Thursday, April 30, 2009

Inner spring cleaning

Sometimes, all it takes is connecting with a friend to help get you back on track.

This morning I talked to one of my best girl friends, Julia, who recently moved away from Boulder to Sedona, Ariz. She is an artist, a yoga teacher, a musician, and one of the strongest most beautiful women I know. She is an inspiration.

I'd been feeling displaced lately, leaving eraser rubbings of myself in uncomfortable places, and Julia, in her ever-expansive helpfulness, asked her crystal pendulum some yes/no questions for me. The results are answers I'm already aware of, but I believe it's helpful to have an outside source — even if the interpretation is really coming from yourself — to tell you things you already know you should be doing. Or, not doing.

As a result, I'm faced with some great changes. I need to step away from things that are stunting my growth and bringing me only temporary and fleeting benefits.

A Twitter friend of mine asked a question: What is your defining mission in life? I answered: "To connect, empower and help people through my writing." And I realized how wonderful it is to be able to answer that question without hesitation.

So, today I am taking things back that have spilled outside myself. Welcome home.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Plane writing: New York City

I travel to explore myself more fully.

This morning, I missed the AB bus to the Denver airport. It was the first time I'd ever done that. When I realized I'd have to drive, I went to the Brewing Market for coffee where a box of soy milk exploded onto my newly-highlighted hair and the only sweater I am bringing to New York. I laughed because that's all you can do sometimes.

And on the plane, I am reading the New Yorker and finding in it a treasure trove of things that stir me up, that add new flavors to my inner soupy mixture. It is the April 20th issue. I am taking notes. I write:

- the idea of having "blood-knowledge"
- "Porter had a habit of inviting ruin into her home so that she could flee it."
- rephrased: "The funny thing about writing is that, in order to have anything to write about, one has to live — i.e. not be writing."
- page 112, third column — amazing piece on "negative liberty"

I looked up this "negative liberty" idea when I began to write this. The phrase comes from the following passage regarding the fear that comes from creating one's art (in this case, writing).

"Dyer's characters failed to write not because they were indifferent to writing but because they wanted too much to write. Negative liberty expresses a fear of completion; if you never start a work, then at least there is no chance of your having finished it. To complete something is in some ways to make it disappear; not starting it is a preemptive strike against loss, a way of elegizing what has not yet disappeared."

This idea deeply resonates with me. I love writing more than anything else in the world, and sometimes find it hard for me to sit down and do it. There is nothing I would rather do, there is nothing I would rather be than a writer — and the fear that I can't even do that sometimes, often times, when I would rather lose myself in some rap song, some simplistic magazine — that terrifies me.

I know a lot of artists who go through this. Who can sometimes do everything but their work on a day when all they really want to do is their work. But, to do that work is a purposeful wantit's a desire that is so close to our hearts that the fear of disappointing ourselves feels fatal. If we want to go to a museum and then fail to do so — when we arrive, we're just not in the mood anymore — it doesn't feel so bad. But if we want to create meaningful prose and then fail to do so, after we have already arrived with our laptops, our keys, our latte steaming the screen, our fingers, finding our thoughts drifting away from us — it can make one doubt the core of her being.

Back on the plane, I am so inspired by this magazine, by this particular issue. I am devouring it, I am eating a grilled vegan salad, I am warning the stewardess of my severe peanut allergy. I walk around the plane in socks. I turn off the personal television screen with snobbery guiding my finger. I have bursts of inspiration, necessitating pulling out a pen, a tiny notebook and writing frantically. I have four pens in my purse, two blue, two black, pain colors, but also catharsis colors.

I yearn to find someone else on this plane going to the live This American Life show, because, to me, listening to that radio show means something about a person. It indicates patience, imagination, pleasure in creating your own visuals. It shows an openness and acceptance of other people's emotions and how they can alter your insides. It proves that you believe, even if it's subconscious, that we are all connected, that we all have stories worth telling, and that through our experiences we can help others. It indicates an appreciation of words and the crafting, molding and artistic placement of them.

And all of that matters to me, because they are things I value in myself.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The only thing you need to know about tweeting

I don't really like to write about social media; I like to use it to connect others to my writing and discover other interesting people.

But lately I'm noticing a lot of friends (mostly migrating from Facebook) signing up for Twitter accounts. Their Twitter trajectory goes like this: they follow a few friends, post one or two updates saying something like, "Am I supposed to write in third person?" and then not post anything for a while. For the longest time. To the point where you think they are never going to post anything again, at which point I stop specifically seeking out their updates and go back to pretending they were never on Twitter.

Because of this, I was going to write a post filled with several useful tips for people who are familiar with Facebook but are just getting started with Twitter.

But, I'm not.

