I receive a small percentage of each sale made through that widget. All opinions here are my own.

SCORECARD

April
5 down, 33 to go!

REVIEWS

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson
This is the book I finished in one go. It arrived during a rare rainstorm in Los Angeles, the perfect evening to curl up with a great book while the heat radiated through a cozy room and the rain pitter-pattered on the roof.

If you’ve seen a review of Winterson’s memoir or read her first novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, you’re familiar with the outline of this story: Winterson was an infant when she was adopted by an evangelist couple. They lived hardscrabble in northern England, spent summers proselytizing, no books but the Bible allowed in the house.

I, too, was adopted within weeks of birth and about a year after Winterson was. Obviously, I grew up with a love of books – fully aided and abetted by my adoptive parents, who adored reading – and so this story was enthralling in its own sad and scary way.

Winterson had at least three coming-out episodes with her mother, a woman with no joy in her life, who took her religion far more literally than Winterson’s father appeared to. The first battle was over young Jeanette’s love of books and reading, the second was caused by her break with the church, and the third, which created a final, unrecoverable rift, over her mother’s refusal to accept Winterson’s love for other women.

She left home at 16, lived out of her car, and, despite years of struggle at school, became an autodidact, reading her way through the library’s fiction section from A – Z.

“I had no one to help me, but the T.S. Eliot helped me,” Winterson writes. “A tough life needs a tough language – and that is what poetry is. That is what literature offers – a language powerful enough to say how it is. It isn’t a hiding place. It is a finding place.”

The memoir examines these early years, up to Winterson’s arrival at Oxford, with an unexpected fair-mindedness. There is then an intermission of 25 years – a wise choice to skip the details, well-travelled by book reviews and profiles, of Winterson’s successful career as an author – with the story picking up again as she suffers a dark night of the soul.

Part of recovery involves searching for her birth mother; the book describes how frustratingly difficult and bureaucratic the effort is, despite the loosening of Britain’s privacy laws regarding adoption records.

I won’t spoil the ending for you. This is a sharply observed life, told with powerful economy (coming in at 230 pages) and language that has the ability both to stagger and uplift. Much of the memoir focuses on the ability of books to nourish one’s strength (or soul, as Mrs. Winterson might have it), create us, help us define our beliefs and values, and make us whole again when those beliefs are shaken.

I’m lucky enough to live within the listening area of public radio station KCRW, which beams Michael Silverblatt’s “Bookworm” to the world. He recently interviewed Winterson about Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, and it was pure magic to listen to both of them talk about the transcendent nature of reading. (This is a 30-minute program.)

A Million Nightingales by Susan Straight
Straight has a remarkable facility for character voice. Through Moinette, 12 at the time the novel opens, she evokes the lives and experiences of slaves working the sugarcane plantations around New Orleans in the early 19th century.

The novel follows Moinette’s journey from Azure, where she was born to an enslaved mother and white father, to the troubled family that owns the de la Rosiere plantation, and, later, as she is sold to a young lawyer, Msieu Antoine, who has his own reasons for needing a beautiful young slave in his house. Moinette is only 18, and mother to a son by her former owner. She has been torn away from her fiercely protective mother, Tretite the cook, and all the other older women who looked after her and loses her son because Msieu Antoine cannot afford to buy them both.

“And now I was eighteen and had already collected memory people. Is that how the balance shifted for the rest of life, as Tretite has once tried to explain to me? She said you grew older and lived inside your memory, the things you saw and tasted and smelled in the past. My son hadn’t remembered me at all this time. Not until I said my name.”

This is Straight’s sixth novel and it weaves together historical fact (like the laws established by the Code Noir and the harsher treatment of both slaves and free people of color when Louisiana became an American territory) and wonderfully realized details of daily life, such as the way Spanish moss is boiled and dried to use as mattress stuffing and the ingredients that go into the laundry soaps that Moinette’s mother uses.

With the grace of a poet, Straight keeps the reader with Moinette through all the pain and suffering, the small acts of kindness and the fragility of existence along the rough edges of bayou.

