The blogging experience.

I have always enjoyed writing. I’ve kept journals, written articles and taken creative writing classes. I find that it’s something that comes naturally to me, and pulling the words out of my head and putting them down fluidly in a readable format allows me to explore, hone and stimulate my mind. Organizing thoughts. Concreting ideas. The ability to write, read, review and particularly, edit. Why wouldn’t I love blogging?

Currently I am enrolled in a social media class that required me to create and briefly maintain this blog. Before this class, I had very little experience blogging in a manner where I wrote casually yet academically about particular subjects. Okay, so I had no experience. I’d kept a livejournal and a blogspot in high school, but those were based more on venting frustration and documenting life. The cobwebs on those particular sites are depressing, and the content – even more depressing. I’m not even going to dare to link them. It’s amusing to look back at my rambling, and to see how I’ve grown and my views have changed. It’s inspiring to see how strong and yet lost I was as a teenage mother. But the autobiographical aspect of it? Kinda pointless to anyone else.

So what did I learn? This new light that was shed on blogging – pulling information about specified topics, and molding it in a stimulating and engaging way – it’s created a whole new way of thinking for me. Expressing my views, my opinions, my beliefs, myself, it’s all very good, but a lot of work is required to make my voice heard. Part of that starts with listening.

Photo Credit: Melvin Gaal (Mindsharing.eu)

Photo Credit: Melvin Gaal (Mindsharing.eu)

Listening to what others are saying about whatever it is you want to talk about is an essential step in the blogging process. It’s kinda like research – hearing others thoughts and opinions on something I’m interested in, allows for conversation. So how do you do that? How do you peek your ear into world wide web? Fortunately there are tools out there to help.

Netvibes.com This site puts everything in one place. Pick a topic. Any topic. You can set up a dashboard on it that will give you twitter feeds, forum posts, wall posts, google searches, all in one place about that topic. It’s like a social monitor, bringing everything on the web that mentions what you are looking for, right to the fore front. Michael Martine gives a good guide on how to make Netvibes work to your advantage in relation to blogging. In fact, I found him through Netvibes using a Netvibes/Blogging dashboard.

“So… can NetVibes help you be a better blogger? Well, it won’t improve your writing, design, or networking skills for you, but it puts a lot of things all in one place. And that, my friends, tends to save time and help you be more productive.” – Michael Martine

Listening, researching, writing and learning. Brought together, these things have allowed me to explore myself as a writer and more importantly as an engager. In the field of social work, social workers must pioneer new technologies to engage audiences to raise awareness, procure funding and tell the story of their mission, especially in non-profits. We must find and utilized a variety of methods to do so. Listening and my recent blog on storytelling all tie together. It’s all about writing for people to want to read. To find out about what people want to read, you’ve first got to – listen.

Four places I waste my time while enriching my mind and soul on the internet.

1. Humans of New York (HONY)

Created by Brandon Stanton, fellow Georgian, Humans of New York is a photography blog featuring portraits of interesting people straight off the streets of New York City. The snap shots often come with captions giving little snip-its of information about the person or the interview preceding the photograph. Stanton puts effort into creating an encompassing feel of the city by remaining unplanned;

 “I want to make it as difficult to find a thread in my photos … I do that by keeping a completely open mind and just looking at everybody and anybody who strikes me for any reason, you know that kind of makes me double-take.”

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http://www.humansofnewyork.com/

With half a million followers, Stanton also is successful at creating small movements. For Christmas 2012, HONY made a call out to locals to open their homes to people who would be celebrating alone. HONY has also facilitated in getting puppies adopted, and HONY has no problem plugging websites for the people he photographs to raise awareness. I find it as a place of human inspiration. This blog feeds my soul, captivating me and always has me coming back.

2. Pinterest; Go ahead, roll your eyes.

The way that I described Pinterest to my grandmother was as an internet cork board with separate boards for any topic of your interest. Sure pinterest is great for things like fashion, arts and crafts, but it’s also good for learning. Pinterest users upload wonderful articles on everything from interesting animals, and pediatric physical therapies, to the latest technology trends.