You can find something like that here, or everywhere else on the internet.

I've decided instead that there is really only one thing you need to know about Twitter, or more specifically, about tweeting (which is what you put in your updates, i.e. the entirety of your presence on Twitter).

The advice comes directly from the mouth of Andy Ihnatko. I recently went to a panel at Boulder's Conference on World Affairs called, "Tweet Me, Blog Me, Poke Me," and when he spouted this gem I just had to take it down.

Because in the spirit of Twitter, the only thing you need to know about tweeting should be able to be said in 140 characters or less. It is:

Maintain a good signal-to-noise ratio.

What it means: People new to Twitter have the annoying tendency to ask questions like, "But, why would I want to know when my friend is taking a nap with his cat?" This is not what Twitter is about. I'm sure there are tons of people writing about taking naps with their cat, but I don't follow them, because those kinds of posts are what we call noise.

Noise on Twitter is created when you tell me how awesome your cheese steak tastes. How your grandmother just sent you a check in the mail. How you bought this lip gloss but it comes out darker than it looks from the outside and what is Sephora's return policy.

The thing is, noise is actually crucial to tweeting. Think about how boring it would be if everyone only posted links. It'd be way too much information to handle, and no one would really stand out because there would be no personal voice involved.

My noise tends to look like this:

Listening to classical music, drinking jasmine tea in front of a fire, reading "The Artist's Way." I'm not even trying to be pretentious.

I took a photo with a bunny on Easter weekend, but it was at a vegan festival where he was thanking people for not eating him. Still counts?

A comma is a pause with purpose, with intention. An ellipses is a pause that is standing there awkwardly, wondering what you'll make of him.

I love chatting online with my ex in iambic pentameter.

I try to make them somewhat interesting, so they give not a flat description of what I'm doing, but a picture of my personality or, at the very least, temporary disposition.

The genius of Twitter is that not only can your updates be about you, they can be about things that are of interest to other people. But it has to be both.

Which brings us to your other ingredient: signals. Signals are useful information. The definition of "useful" is always objective, but think about the kinds of things that you find humorous or thought-provoking. Links to news articles, real or fake, quotes people may find inspiring or relevant, links to local sandwich shops that offer awesome discounts. You can posts links to your work, either being careful not to overload people on self-promotion, or simply calling out the fact that you are shamelessly promoting yourself and letting it lie.

Granted, some of your timeline is going to be taken up by @replies. @replies are the way you publicly respond to someone on Twitter, kind of like the wall on Facebook, except on Twitter it annoyingly shows up on your feed instead of theirs, and they just get to check their @ box for it.

But in my opinion, you shouldn't exceed 25% of your tweets with @replies. Make the rest split between noise and signals.

And whatever you do, don't underestimate the value of having a limited number of characters. Being concise and clever is a challenge. Take for instance, this eerie phrase, taken from the Post Secret Twitter feed:
"Did you stare at the ceiling fan too while my fiance made love to you? Sisters are so alike." It's only 94 characters, yet it says quite a lot. A lot more than the kind of cheese on your sandwich.

If you follow this advice
and also, use it as a guideline when choosing who you follow you will enjoy and make the most of Twitter, I promise.

Note: on Fridays, you will see something called #followfriday. It just means you add that hashtag (#followfriday) to the end of your tweet and in it recommend someone you think others should follow by including their name followed by the @ sign (@AmySegreti). On Fridays, I give out "Smooth Transitioner" awards for new users who are immediately awesome at Twitter and don't spend 10 posts telling us how they're trying to "figure it out." Feel free to win.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Newspaper people: stop blaming Google and restructure from within

This blog entry from the "Newsosaur," "Don't blame Google for newspaper woes," is right on.

In it, Alan D. Mutter (prior editor at the Chicago Sun-Times and the San Francisco Chronicle, among others, and on the adjunct faculty of the Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley) responds to newspaper people blaming Google for their woes and emphasizes that Google isn’t responsible for saving the newspaper industry or journalism — publishers and editors are.

"For the record, newspapers actually had a head start over Google. But Google 'got' the web. And newspapers didn’t. That’s not Google’s fault... As Google and many other savvy online publishers learned how to capitalize on the openness and interactivity of the Internet, newspaper publishers stubbornly spent the last 1½ decades trying to sustain their once-enviable print business model in the face of overwhelming evidence that everything was changing: technology, consumer patterns and advertiser behavior."

As much positivity as I spew about journalism not dying and us needing to have faith in ourselves, this much I believe is true: we are the ones that need to dig ourselves out of this hole. And, we are.

I worked at a newspaper where we would never consider posting articles online before they were printed. Never. That's how it was.

