The Very Spring and Root

An engineer's adventures in education (and other musings).

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Resolutions Unresolved

So much for last year’s resolutions. Let’s check in one-by-one.


Write something everyday. I gave myself the options of journal, letter, blog, or fiction. This was going very well actually, until a mysterious event in late August seems to have thrown me off track. My journal entries are regular until August 17th, after which the next entry is… November 18th. And my letters fell off the map, and I didn’t update this blog at all (or even tweet really), and yeah I didn’t write any fiction after the first day of school.

Meditate regularly. I set a target of 20 minutes per day, at least three days a week. My Meditation Helper app shows a great record until, oh, mid-August. The record doesn’t pick up again until early December. FAIL.

Become conversant in Spanish. I have made lot of progress on this front, though I would rate myself short of “conversant.” The need is huge. Not only for my work in a public school (I wish I knew Spanish roughly once a week at least), but also my side interests in politics and community engagement. Ongoing, but short of the goal. FAIL.

Deactivate my Facebook account. I reactivated my Facebook account on April 15th, in the immediate wake of the Boston Marathon bombings. Once I made sure all of my friends and colleagues had checked in ok, I deleted the account permanently. (I did make a new account with zero friends, likes, or apps, solely to remain in the BTR Cohort X Facebook group for social event notifications.) I call that a win. SUCCESS.


Jamaica Pond, Month by Month. Now this would have been cool. A photo diary, month by month, of Jamaica Pond as it changed throughout the year. Too bad the project was mysteriously aborted in… August. (Actually, to be fair, finishing up my BTR residency year took a toll on this one too… late spring was sketchy). FAIL.

Complete a First Draft Novel. This one could still be possible… I made it up to 36,o00 words over the summer before the school year hit. The word count hasn’t moved up a single word since. However, now that I am back home and rested, with a full week and a half left of break… could I hit 50,000 words and cross into novel territory? PENDING.

Yeah so, lesson learned: Don’t assume you can do anything else but try to stay alive during your first fall teaching. It seems better now, but I am still very busy. I’ll have to think about my next steps before posting 2014’s goals…


Resolutions for 2013:

  • Write something everyday... even if it’s just a paragraph. And I don’t mean writing that I have to do anyway, like academic writing for a class or writing a lesson plan for my teaching — those don’t count. I’m giving myself the option of journaling, correspondence (letter or in-depth personal email), blogging, or fiction. I find that writing helps me immensely, in that it forces me to organize my thoughts and solidify my understanding of what I observe and believe. Blogging is especially good for this. I write for myself and don’t particularly care who reads my blogging; but the fact that it is public and reflects on me is good pressure to be reasonable, coherent, and responsible with what I write.
  • Meditate regularly.  I’m setting a target of at least 20 minutes per day, at least three days a week, and just installed the MeditationHelper android app to help me track it. Starting with my move to Boston last summer, I lost my regular rhythm of meditation, always telling myself that I would resume a set schedule once things got more settled. Well, now is the time. I think my attention, memory, and focus suffered some degradation in the stress of the fall; being a naturally scattered person, the lack of meditation really didn’t help my personal stability. Here’s to a more contemplative spring.
  • Become conversant in Spanish. I’m working toward dual licensure in ESL, so this is something I have been working on already anyway. I am currently halfway through Level 2 of the Rosetta Stone Totale, and plan to have completed Level 5 by August. I’m also watching Destinos over on the Annenberg Media site, and have a few Spanish-speaking friends recruited to help me converse.
  • Deactivate my Facebook account. I already did this a couple weeks ago as a test. The only thing I really miss so far is the social events postings from my BTR Cohort. However, I will just have to be more proactive about staying in touch with then socially via other means. The account is deactivated, not deleted; so, while none of my information is visible or actionable online, everything can be restored simply by logging in again. The goal here is to keep it deactivated for at least the entirety of 2013.

In addition to the above lifestyle tweaks, I’m holding myself to the following two projects as creative deliverables:

  • Jamaica Pond, Month by Month. At least once a month, I’m going to take my camera to the little lake in JP just a block down from my apartment and do some photography. At the end of every month I’ll post my favorites here. Later on, maybe next year, I have vague plans of taking the best photos and compiling them with notes and essays into a sort of online (maybe print) publication.
  • Complete a First Draft Novel. Sounds ambitious, just throwing that down there. But every year I do NaNoWriMo, trying to finish a short novel (50,000 words) in just 30 days. Shouldn’t finishing one in 365 days be a much more doable goal? I hope so… Despite four years of trying NaNoWriMo, I have yet to actually complete one in 30 days. Maybe this year-long goal is the more reasonable way to finally get it done. So let’s say… 75,000 words on the same coherent storyline by December 31st, 2013.

Too ambitious? We’ll see. Anyone up for a few walks around Jamaica Pond? ¿O hay alguien que quiere hablar conmigo en español? It’s going to be an awesome year… saddle up.

Why I Use Twitter and Not Facebook

I have officially now been asked this question enough that I think it deserves a blog post: “Why do I avoid Facebook and yet use Twitter all the time?” There is an expectation for many that if Facebook is superficial, then Twitter must be even more so. And then I find myself in really long convoluted explanations because I’ve never sat down and sorted it out logically.