Lately I stumbled upon a viral Facebook post on Pinterest that caught my eye. The post focuses on how Pinterest has put a unfairly high standard out there for wives and mothers to be picture perfect in their household roles. The user states that she is “Afraid that the pinterest era is turning us into wanna be Stepford freaks…. [sic]”. I’ll admit, Pinterest did give me great ideas for activities with my kids and tasty dishes to attempt in the kitchen, and motivated me to try them out, but it wasn’t because of Pinterest that I did them. The want to be creative with my children and in life in general was already there. Pinterest just provided convenience. A cork board catered to my interests. A plethora of information on things applicable to my life, my education, my creativity, my children. While I grasp that some may be tempted to compete for the number one mom award, I don’t need that from anyone from else but my own children. And to be honest, I’ve already won it. No, really:

Best Mom

PLACK FOR BEST MOM is granted to Katie Burt

3. Ted Talks

“Ideas worth spreading”

The non-profit, TED, works hard to find the experts, innovators and motivators in the field to speak at their biannual conferences in the North America and Scotland. The talks are filmed for our viewing pleasure – free of charge – and all talks must be completed in 18 minutes or less. Older than myself, TED was born in 1984 – starting out as just a small conference that focused on; Technology, Entertainment, and Design. The non-profit has since expanded it’s horizons, now also including business, science, and global issues. TED Talks were first formed in 2006 and has grow in numbers and popularity exponentially. Within the first year, TED reached 1 million views, and stands at over 1 billion views today.

TED Talks Trailer from blanchomme on Vimeo.

As you can imagine, with ratings like these – what these people have to say, is worth hearing.

4. Found Magazine

This has been one of my favorite sites since high school. The description found on the website says it best…

“We collect FOUND stuff: love letters, birthday cards, kids’ homework, to-do lists, ticket stubs, poetry on napkins, receipts, doodles– anything that gives a glimpse into someone else’s life. Anything goes …”

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http://foundmagazine.com/

I don’t know what it is that I love so much about pieces of people’s lives. Like HONY, Found Magazine also has a blog that organizes the interesting snip-its into one completely convenient place.

A little bit for your mind, a little bit for your soul. An endless place to wander.

Is Privacy Impossible & How Brave are You?

Privacy.

merriam-webster.com

merriam-webster.com

The internet is an open database. It serves as storage space for every bit of information imaginable.The thing is, that when you put information on the world wide web, it’s usually for one reason – sharing. You share your photos of your children with family. You share play by play notations of your life with friends. You share your opinion on your favorite restaurant with strangers. You even share your credit card number and address with online corporations.

The internet is a means to connect. Connect to people, to information, to entertainment… The world is at your fingertips via keyboard. To connect though, means to input information. You do this through branded accounts, such as Facebook, Email Hosts, or Youtube.  So when you create a password and “lock up” your valuables, your identity, your conversations and photographs, how private is it? Are you really “apart from company or observation?” Are you genuinely avoiding “unauthorized intrusion”?

The truth is, that any facet of the internet is susceptible to being compromised if someone wants it badly enough. A simple Google search for “Hacking Made Easy” brings up a plethora of useful information, from handbooks to facebook pages. Keyloggers are available to the average person, and with 30 day free trials, the first 24 hours is all that’s really needed to break the privacy barriers.

Even if someone isn’t actively trying to knock down your internet barricade, there are other ways that your privacy is invaded. Social networking. Unless you are a recluse with no friends, your privacy is in jeopardy. Like I mentioned before, the internet is a place for sharing. People talk, sometimes even about you. People share pictures and there is a good chance that you are in one or two of them. This isn’t some malicious act, it’s just life. Someone, somewhere has mentioned you at some point during your life. And I’d assume that the probability of someone using social media to do so – is pretty high.

So how do we protect ourselves? Is the answer total seclusion from society and technology? How boring would that be? The answer is to be smart about what you share, use reputable sites that value privacy when you seek or provide information and have faith that the technology to protect our privacy develops just as quickly as technology to pull it apart.

This is not a bucket list, it’s a to do list.