Collected Poems by Mick Imlah
“His early death was an incalculable loss to poetry,” writes Alan Hollinghurst in the introduction to this collection, and one is left with an unexpected frisson, a curious combination of thrill and mourning after reading Imlah.

Hollinghurst, as I’ve mentioned before, is one of my favorite writers, and he dedicates his latest, The Stranger’s Child, (the plot of which revolves around a charismatic young poet, gone before his time) to Imlah. This led me to a remembrance by Hollinghurst in the English press and the desire to read at least one of the two books published during Imlah’s lifetime. It took a while, as neither Birthmarks nor The Lost Leader seem to be available in print. Selected Poems gathers examples from both with several unpublished poems.

I struggled with many of the later poems about Scotland, where Imlah makes detailed (and obscure, for the uninitiated reader) reference to ancient kings and battles. But elsewhere Imlah’s turns of phrase – “too burgled to speak,” “his eyes pin-clear, pleading” – helped me press on.

As Hollinghurst notes, “What dazzles and thrills throughout the thirty-year span of Imlah’s work is his inventiveness, the sense of a mind pondering and producing at any turn something wholly unexpected…”

You’ll encounter an evolutionist in his bathtub, short verses describing the counties of England, alcoholism compared to a birthmark, Quasimodo, Alfred Lord Tennyson, all those Scottish ballads, and two late poems for his children. Not your typical stuff of poetry, but all imaginatively handled, some in rhyme, others that read almost like newspaper reports or essays (with footnotes!).

Imlah was the poet I decided to read during National Poetry Month, and it’s a good thing because he’s put me in the mood for a quest (perhaps it was all those Scottish legends) for more, more, more.

The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue
While myths and certain aspects of science fiction intrigue me, fairy stories haven’t been a draw. So I approached this with trepidation and found a unique story that tackles the subject without being cloying or cutesy.

Donohue keeps the myths of stolen children part of the mystery – are the bands of changelings in the woods innocent fairies or hobgoblins and devils? Are the abducted children better off with the supernatural powers of changelings while a hobgoblin assumes human form and their rightful place in a family? Donohue explores all of these ideas, alternating chapters from the point of view of Henry Day, the stolen child, whom the changelings rename Aniday, and the sprite (a century-old abductee himself) who takes Henry’s place, finally allowed to grow to human adulthood, marry and have his own family.

The book is filled with longing and doubt on both sides, as the decades pass and the city spreads into the countryside, encroaching upon the woods, threatening the cyclical life of the changelings forever.

There are some fairly big slip-ups in the plot – a major discovery that happens twice, a big revelation that once out of the bag doesn’t make any sense, the changelings’ powers appear and disappear at the author’s convenience – and Donohue tends to tell us what characters are feeling rather than show us. The alternating-chapter structure means that the fairy story in the woods drags along with repetitive scenes in order to accommodate all the years it takes new-Henry to grow up. And the reader never really senses why Aniday, especially in the days and weeks after he’s first taken, remains with his captors rather than giving in to his homesickness.

However, Donohue does a good job of creating his own mythology of changelings and stolen children and there’s a good deal of tension between new-Henry and his parents, with the reader curious to find out just how much the Days know and whether or when they’ll act on their suspicions.

Optimize: How to Attract and Engage More Customers by Integrating SEO, Social Media, and Content Marketing by Lee Odden
I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher. My review, “SEO: It’s All about the Customer,” can be found on the Social Media Club website.

Listening that inspired me this week:

NPR’s “Pop Culture Happy Hour” podcast features a lovely discussion about books and reading challenges.

Poem in Your Pocket Day

Today is “Poem in Your Pocket Day,” part of the celebration of National Poetry Month.

As the Academy of American Poets notes on its website, “The idea is simple: select a poem you love…then carry it with you to share with co-workers, family, and friends.”

Squeeze a verse or two onto Twitter with #pocketpoem and use the hashtag to search for and read others’ favorite poems.