Now? As soon as pieces are written, they are published online. The morning newspaper contains almost everything you've already read and maybe even blogged about the night before. And in the rush to be the first to publish a story online, newspapers helped to make themselves less important.

We will all miss newsprint on our hands but we need to embrace change to save the industry.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Creativity and something rooted

One of the most amazing TED videos I've ever seen is Elizabeth Gilbert's recent talk on nurturing creativity. In it, she talks about the societal pressures that a writer, artist or any creative being has to deal with and muses on the idea that maybe we could relieve some of those pressures if we viewed our "genius" and our selves as separate entities. That maybe, our inspiration is outside of ourselves and it is all we can do to capture it and bring it to life so that we can share it, in the form that we know and have been put on this earth to create, with the rest of the world.

She uses as an example the American poet Ruth Stone, who's now in her 90s. When Ruth was working in rural Virginia, she said that sometimes she would feel a poem coming at her like a "thunderous train of air" across the landscape. It would shake the earth, and when she felt this inspiration coming, Ruth would "run like hell" to her house, so that when the poem barreled through her, she could collect it. If she didn't make it in time to her pen, the poem would continue on looking for another poet. The times when she almost missed it, Ruth would catch the poem by its tail and she would pull it backwards into her body as she was transcribing and "the poem would come up on the page, perfect and intact, but backwards from the last word to the first."

That is one of the most interesting things I've ever heard about creative inspiration and expression. Take 20 minutes of your day to watch this video if you find passion or love in creating anything at all; you will appreciate it.

And, in honor of April being National Poetry Month, I am posting one of my favorite modern poems. When I first read it, I unfurled myself at its feet. It is composed of three parts; the second part is always at my side, and the third was, for a long time. And I'm sure it will be again.

Suddenly, I Need One Thing Constant
by Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie

Poets should just
bring poetry
blank books and pens
passports and visas
and something rooted
something rooted
for the lives we will
eventually want
not the imitations
of our mentors' stumblings
the ancient lovers never loved
upheaval following us
like stubborn ghosts
poets should bring something rooted


Wherever I go
I drag my mistakes
and my memory of the mistakes
of others. Wherever I go
I have to tell my stories
of crashings and rantings
and passion and laughing
of praying of living
and forgetting how to breathe

wherever I go
I start again:
a woman hates me
a man loves me
I meet people
I write
then I wonder, what is that far off sound
that call from another side of the ocean
what’s the name of that place
what language do they speak
how much does it cost to get there
and then I’m gone
leaving behind everything I wished for
making another list


Stay with me.
Wherever I go
I want you
with me, among
the pens and blank
pages, yes, but
in the bed and bathroom
in the restaurants
with food we can’t pronounce
your hand smoothing the tired map,
mine tracing our route

with me
as much as writing
as much as wandering
I know I need to start my days
folded in your scent

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

On being an emotional journalist

"Writers have the schizophrenic ability to both participate in their lives and, at the same time, observe themselves participating in their lives."
— Edward Albee

This is what a girl who's crying looks like when running up the stairs: like she's vertically jogging, with swift, ballerina-rabbit hops, quickly alternating between high knees and feet that barely brush the steps. There is usually a sagging purse, indifferent hair, a nice outfit. She leaves behind wafts of perfumed electricity. You never see her face.

Last night I became that girl running up the stairs. Dethroned. Jagged, yet pulpy, at the same time.

I can get emotionally attached to my writing. Not to my writing per say, but to the subjects I'm writing about and the forum in which I write. I was meticulous about my 10-12 page print section as an editor, and now I feel similarly about my blog. It comes from the same place that tells me that if my apartment is messy then something negative must be going on in my personal life. I need to control my spaces so pieces of myself, my energy, can flow freely inside them.

And so, I thrive on using the research I've gathered to reply to someone's mildly negative comment, but then become a sobbing mess when my best male friend implies that I waste my time with social media that has in fact connected me to some of the very sources that inspire me. I am human. But I am so human sometimes.

I used to think I was too emotional to be a journalist. Then I realized I could use that passion and imbue it on others. Not only that, but it could work the other way around. When I worked at The Globe I would naturally, effortlessly, fall in love with the things that my subjects were passionate about. I would fall in love with them, too: with the woman who wanted to enhance elderly people's lives with her astonishingly well-trained dogs who could use their paws to call 9-11. With the Staff Sergeant's disabled daughter and her Sweet 16 wish to give all her presents to charity. All this, I fell in love with.

There is danger in that but there is wonder in it too, and I wouldn't trade it for a mild life, not for a second.