Bucket lists by definition are compilations of things people want to do or accomplish before they “kick the bucket”. Recently, I ran across Lesley Carter’s WordPress blog where she tells of her adventures while accomplishing the goals on her bucket list. A few of the things on her 2013 list include: visit a new country; have an encounter with a new animal; go camping; go to a corn maze; be a motivational speaker at an event and many more.

She lives by the words of Eleanor Roosevelt:

“The purpose of life, after all, is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experiences.”

I’ve been inspired. Take a few seconds and look it over and I promise you will be inspired too.

While some things on her blog are a little out of my reach right now, many things on this list are completely obtainable. I’ve decided not to make a “bucket list” but a to-do list starting with 10 goals for 2013 to feed my soul. As a mom of three, a full time grad student and an intern, if I can make it happen so can you.

Photo Credit: Luciano Zanardo

Photo Credit: Luciano Zanardo

1. Do a 5k

So, I’m not much for exercise. Well, in fact, I’m kinda lazy, but I hear that exercising is addictive and that once you do it, you feel better and you have more energy overall. One thing that I’ve done in the past is jogging. I enjoyed pushing my body and blocking the burn. The only reason I stopped was because I could only run in the evening or early morning and I couldn’t see very well on the gravel driveway in the dark. I kept turning my ankle. So this year, I will sign my boyfriend (lucky him) and I up for a 5K through www.rungeorgia.com and let this serve as motivation to get active.

Photo Credit: Duane Tate

Photo Credit: Duane Tate

2. Attend an Atlanta Motor Speedway event

I’ve lived in Henry County for probably 90% of my life, home of the Atlanta Motor Speedway. This being said, I’ve never been to a race event. No NASCAR, no Friday night drag, no car shows. The parties are notorious though. I’d always heard stories of the bad fights and too much alcohol. In fact an old friend of mine has a purple tooth to remember AMS by. It’s time for me to thrift shop for a Budweiser shirt and see what all the fuss is about.

Photo Credit: Guy Frankland

Photo Credit: Guy Frankland

3. Ride a horse

The last time I rode a horse, I was pregnant with my oldest son, had very little experience and thought it’d be a good idea to try bareback. Needless to say, I slid right off. That was 8 years ago and I’ve yet to have gotten back on. Even my children have had the luxury as I’m proud to admit that I am a pretty decent advocate for childhood experience. It’s not that I’m scared, though horses are a bit intimidating, it’s just that I haven’t put in the effort to make it happen. It’s time to get back on… how else will I ever ride off into the sunset?

Photo Credit: DigitalRalph

Photo Credit: DigitalRalph

4. See a musical

When I was in high school, I didn’t quite fit in. I was interested in art, theater, music and movies, but I didn’t make friends very easily. I took theater anyway thinking that maybe they’d like me. Well, they didn’t. But I fell in love. The logistics of making a play? I loved it all, lighting, sound, set building, costume designing, theater make-up. I’d considered lighting design as a profession when I graduated. I wanted to work for Frost Productions to do lighting for special events. The sad truth is though, that when I graduated, I never set foot in a theater again. I’ve not been to a single play/musical/production in 8 years. I really breaks my heart to say that.

Photo Credit: Rodrigo Denúbila

Photo Credit: Rodrigo Denúbila

5. Attend a ballet

A few years ago, I was in an undergraduate class and next to me was a girl wearing flip-flops. Her feet were gnarled and calloused. I thought it was odd and honestly kind of gross that she didn’t cover them up. Then… I found out she was a ballet dancer for the Atlanta Ballet. I looked at her feet as a sign of dedication and talent. It was beautiful. They are her badge of honor which she wears proudly. I want so very badly to see the finished product for such sacrifice and hard work.

Every year, I’ve begged my boyfriend to take me to see the Nutcracker, and every year he’s told me “No thanks.” I don’t care if I have to trade him in for the night. Someone is going to go with me.

Photo Credit: Kate Tomlinson

Photo Credit: Kate Tomlinson

6. Attend a GSU college football game

This is the first year ever I’ve watched football at all. I watched the Falcons play and win against the Seahawks then I saw them play and lose against the 49ers. I can’t say that I’m 100% all in, but I could sit through a game and get excited about it. Especially after a few drinks. What better team to show my support? None other than my beloved college team. Come August, I’ll be at the Georgia Dome, cheering my Georgia State University Panthers on.