The AAP site offers suggestions for those who are looking for a poem, as well as ideas for celebrating Poem in Your Pocket Day at your favorite bookstore, library, school or café.

Which poem will you share? And who will you share it with?

Is it Okay to Take an Admin Job to Get Your Foot in the Door?

Since today is Admin Professionals Day, I thought I’d address a sensitive question that seasoned PR, marketing and communications folks often hear from recent graduates, looking to get experience in the field:

“Should I take an Admin job to get my foot in the door with an agency or company?”

My answer is a definite “No.”

(This advice comes with the caveat that, even as we climb out of recession, jobs continue to be scarce, so if you desperately need to work and the only option is an Admin position in your industry, take it – and check out the tips at the end of this article.)

My response is never meant to dismiss the role of administrative professionals. They work exceptionally hard, multitasking across dozens of projects and requests, while keeping the office, its people, client relations, business processes, and technology on track and operating smoothly. They are the lifeblood of our workplaces, we couldn’t get by without them, and the fact that there is only one day a year that honors administrative pros is the real shocker, to my mind.

So why the big fat “No”?

It’s precisely because we depend so much on admins that these situations become fraught for everyone involved. The disconnect happens because the person who accepts the offer for an Admin position when they’d rather be at a higher pay grade (let’s call this person the Non-Admin-Admin) expects to take on development work – projects that will position the Non-Admin-Admin for a promotion to Associate. Meanwhile, the agency or department has enough administrative tasks to bury a battalion of Admins, which is why it posted and interviewed for people with specialized administrative skills.

Frequently, the Non-Admin-Admin has enough experience to be an Associate (there just isn’t an opening right now), but doesn’t know some of the necessary requirements for an Admin job, whether that’s maintaining databases or the delicate dance of keeping everyone scheduled and organized so they can focus on their work. When the Non-Admin-Admin doesn’t want to be an Admin, it’s painful all around, and everyone in the office ends up unhappy.

If you find yourself working as a Non-Admin-Admin, and you’re frustrated with the lack of forward momentum, here are a few key suggestions for career advancement:

Know your company’s promotion policy
Make sure you know the official HR policy on applying for new jobs and in-place promotions (don’t just rely on your manager or hearsay). Do ask people who’ve been promoted (from Admin to Associate, from Associate to Manager) if you can schedule a brief informational discussion with them or offer to buy them a coffee in exchange for some career mentoring. People love talking about their accomplishments, so find out what kinds of skills they needed to learn or projects they took on that enabled managers to see them in a promotable light.

Put a review process in place
Got four-to-six months before you’re eligible for promotion? That’s not an eternity in corporate life, and so not the time to sulk or fill the office with eau de bad attitude. Embrace this time with gusto and schedule a meeting with your manager pronto. Tell him that you see yourself as an Associate in six months, and that you’d like to put a development plan in writing that you’ll both review on a regular schedule. Ask for your manager’s honest assessment so that you have a realistic idea of the skills and behaviors you’ll agree to work on. You can ask questions to clarify, but this isn’t the time to argue with the boss. You’ll need her to sign off when you’ve achieved everything in your plan and are ready to move on.

Accept and excel at your Admin job
This one is absolutely crucial. There’s no question that the ability to succeed at a higher grade will be judged on success as an Admin. The prospect who leaves work undone, doesn’t support the team, acts as if administrative tasks are beneath him or her, shows up late, or, worse, winds up being disciplined for poor performance, will never be eligible for a promotion and may even find themselves unemployed. How you perform at your current position counts for (or against) you when you apply for your next job.

Volunteer for professional-level projects
This is the best way to learn new skills and practice new behaviors. Remember, you still need to keep your current job running like clockwork, but projects are a great way to learn more about the work you’ll be doing and make new allies who can help you navigate your career path at the company.

Learn new technology
Many small agencies and big companies are struggling to manage the additional workload of social media on top of all the existing client work. Learn the company’s blog publishing tool or how to post to its Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest accounts, and you may become indispensible. You’ll be doing the kind of work expected of an Associate and be seen in a new light.