So here goes, my reasons why Twitter » Facebook.

  1. Non-reciprocity. On Facebook, you can’t accept a friend request without friending them back. That is, Facebook is a two-way information flow, and attempts to form a relationship between the two people under the presumption that both people actually care about what the other is saying or doing. Twitter makes no such presumption.

    Don’t like the “I’m so high right now lolz” type of tweets? Or the ones that may be erudite and well put-together, but just aren’t relevant to you? Just don’t follow them. Unlike Facebook, there is zero expectation on Twitter that you follow anyone in particular, including people you know or people who follow you. On Facebook this would be rude, since you would have to mute or unfriend someone, and there is all this social diplomacy tied up in friending that leads to a lot of b.s.

    In other words, Twitter acknowledges the difference between 1) people with whom you want to maintain social/diplomatic contact and 2) people who actually post things that interest you or that you want to engage with. There is generally a fair bit of overlap between the two groups of people, but they are not the same thing.

  2. Information and ideas, not people. I would guess that about 80% of the people I follow on Twitter I have never met in my life and probably never will. A significant number are actually not people, but institutions, such as news organizations, educational institutions, nonprofits, or advocacy groups. This is because they post information and observations about things that I actually find interesting or useful. For example: NPR, NASA, various NASA missions, the Smithsonian, Rachael Maddow, Scientific American, Boston Public Schools, BadAstronomer, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Radiolab, Slashdot, the Dalai Lama, etc. The full power of Twitter’s unbelievable information delivery capability gets even better if you make parallel feeds using Lists and standing searches, via a third-party client like TweetDeck. Look for those putting out good tweets. A good tweet stands on its own as insightful, informational, or funny, or it contains a link to something that is, or is about something you directly relate to.

    This ties back to non-reciprocity: I actually know many people who have a Twitter account just to get updates on everything they are interested in, and never actually tweet themselves. This is totally legit on Twitter and actually gets to the core of what Twitter is about, whereas on Facebook this would basically be stalking, because Facebook is more about people than information.

  3. Hashtags. By clicking on a #hashtag, I can pull up all tweets on the subject that are being posted anywhere in the world, by anyone, right now, regardless of whether I know them or not, and without any obligation to make any other connection with them. On Facebook, I would have to search for the person/organization and friend/Like them before seeing the content. Hashtags connect people and ideas that would never cross in real life or on Facebook.
  4. Simplicity. Facebook has evolved a long way from when it first came out during my college years. It is now full of an astounding array of mind-bogglingly inane features. Whereas Facebook seems to add a new creeptastic or needlessly complex feature every few months, Twitter has remained fairly straightforwardly simple and focused on what has always been its core: content.

    There are no profiles. Twitter gives you 1 photo and 160 characters in which to describe yourself. There are no Likes, no long self-absorbed narratives, no photos that aren’t relevant to the present moment/conversation, no boxes to describe everything you do and stand for, no apps to my waste time and leech my personal information, no blanket invites to events in cities I no longer live in, etc, etc. Twitter is not about you, but your content. (Unless you are a pop culture celebrity or sports star, which most people are not.)

So, a lot of this is more due to the the culture of the two social media, especially after a lot of changes that Facebook made in response to Twitter and G+. Yes, I could use Facebook Pages to control one-way information flow and follow ideas and institutions I like. I could sort friends into groups and attempt to control who sees what information. I could mute the people I “have” to stay friends with but who post inane crap, so that their content doesn’t show up on my news feed. I could block apps and invites, take down my personal information, focus only on posting “meaningful” things, and be among that oft-mocked group of digital curmudgeons that use Facebook to complain about Facebook. But in the end… why?

Regardless of whether using Facebook as I would want to use it is possible, the whole culture of the site is structured to emphasize what I don’t like about it and drown out what I do like about it. So especially when there is a social medium for what I do like, that has a sizeable portion of the userbase using it like I do, why not use that one instead?

Things I do use Facebook for:

  • Establishing/maintaining contact with people that I either just met, don’t see very often, or haven’t seen in a long time. It’s great for looking up where people are now, what their current email address or phone number is, and messaging them to get in or get back in touch. That is, Facebook is a great dossier of contacts.
  • Engaging with organizations in which I am a member which use Facebook as their primary means of accomplishing this. For example, the closed/private Facebook group for my residency program’s cohort is the only thing on Facebook right now that sends me notifications. Back when I was running a theatre company, I used Facebook a lot to engage with our fans. Etc.
  • Broadcasting causes or information that I believe a very wide array of people would be interested in knowing or knowing about, and/or that I would like to broadcast to a very wide array of people in a certain area. This is extraordinarily rare. For example, posting what furniture I had for sale from downsizing my house. This could be of interest to many people, regardless of their political or social alignments, and is focused on people living in my geographic area. Twitter does not allow any selection of who receives the message, so Facebook is better at this kind of thing.

I remember a friend saying once “Facebook is great for finding people who were once friends but now mostly aren’t; Twitter is great for finding people who aren’t friends now but we probably would be if we ever met.”

And that’s the thing really.