3818488264_486169aef4_b

7. Get a massage

Because I need and want one. That is all.

Awesomely 80s

Awesomely 80s

8. Do a costume family photo shoot

The couple above is actually my parents. I adore this picture, and while their’s certainly was not costumed, I have to have a photo as amazing as this one of my own. My boyfriend and I have been wanting to do this for a while. Something completely ridiculous like all of us wearing awesomely 80s attire, or nerding out. Maybe even just really bad Hawaiian shirts and thick cheap sunglasses. Whatever it is, I hope we end up in Awkward Family Photos.

Photo Credit: Mike Rowe

Photo Credit: Mike Rowe

9. Watch Roller Derby Live

I have absolutely no idea why, but Roller Derby fascinates me. Something about the hardcore gritty feel excites me. Atlanta Roller Girls compete in the area at the Yaarab Shrine Center at 400 Ponce De Leon Ave, Midtown Atlanta. To watch one bout is $15 and both bouts, $25. You can read up on the basic roller derby rules here. I’ve never been to a game before, but I know a few girls who play, and I’ll admit it, I wouldn’t want to be on the other team.

Photo Credit: zodia81

Photo Credit: zodia81

10. Perfect the process of boiled peanuts

I recently discovered the joys of the Dekalb County Farmers Market. The last time I went, I bought raw peanuts and my kids and I attempted to boil them. Okay so I guess we did boil them, however we also forgot about them, and burned them. We were able to salvage some of them which were delicious but I’ll go ahead and tell you – the burnt ones, are NASTY. The recipe to start out with is simple:

1 1/2 quarts uncooked green peanuts
1/2 cup salt
2 1/2 quarts water

Directions:
1 Wash Peanuts until water runs clear.
2 Place peanuts in crock pot.
3 Add salt and water; stir.
4 Cook, covered, on high for 5 to 7 hours.
5 Add additional water during cooking, if necessary, to keep peanuts covered.

I’ve just got to get the hang of checking on them frequently and adding water when needed. Once I master this, I’d love to experiment with seasoning them.

So this is my to do list for the 2013 year. It’s nothing spectacular, but it’s some recreational obtainable goals to set for myself. Writing it down makes it pretty concrete too. Kind of like I’m writing a contract with myself. Bucketlist.org offers a ton of ideas to put on your own list, as well as the ability to make a free account to document your own adventures or read about others. The point is, to not forget self care and make the time to do things for yourself. All work and no play makes Jane a dull girl.

What is good storytelling?

What is good story telling?

First, let’s start with ‘What is storytelling?’ To me, it is the accidental or purposeful formulation of various materials or methods to inform or evoke an emotion. Storytelling isn’t just done through words on a page or film on a screen. It’s captured in images, by voice, by facial expression – body language… I mean, stop and think about it… A person’s entire posture and physical disposition can tell an entire story. From the clothes they wear, to the shirk of their shoulders and the items in their hands.

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You see people everyday on the street, and with a little effort based off their appearance, you can create whole identities for them. Weathered hands may mean someone has worked hard in manual labor. Sulking with furrowed eyebrows might lead you to think someone has had a bad day. Two people with their arms wrapped around one another – does it mean love?

I’m not the only one who does it – sit out in public silently creating stories about the people around me. People, their materials, the environment – the stories practically tell themselves.

So with so much around us to live up to, what is the ACT of good storytelling? Andrew Stanton, author of all three Toy Story movies and writer-director of Finding Nemo, WALL-E and John Carter, lays down the most crucial basic component to good storytelling that I can find.

“Make me care – please, emotionally, intellectually, aesthetically, just make me care.”

That’s the key. Point blank.

Creating a connection with your audience whoever that may be. Make them want to read/hear/see what you have to say.

You don’t have to create images of mystical castles or action packed car chases in their heads. You just have to create enough interest for them to go to the next word, or see the next image or scene, or just for the love of God to stay in their seats.