Support your agency’s clients
Are the office’s exempt employees volunteering this weekend at a client’s charity walk-a-thon? Have they been spending lunch hours running around getting people to sign a petition for the client’s pet cause? Once you become an Associate, your focus will be on the client. If there’s a way to jump in now – as a development project, free from concerns about overtime pay – grab it. Like the previous two examples, this will give you the perfect chance to do work at a higher grade level and show everyone what you have to offer.

Excessive Possessiveness

I fear this is one of those grammar strictures that’s broken so many times, it’s about to get dumped. Somewhere along the way, editors stopped doing their duty and allowed writers to hang an “s” onto possessives ending in “s,” so they work just like possessives that don’t have an “s” at the end.

Grammar rules for possessives.

The rule, in case anyone still wonders, is this:

Add ’s to possessives that don’t end with the letter “s” (except for “its”). Possessives that end with “s” simply take an apostrophe. For example:

Lt. Valeris’ alacrity enabled Star Fleet to deduce Ambassador Nanclus’ role in the assassination of Klingon Chancellor Gorkon.

In recent decades, the Associated Press Stylebook (a favorite of mine) allowed for the addition of ’s to possessives that end in “s” when the word is only one syllable. Therefore:

Mills’s educational excellence is enhanced by its sylvan campus.

Where do you stand on slipping in a second “s”? (Here’s what Grammar Girl suggests.) In my case, growing up with one rule means that when I encounter examples like the one above, I lose track of the point of the sentence and stop while my mind corrects the grammar. Plus, to my eyes, it looks wrong, that row of “ssssss,” like a cartoon-balloon for a snake. What do you think? Am I being too possessive of the old rules? Is the new usage more helpful? Does it make more sense?

The Tweet of My Death Was an Exaggeration

Beyonce’s pregnancy. The raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound. The arrival of the 7 billionth person on Earth. The passing of Steve Jobs.

What do these events have in common?

They were all considered major news on Twitter, driving exceptionally high traffic and retweet rates, which ultimately became more of a story than the original news.

Is this the Desperate Need to Be There First or the Desire to Try to Quantify Everything about Social Media in Order to Prove its Relevance? I think it’s a little of both, yet I’d argue that neither improves the quality of social media discourse.

I promise this isn’t one of those grumpy posts about social media. I think Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Cowbird, Digg and many, many other platforms are highly relevant, useful and engaging. They’re even great sources of news.

But, I’m suggesting that while there’s relevance to be found in studying social media content and usage, it’s not going to come from stories about who got there first or how much traffic is generated by a celebrity’s pregnancy – or divorce or death or Oscar win.

Here are four essential reasons:

First doesn’t mean best – The received wisdom is that “Twitter broke the news of bin Laden’s death” before traditional news media. If you look at what really happened the night of the bin Laden compound raid, what you get, according to this Fast Company article, is essentially Twitter-user Sohaib Athar’s account of a helicopter making a lot of noise over his neighborhood in Abbottabad, Pakistan. A helicopter circling overhead is not breaking news (especially if you live in L.A.), and it does not reveal what was happening in the compound, why, how, when, and to whom – the basic tenets of genuine news.

As the article continues, it reports Twitter’s attempts to quantify the tweeting as details of the raid spooled out. There’s even an update from Twitter, advising readers that while New Year’s Eve in Japan seemed to be more important than bin Laden’s death – in terms of tweet ratings – the news was more popular than similar news about Michael Jackson.

And, when it came to the 7 billionth inhabitant of planet Earth? We learned that the actual event and person was going to be impossible to identify, rendering social sharing on the subject moot.

Social media platforms are upgraded too frequently – Service improvements increase the speed of traffic, making comparisons of tweet rates (like Michael Jackson’s death vs. bin Laden’s) impossible.