But now, I am a writer who is edited as opposed to an editor who writes and edits other people's writing. That is hard for me. It is extremely difficult to find yourself on a different path and then fall in love with it (i.e., car accident → Boulder), and come back to your original path only to notice that the seasons have changed and oh, not only that, but a bulldozer came by and tore up everything. The whole media landscape has changed. And I have my clips from, it feels like, 1973, and I'm like — here, look, this is a "goodbye" column I wrote which means something, because I had something to say goodbye to. I had people who asked me to write it and were touched by it and if you have people to say goodbye to then you must have made some kind of impact on that part of the world. Now, all I'm doing is trying to connect and "hello" everyone and it gets so frustrating sometimes.

But, this kind of thing has the effect of making me put myself out there even more. I just got a message from my best girl friend in Boulder, wondering if I felt "attacked" by my male friend last night. I don't know what I felt. I know I burst into tears later, but then from that, I generated this. And this writing to me is more valuable. It's how I work through things. It is a palette of my emotions, transferred into something useful. And it will always be mine.

Random musing on biscuits

Some guy in Oregon commented about my blog saying that if I am also the lady in the profile photo (well, obviously), then I am quite a "biscuit."

I looked this up.

He either means I am a tore-up shoe, an attractive person, or a breakfast side dish.

All of these are acceptable.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Stop exaggerating: journalism is not dying. It's changing.

I have some comments about a column written today, "As newspapers disappear, so does nation's link to real journalism," by DeWayne Wickham of Gannett. While I have the utmost respect for someone who has been working in the journalism industry for over 20 years, I would like to note two things about the piece that bother me.

It makes flimsy connections

Wickham notes that the Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Sun-Sentinel shut its office in Havana, "bringing home the only U.S. newspaper reporter based in Cuba's capital just as Congress seems poised to end the U.S. embargo of that communist country."

First of all — the Associated Press and CNN still have a presence on the island.

Second — Congress is not exactly poised to end the embargo. President Obama recently set into action a lifting of restrictions for family members traveling back and forth and sending remittances between the U.S. and Cuba. But he has also said that he would not lift the travel embargo until Cuba's government becomes more like a democracy. Obama intends to maintain the embargo as an inducement for democratic change on the island. Which makes complete sense.

Yes, the Treasury Department said it would ease licensing requirements for trade-related travel by U.S. citizens — but this does not mean the embargo will end any time soon and that we will be lying under a palm tree in Havana this summer. It's certainly a hope that I carry that the embargo between the U.S. and Cuba will be completely removed, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. And let's especially not imply that the removal of a reporter will have any affect on whether Obama lifts the embargo or will significantly affect our coverage of it. Let other people imply this, but now is not the time to mitigate our own abilities. To me, this is a loose, exaggerated connection that implies we as journalists are unable to keep time with this story as it unfolds. Have more faith; we have to, so people can have faith in us.

The "death of journalism" is an irritating phrase

Death is a strong word, Mr. Wickham; I disagree. As Michael Kinsley points out in his latest op-ed for the Washington Post: "If General Motors goes under, there will still be cars. And if the New York Times disappears, there will still be news."

I completely agree with Wickham regarding the lack of resources newspapers are experiencing right now. And resources continue to decline: three major newspapers have gone under, which means less reporters on the ground, which means less eyes and ears open. And although the Seattle P-I is all online now, there will likely be more aggregated content and less hard, investigative journalism.

But I don't believe journalism itself will die if there is less news printed on paper. It will find a way to live on, because people like you, Mr. Wickham, and myself — even though I'm hardly at your status — have passion and dedication to the field. Please have more faith; no, Twitter is not journalism as we know it, but the Internet can become a great outlet for it once we figure out how to do it right, and we can use networking sites like Twitter to connect other people to that information.

The business model for journalism is changing, and it's going to change whether we like it or not. We need to accept it and embrace new ways of thinking about gathering and reporting information. And, I have faith that we will.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Books and shivers

I have been looking at old books of mine. Favorites. High tides. Ones that rose the sun for me, framed the moon.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Happenstance. Self-Help. Pieces of Hopscotch, of Written on the Body.

Not reading them. Just, holding them, inhaling them. Leafing through pages like they were dried flowers. Delicately, with respect.

Because they were alive once.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

As the pen gets heavier

On the work of print journalists affecting people who don't read or care about print journalism:

Print media does much of society’s heavy journalistic lifting, from flooding the zone — covering every angle of a huge story — to the daily grind of attending the City Council meeting, just in case. This coverage creates benefits even for people who aren’t newspaper readers, because the work of print journalists is used by everyone from politicians to district attorneys to talk radio hosts to bloggers. The newspaper people often note that newspapers benefit society as a whole. This is true, but irrelevant to the problem at hand; “You’re gonna miss us when we’re gone!” has never been much of a business model. So who covers all that news if some significant fraction of the currently employed newspaper people lose their jobs?

— Clay Shirky's, "Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable"

Something to think about.