Sunday, May 11, 2014

In Defense of a Little Social Media

So there's this video that made the Internet rounds last week. Ironically as you'll see, I wouldn't know about it without social media, as I saw it posted on Facebook several times early last week.

It's a spoken word performance by a young man named Gary Turk, with accompanying scenes, all about how we should all stop paying so much attention media. It has been viewed over 35 million times on YouTube.

The video could be summed up with this statement: "This media we call social is anything but, when we open our computers and it's our doors we shut."

And he's right, of course. Many of us are way too glued to our devices, reading things other people have typed, viewing pictures other people have posted—and not spending time with those people. Typing out things about our lives—and not calling or hanging out with anyone.

And do I do this too? Yes, yes I do. (I even have multiple Twitter accounts, for crying out loud.) Oh, and he pegged me with that girl sitting on her bed. I do that daily, for far too many hours.

But here's the thing: Social media has often been a lifeline for me. On too many nights and weekends to count, when I didn't have the wherewithal to do much else, social media allowed me to feel connected, at least in some small way, to hundreds of people I might never have kept up with otherwise.

Just some of the people I'm grateful to have discovered
through social media. L to R, top: David Haward,
Rachel Held Evans; bottom: Addie Zierman, Jim Palmer.
And—it has broadened my horizons in amazing ways. Without it I might never have discovered some voices that have been welcome influences on my thinking. People like:
And those are just some that come to mind right away. There are many more.

Some of the specific examples Turk uses of the ills of social media also just aren't true across the board. For example, he says that "...we all share our best bits but leave out the emotion" and "We edit and exaggerate, crave adulation. We pretend not to notice the social isolation. We put our words into order until our lives our glistening. We don't even know if anyone is listening."

I'm sure there are many people who share only the good things in their lives. People who are (consciously or unconsciously) crafting a "happy, shiny" persona on social media, probably, at least in part, because of our culture's obsession with avoiding or suppressing "negative" experiences and emotions. Well, I am not one of those people. I don't post every sad thought or emotion, but I don't eliminate my experiences with and emotions related to depression, loss, and grief—among other things—from my social media postings. Why? Because that edited version of me would not be real. Far from it. And I would rather deal with my own and others' reality—even the sad realities—than live in a world where everyone is fake.

And for me, nothing could be further from the truth than,"We pretend not to notice the social isolation." You can bet I notice when I don't have the energy to go out and be with people and when I go home to an empty apartment every single day. And again, I don't pretend otherwise.

Toward the end of the video, starting with where he says, "Be there in the moment, as she gives you the look that you remember forever as the time love overtook," there's a montage of a guy spending time with his girlfriend, getting engaged, starting a family, seeing kids grow, becoming a grandparent, and holding the hand of and kissing his elderly wife before her heart's final beat. And the implication seems to be: Disconnect from social media, and you'll have romance, family, and a long life. Well I've got news for him: nothing guarantees those things happening. Being more present may make them more likely and if they do happen, more successful, but it can't make them happen.

I've left for last what may be the single best benefit of social media in my life: through it, I and thousands of others who've lost the one we intended to spend the rest of our lives with have been able to find community and support. The very thing Turk says is driving us all apart has actually facilitated the coming together of these people to bond—incredibly—over shared experience and to help each other know that we are not alone. That knowledge and that bond can be life changing.

The Soaring Spirits community—hope personified.'s to a little social media. How 'bout we just incorporate a little balance into our use of it?

Oh—and then there's this:

Just sayin'.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

2013: A Year in Review

One of my favorites of the shots I took in 2013.

At the end of 2012, I talked about the good things I'd accomplished that year. This post will be more about the significant things that happened during 2013, whether they were good or...not so. The year was...rather eventful, on both sides.

Starting even before 2013 and lasting through April was uncertainty about whether I'd be retaining my job. My company was converting a bunch of contract positions (one of which I was in), but each contractor had to apply and interview for their own job. Fortunately, I was hired as a full-time employee in April.

In January I started dating. If you know me and are shocked to hear this, it's because we didn't tell a lot of people. There were some legitimate reasons for that, not the least of which is that we met at work (and at first were even in the same department) and didn't want it to be a big deal there. The relationship held real long-term promise...I thought...until May, when I was dumped (by Facebook message, 3 days before my birthday).