These will always be Apples-to-Oranges comparisons – Since celebrities can’t die twice, or give birth to the same baby more than once, the Twitter counter is left to compare news about one person (who may or may not be popular among social media users) with similar news about another. Popularity contests of this sort will never generate information that allows you to draw meaningful conclusions about the social media platform or the value placed on news or human life.

This is counting not measurement –Counting just adds things up and gets a total. Measurement takes those totals, analyzes what they mean, and uses that meaning to improve business practices,” notes Katie Delahaye Paine in her groundbreaking book on social media analysis, Measure What Matters.

Steve Jobs was considered by many to be a cultural icon and technology hero, and it’s not surprising there were people who wanted to share their sense of loss with others using some of the very technologies that Jobs helped to invent. But, what exactly is the relevance of reporting the rate of tweeting following Steve Jobs’s death? Applying a number to it doesn’t make it meaningful or insightful; it makes it news from nowhere.

Avoiding the Echo Chamber Effect

In Delusions of Grandma, Carrie Fisher comments: “Talk show hosts interviewing other talk show hosts. Many held this to be one of the twelve signs that the world is ending.” What Fisher’s describing is a closed loop, and that’s exactly what’s happening with these so-called Twitter statistics.

So, next time you’re tempted to retweet one of these headlines that don’t add up to anything, take a moment to reflect before clicking: Does the world really need another tweet about Twitter traffic?

Trying to get there first with a tweet or clogging up the social media ‘verse with bogus statistics about social media statistics doesn’t create engagement or enlighten – and that’s really what being out there is all about. When you’re engaging with followers, customers, friends or fans on social media, you’re listening and sharing (not simply pushing) relevant content with the goal of encouraging meaningful dialogue and the exchange of valuable information that people need to know or find useful for managing their daily lives and workload.

Related post: Statistical Significance: Making Sense of Numbers

 

Poem a Day

To spread the joy of poetry, the Academy of American Poets is offering a Poem a Day during April, National Poetry Month.

I haven’t attempted to post anything about this month because I don’t really read much (if any) poetry. My uncles and grandparents all learned poems by rote at school, but enforced memorization didn’t diminish their love of the verse. And it meant they had at their recall meaningful and touching phrases for every occasion or toast.

I’m embarrassed to say that the only poetry I know by heart are a few lines of Kathy Acker’s:

Blood and guts in high school,
This is all I know:
Parents, teachers, boyfriends,
All have got to go.

Why these lines (where so many others failed to catch hold)? I haven’t a clue. Like many of my generation, I tended to see song lyrics as my poetry and often got baffled when attempting to decipher poems in English class.

That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate poetry because I consider the art of honing the language to its descriptive essence to be the ultimate skill and success as a writer. It comes as no surprise that brilliant writers, like Shakespeare and Updike, wrote poems on a regular basis.

Recognizing a bit of a deficit in my writerly education, I unearthed my old Introduction to Poetry textbook from high school; reading it is one of my goals for this year. I’ve also downloaded the Poem a Day app to my phone and included a book of poems by the late Mick Imlah on my April reading list. Who knows where all this might lead?

In the meantime, you can celebrate National Poetry Month by subscribing to receive your Poem a Day via email, RSS or iPhone app or find the daily poem on the Poets.org website.

What about you? Have you always loved poetry? Found it confusing? Who are your favorite poets and what are your favorite verses?

Writing that inspired me this week:

But if, one night
As you stroll the verandah
Observing with wonder
The place of the white
Stars in the universe,
Brilliant, and clear,
Sipping your whisky
And pissed with fear

You happen to hear
Over the tinkle
Of ice and Schubert
A sawing – a drilling –
The bellow and trump
Of a vast pain –
Pity the hulks!
Play it again!

~ Mick Imlah, from “Tusking” in his Selected Poems

A Wallflower Joins the Social Party

A year ago, if you’d told me I’d be writing this post, have my own blog, use Twitter regularly, and have not one, but two Facebook pages, I’d have collapsed in laughter. But, 12 months is a very long time when it comes to social media.