So how do you make someone care? This question runs through the veins of expression. Being relatable. Being mindful of your topic and your audience.  Express yourself in the way your audience will understand. I asked successful blogger, author, writer for CNN and HuffPo, and friend Joe Peacock his thoughts on good story telling:

“To me, good storytelling does two things: it generates emotion by speaking to people in a way they not only understand but can relate to. I think the technical side – vocabulary, structure, etc all fall under ‘what is good writing’ — but storytelling is as simple as making someone feel something about something they can relate to.”

As a social worker, it is our duty to promote and advocate for social justice. The most effective way to demonstrate this is through the storytelling of the unjust. With closing words of Andrew Stanton;

“The children’s television host Mr. Rogers always carried in his wallet a quote from a social worker that said;
‘Frankly there isn’t anyone you couldn’t learn to love once you’ve heard their story.'”

Personal vs. Professional Use of Social Media

1 of 2: Your Socially Networked (& Digitally Savvy) Personal Brand
Image credit: Joe Pemberton, (http://www.flickr.com/photos/joepemberton/3305147093/) CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The usage of social media on a personal level is exactly that – personal. People use all sorts of avenues to network, express their opinions, entertain, learn and tell their stories. Real human beings somewhere behind a cellphone or a computer are piecing together bits of their lives and uploading it to the internet or scouring it for topics of interest to apply to their lives. The environment is informal, the conversation – casual.

Then there is professional use of social media. Occasionally, professional usage in my opinion seems to feel a little plastic. Dehumanized. Professional industries are built that way. We need pristine employees with squeaky clean resumes. Unbiased information and picture perfect organizations. I get it. But it makes going “on the record” professionally, a scary experience. There is so much pressure to sound smart, experienced, and politically correct. There is little margin for error and the stakes are high. One wrong word or association and your professional reputation could be compromised.

That being said, I don’t think it’s wrong to sometimes merge the two entities as long as you are mindful of the relationship you hold with potential dual contacts. Deb Krier, a social media adviser, professional speaker, and trainer, is a strong advocate for merging.

“I’ve made business connections with Friends on Facebook who like the same TV shows, Followers on Twitter who like the same sports teams and Connections on LinkedIn who went to the same university I did. For those of you who say that Facebook is only for personal use, I’d argue that you never know when one of your Friends might be a good business lead. I’ve also seen careers sabotaged by posts on Facebook when someone posts something negative about their job and they are “friends” with a co-worker.”

To start with, when contemplating the best way to approach personal vs. professional use of social media, I was at a stand still. I mean, I know the basic principles of the matter. I understand that the internet is a vast pool of information that archives everything that is put onto it whether it be personal or professional. There really isn’t a filter. I’ve had first hand experience of someone scoping out my Facebook during the hiring process.

I just wasn’t quite sure how to approach the topic in a way that meant something to me. So then it hit me. I’d look and see how well I’ve done actually proactively articulating the two within my own life. I Googled my name. To be honest, I was a little surprised at what came up.

Within the first five rows on Google Images, there were five pictures of myself, personally, not just other random people with my awesome name. Three of which were modeling pictures – one on my Pinterest account, one on a social registry located in the UK, and one linked directly to a photographer’s Flikr account. Then there was one depressingly gross picture I had uploaded to some “find your double” website when I was down at an all time low spending waaay to much time surfing the internet which I promptly deleted. Unfortunately I’ll have to wait til Google re-indexes the page for it to go away, but if you are quick then you can catch it before it’s gone. Finally, the last one was my super old MySpace picture. Nine rows down there was my Facebook cover photo of my children and interestingly there was a photo of one of my friends, Jennie, who apparently showed up through my Pinterest. I also found myself on the Web Search results. With a little effort I was able to locate my LinkedIn account on the first page, my Google+ account on the second page and my Pinterest account on the 6th page. Fortunately all profiles were locked down with the highest privacy settings.

One thing that has caught my attention this past year is how to differentiate different “professional” images. One one hand, I love modeling as a hobby. I maintain a portfolio, I have a good reputation among photographers and I have a rather high demand. On the other hand, my full time career of choice is social work. By nature I consider the profession to be quite wholesome with little wiggle room for high fashion, glam or editorial photographs. I’ve not come across anything here to really help differentiate between two very drastic identities, yet I want to be able to market to both professions. The current solution I’ve used, is that I model under an alias. It seems to separate the two realms and protects my privacy and safety. Are there any other ideas out there?