After that happened, I realized that here I am, 44 years old, and I've never been in a significant relationship where the official dating portion lasted any longer than about 6 months. A fact that frankly kicks my ass. You can bet this is a subject I'll be bringing up in therapy, which I intend to start again this year.

Also happening during the first few months of the year was a health scare that I won't detail. Suffice it to say I feared I might have breast cancer. Turned out it was just a scare, but gawd, was that stressful.

February brought the devastating news that my doctor, Dr. Joseph "Doc Joe" Franz, had passed away. He was more than a doctor to me; he was like family. I still miss him and always will.

In April and June I enjoyed Camp Widow East and West.

The photo on the right represents a bit of a triumph for me. I'd gotten that gorgeous dress—the first time I'd worn a fancy dress to a Camp Widow banquet. (The other times I wore either a casual dress or a fancy top—one of which you see in the photo on the left—with dressy pants.) Anyway, I worried that this dress would accentuate certain parts of myself that I didn't exactly what to highlight. So I'd brought a black wrap to wear with it. But when I was otherwise ready to go to the banquet, I thought...forget it. I'm just going to go in this dress. And own it. And that's what I did.

I mean, this is the body I have. And it ain't all bad. And—maybe it'd be good if I loved it a little more. But, having said all that...I've seen other pictures of myself from that night (the ones where I forgot to suck in my gut, if I'm being perfectly honest with you), and...I can't help it: I don't like some of what I see. Clearly, I still struggle with this body image thing, and one moment of "owning it" doesn't change that. I mean: how do you love your body and still wish you could change parts of it at the same time? But—I digress...a topic for another time.

Also at Camp Widow West, I gave free makeup applications for the banquet to 2 people whose names we drew out of a hat. And I bought this necklace, personalized with Ron's initials:

The Classic Initial necklace
by Urban Sparrow Designs.

In July I became a Regional Group Leader for Soaring Spirits International and created Soaring Spirits Central Ohio, which provides local community to widowed people through regular social events.

Some of the members of SSCO

In August I joined my other siblings in traveling to Minnesota to help our sister Becky celebrate her (milestone) birthday. Without a doubt the best moment was when she opened her gift from us—a new laptop!

In September, on the anniversary of Ron's passing, I hosted a virtual event in his honor. On Facebook and Widowed Village I asked my widowed friends to share the story of how their life was changed by having their loved one in it, along with a photo of the two of them. I was simply blown away by all of the amazing stories. If you want to be moved and inspired, click on the picture below (and scroll down past the event description). Long Live Love.

Later that month, on a Friday night after work, I drove to New Jersey to attend a weekend-long widowed gathering hosted by my friend Arnie (on the left, below). I had a bit of an adventure in that I didn't find his street until around 2AM and couldn't find his house at all, so I got a hotel room for that night. But overall the weekend was a blast, and I'm glad I went. There's nothing like the bond between widowed people, and I try to experience it as often as I'm able to.

Arnie and his mom, Marion, who are both widowed
My friend Kelly Lynn and I at Arnie's
In October I met Rachel Held Evans, a Christian author and blogger that I've admired for a long time. She spoke at a church in Louisville, KY, which is the closest she's been since I became a fan, so I drove there to hear her speak and meet her. (Apparently, long, solo car trips are what I do now. 'Course I don't do them because I love the "solo" part but because I want to do whatever it is, and I'm not letting the solo part stop me. And—it's nice to know..."I can do this!") After I tweeted her links to the pictures I'd taken and to my post about meeting her (above), she retweed it, and that post quickly became my most-read post of all time—by a factor of at least 4. Amazing. The following Sunday, in her Sunday Superlatives post, she mentioned having met me, included a link to my post and this picture.

December brought another sad loss. My uncle, Wayne Price, passed from this life, claimed by the cancer he suffered for nearly a year. Wayne was one of the kindest, most accepting, and most caring men I've ever known. He will surely be missed.

So there you have it—my 2013: some things I hope never happen again but also some things I'm glad happened. Here's hoping for an even better 2014.

* * *

My favorite books I read during the year:
My most popular posts of the year:
  1. Rachel Held Evans and Me
  2. "I Want to Live"
  3. Books That Made a Difference:
    When We Were on Fire
  4. Camp Widow East 2013: The Same and Yet So Different
  5. The Mighty Warrior Who Advises the King
  6. R.I.P. Joseph "Doc Joe" Franz,
    June 17, 1952 - January 22, 2013