I am, by nature and habit, an introvert. On Myers-Briggs, I’m so far into the “I” corner it’s hard to tell me from the corner. My first job was in radio, where you can hide behind a microphone, never having to face your audience. It’s no accident that my career now is internal communications, the ghostwriter of all those memos and news updates.

Online, I used to be what was known as a lurker. No matter how much I loved “The X-Files” or “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and reading fan reactions to those shows on forums like Television Without Pity, I never once joined the conversation. No fanboy theory or argument over canon was ever compelling enough to make me jump in with my own opinion, sign my name, and publish it online. The potential loss of privacy seemed too great to risk. Everyone knows this electronic stuff lives forever. “The Truth Is Out There,” and, years down the line, I didn’t want to be confronted by something from my past I might regret.

What I didn’t recognize back then was that by not joining in, I was missing out on being part of a community.

This was brought home to me when I became an independent consultant. After a while, you miss the collegiality of the business world and the opportunity to brainstorm ideas.

That’s when I decided to start a blog.

I wasn’t hoping to make a dime or get a book contract. I just wanted a place where I could noodle on three decades of experiences in the business, listen to what others had to say about writing and corporate communications, and chat about books. Very quietly. Over here in the corner.

I signed up for an online blogging class to jump-start the endeavor and get advice on platforms and promotion. That swiftly led to another class on social media. To my horror, both classes required that we comment on blogs. Every week. Using our real names. A prerequisite for the social media class was a Twitter account.

Oh, the horror. The horror.

I realized I was either going to have to drop the classes or take my introverted self by the hand and leap. And, so I leaped, and it’s been a powerful learning experience.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love to Blog

I wanted to share some of the resources I’ve discovered since I started blogging because they’ve done more than simply build professional skills, they’ve expanded my outlook (far beyond that corner).

What I found out here in the blogosphere was a welcoming, generous community willing to take the time to guide me around things like best practices, online etiquette and the share-and-share-alike approach to community support.

This crowd is particularly gentle with newbies where other media communities often are cliquish. I hope the social media community never loses that attitude. We all start somewhere. You may be the savviest Facebook user and not really “get” Google+. You may have had great success using social channels for external audiences, but grow frustrated by trying to launch social tools internally – with all the requirements for buy-in, Legal and HR approval, policies, and full-scale training. Every time a channel is introduced or updated, we all become beginners again. How we’re treated as beginners matters – it is integral to the quality, cohesiveness and enjoyment of the community.

There was a point, about five months in, when I felt like the content well had run dry. The more I studied my blog stats, though, the more I was astounded. Not by the number of page views – my blog has a fairly niche audience – but by the regular visits from people who hailed from Malaysia, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Bulgaria, and India.

The United States, England, Canada, I’d kind of expected. But, readers whose first language might not be English? Immediately, I realized my writing had to become more global, and it opened up my editorial calendar to new possibilities. As I began including posts about things like Asian literature, I became the student, and it felt thrilling to flip the paradigm of blog owners-being-subject-matter-experts on its head.

As I connected with readers on Twitter, our interactions grew into warm online acquaintances. When an independent professional writer in northern England asked me if I’d proofread her website before it launched – and gave me access to its development area (talk about trust!) – I didn’t think, “My goodness, that’s cheek!” I spent an hour reviewing the site, figuring, “When my website launches, I can ask for a return favor.”

This year, I’m focused on learning and using measurement tools, such as Google Analytics, and I’m determined to get comfortable with and active on the Facebook and Google+ pages I created for the blog. If I run into a roadblock, I’ve learned all I have to do is ask for help.

When you have a “Trust No One” approach to being online, it can be unsettling initially to let go of your privacy, de-lurk and contribute on social media. But, I’ve been overwhelmed by the genuine-ness of the interaction out there. When I had questions, people answered them and pointed me toward additional resources.