Finally, as we noticed with my friend Jennie from Pinterest, it was an important discovery that content you partake in makes you guilty by association. Even things that you comment on (I found one comment from Hazard County Skate Park where I inquired about Skate Boarding Camp for my son) are searchable. Mentioning someone else’s name, or leaving any sort of online paper trail about organizations or products is archived. The best advice I can figure is to be careful what you associate yourself with all around, personally or professionally. And if you just can’t hold your tongue, be prepared to deal with the consequences.

Image credit: Joe Pemberton, (http://www.flickr.com/photos/joepemberton/3305147093/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Narrated by: Alan Watts,
Music: Divenire by Ludovico Einaudi
Tragedy and Hope, Be the change you want to see in this world.

I desire finding a balance in the world. You know, that balance that lies somewhere in-between doing what you need to do to get by, and doing what you want to feel fulfilled.

I hate to admit it, but social work was my compromise. I’ve tasted it, experienced it, and I’ve found that I’m relatively good at it. I enjoy doing it. I’m passionate about it. It may very well be my calling. My childhood dream though, for as long as I can remember was to be an artist.

I loved to draw. I was always marking up everything I could get my hands on. As a child, I loved to draw mountains with great forests and streams. When I was in high school, it turned into abstract pieces with multiple layers of ink and spirals. I even got an award for something along the lines of “Best Doodler” since I couldn’t seem to put the paper down. But when I finally made it to college, I realized that while I was moderately talented, it took more than that to make it as an artist. It took commitment. I saw artists who truly thrived – they were the ones who during lunch, draw on the napkins at the restaurant. While waiting for the bus, they would be sketching on newspaper. I loved drawing. My room was full of pieces scattered across the walls, under my bed and in my closet, but I saw that my commitment was lacking. I came to terms with the idea that those who make it in a world of millions of artists are the ones who never put it down. I gave it my hand anyway. I took the classes, scoured the field for in-demand jobs and put in lots of effort.

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The truth was though, that my life had changed drastically by the time I had made it to college. I’d given birth to two beautiful boys. I’d been given responsibility for another human being’s life. It wasn’t about living in a shabby apartment, waiting tables and making ends meet while I made art anymore, which I would have welcomed in my pre-child life. It was about finding the balance.

The article, No, You Can’t Have it All, by Eric C. Sinoway gives a fundamental framework on how to balance work and life. At some point choices in our lives require us to drop something. The hard part is deciding what to let go. In keeping long term goals or as Sinoway calls it, “a mission” in mind, you can start to assess the objectives. 

Sinoway and his peer Howard, developed 7 dimensions of an individual’s life.

• Family (parents, children, siblings, in-laws, and so on)
• Social and community (friendships and community engagement)
• Spiritual (religion, philosophy, or emotional outlook)
• Physical (health and well-being)
• Material (physical environment and possessions)
• Avocational (hobbies and other nonprofessional activities)
• Career (both short- and long-term perspectives)

Prioritization of these dimensions prepares you for where to focus your resources as well as where to make sacrifices. That being said, understanding that these priorities may change based on the environment is crucial.

I always wanted to be an artist, remember? I was enrolled in school to be a graphic designer, or maybe it was art education (I changed my major 4 times through out my college career). When my second son was born, all that changed. My little man was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy in March of 2008. He was 17 months old and I was 20. This meant I was given first hand experience in the world of special needs. Physical therapy, aquatic therapy, doctors visits, special equipment, insurance, developmental milestones. In short, I was more or less introduced to case management.

Reassessing the value of the dimensions of my life led me to social work. I yield it as something that I was going to do anyway. I could make a living at it. But more importantly, I enjoyed it. It was my compromise. It’s what I’ve found that can be both fulfilling and substantial. I prioritized family, career, and physical aspects of my life and sacrificed social, material, avocational, and spiritual aspects.

Parting with words of advice provided by Sinoway, “Remember that you may be able to have everything you want in life- just not all at once.” Who knows, maybe once I retire, you’ll be seeking my autograph as a famous artist.

What do I desire?