If one of your goals is starting a blog in 2012, I hope you’ll find these pros and organizations as helpful as I have:

MediaBistro, Gotham Writers’ Workshop and UCLA Extension offer a wide array of online and live classes, from the technical aspects of blogging (and social media) to writing, editing and promoting your blog.

BlogWorld serves the fantastically diverse blogging community with annual conferences and detailed practical workshops across every niche imaginable, including cause blogging, monetization, content creation, traffic and distribution, platforms and apps, health, fitness, travel, marketing, mobile, mommy, and more.

Darren Rowse and Chis Garrett’s Problogger book was an essential guide at the beginning and still is. You’ll find astute advice on setting up a blog; creating strategy, content and community; promotion; monetization; and easy-to-follow technical solutions. Valuable for anyone – individual, team or corporate bloggers – who wants to develop an engaged, interactive community around specific topics. Ongoing learning can be found on Rowse’s Problogger community, where he regularly advises on content, tech and legal stuff, and community-building.

The Social Media Club, IABC, PRSA, and Ragan have been invaluable professional organizations, offering resources, free webinars, workshops, conferences, networking events, and advice for bloggers and social media practitioners at every level.

The microblogging platform Twitter is both resource and essential promotion tool for bloggers. It’s an incalculably rich network of support, information and encouragement for bloggers new and seasoned. Likewise, the Groups section of LinkedIn connects you to a network of professionals worldwide. It’s especially helpful for sharing your blog or blogs within an industry network or seeking advice on starting or improving a corporate blog.

The spreadsheets section of Google Docs provides plenty of options for bloggers. If you’re serious about blogging, it helps to have a strategy for both editorial and social sharing.

Best of luck and happy blogging!

It’s National Library Week!

Friends of the blog know I’m a library geek, so it should come as no surprise that I’m thrilled to be recognizing National Library Week, which takes place April 8 – 14.

This is National Library Week’s 54th year, and the theme is “You belong @ your library.” Whether you’re as passionate about libraries as I am or haven’t set foot in your local since books went digital, this week offers a great excuse to visit and rediscover all the resources available there. (See calendar of activities below.) You’ll be amazed!

“The strength of libraries has always been the diversity of their collections and commitment to serving all people,” notes the American Library Association in its press release about National Library Week.

“Today’s libraries help level the playing field by making both print and digital information affordable, available and accessible to all people. Libraries provide cultural heritage and genealogical collections, materials in print and electronic formats, job-seeking resources, English as second language and citizenship classes, and many other creative and resourceful programs.”

Here’s what’ll be happening at many libraries across the country this week:

Tuesday, April 10 – National Library Workers Day
You may want to refrain from hugging your local librarian (unless you know her or him very well), but today is all about recognizing the valuable contributions made by your local library workers. In fact, at the NLWD website, there’s a lovely feature called Submit a Star, where you can honor your hometown librarians!

Wednesday, April 11 – National Bookmobile Day
Bookmobiles have meant the difference between literacy and illiteracy, enrichment and stagnation, in many far-flung communities where residents don’t live near or can’t access the library. Honor the efforts of these dedicated library volunteers today.

For more on bookmobiles, check out this NPR story, “The Final Chapter for a Trusty Bookmobile,” about a Vermont community’s efforts to keep the reading rolling.

Drop Everything and Read DayThursday, April 12 – National Drop Everything and Read Day and Support Teen Literature Day
How cool is it that there’s a day dedicated to putting aside everything else and encouraging families to read together in hopes that they’ll make it a regular habit? DEAR Day is sponsored by the National Education Association, the PTA and the Association for Library Service to Children, among many others.

The Young Adult Library Services Association is sponsoring events to promote teen literacy today, Support Teen Literature Day, and throughout the year. Find out how you can participate on the YALSA website.

Writing that inspired me this week:

“I followed her into the library. The pale light from our chamber below dissipated in the room, but I could still make out – my heart leapt at the sight – row after row, shelf above shelf, floor to ceiling, a city of books. Speck turned to me and asked, ‘Now, what shall we read first?’”
~ The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue