Socially Awkward

There is no privacy online. I guess that pretty plainly states a fact. But more and more often I have seen Facebook friends posting the hoax “privacy and copyright” notice which has been debunked by Snopes and others numerous times.

The whole purpose of Facebook is sharing. We share our lives, our thoughts, our images, our proudest moments and our most difficult emotional turmoil. For better or worse, we share our political opinions and we wear our religion on our very public sleeves (although I tend to steer clear of both of those topics most of the time.)

Let’s start with who sees my stuff online. For the most part, I am careful about who I “friend” on Facebook. I have some basic criteria around this:

  • Do I know you?  Are we really friends?  Are we related?
  • Have we ever been to each others homes?  Worked in the same office?  Participated in shared social or work events?
  • Did we go to school together?  Have we been neighbors?
  • Do our kids know each other?  Have we ever shared a meal together?
  • Do we have a history?

If one or more of those items is true, then you are a real person who I really know. Even if our relationship now is mostly virtual due to time or space constraints, that doesn’t make you less of a friend to me. I do not make casual decisions to “friend” people on Facebook.  I may have different criteria for LinkedIn. I consider that to be a place for business and professional connections. Just because we have a business connection, does not mean that we have a personal connection. These two platforms, Facebook and LinkedIn, do not necessarily cross pollinate in my connections lists. Blog posts are a different animal, and I recognize that anyone, anywhere, can read something I have written on my blog.

But let’s be honest, social media is designed to be social. Even introverts like me, maybe especially introverts like me, have a desire to connect with others in a variety of ways. By simple virtue of our humanity, we have some level of need to relate to other human beings. As for being an introvert, social media may be exactly the right way for me to connect. Let’s face it, the expectations and responsibilities are fairly easy to manage. I choose to share certain facts, photos, and events. Whether my social media friends respond to them or not is inconsequential. It is my personal choice to put myself out there. Of course, there are things I don’t share. Some news is not mine to tell, and some days are simply mundane. I don’t feel a need to tell my friends every bit of my routine every day.

When I do share little bits of life, it’s because I have considered my audience and determined that maybe I can bring some small amount of cheer or knowledge or emotion or caring to my friends. Maybe we can sympathize with one another as I let my friends know what’s going on in my life; my actual friends, since we have already established that none of you is strictly a virtual friend. So I share. I write these occasional blog posts, I post photos on Facebook and Instagram, and I post my reading lists on Goodreads. Whether you choose to read it or not is entirely up to you. Whether you enjoy it or agree with it or hate it or respond to it is up to you.

Self portrait of a wallflower.

Self portrait of a wallflower.

The truth is I am probably more social online than I am in person. In person, at first glance some might consider me to be unapproachable or stand-offish. I don’t think of myself that way, but throughout my life I have been shy, and much more at home in the world of books and alone time than in a crowded room. Over time and with a great deal of effort I have overcome some of my deepest fears and reluctance to socialize. I can stand in front of a podium with 500 people in the audience and make a speech, but getting to really know people up close and personal is still a little daunting. I genuinely like people, but still feel socially awkward sometimes and will always be a bit of a wallflower. Of course, once we really get to know one another all bets are off and you’ll find me to be more outgoing and even boisterous. But sharing my life online is frequently easier than sharing face to face.

I often crave privacy and time spent by myself. Privacy means I am not sharing every thought with every person, including my closest family. Privacy happens within the confines of my home or some other place where I am essentially alone and want to stay that way. If you want a strict privacy rule surrounding your thoughts, photos, and ideas, then don’t post them online.

So once you have established your online “friends” criteria, and set your app’s privacy settings where you want them, there’s one other rule of thumb for what to post. Ask yourself this question: if you were meeting your friends for coffee would you share the same information with them?

As for copyright law, here is the basic fact: “Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.” That language comes directly from the US Copyright Office. I hope that people would not flagrantly plagiarize anything I have written or used my photos without attributing them to me. As a person who has been writing for nearly her whole life, plagiarism, to me, is one of the most morally objectionable crimes I can think of. It cuts to the core of taking someone else’s thoughts and language, which are very personal. As a former journalist, I am a strong believer in attribution when you borrow someone else’s words.  (Note:  I am attributing by hyperlink in this post.)

Information is a powerful tool. I don’t believe that Facebook is stealing my photos or violating copyright laws, but invite you to read their data policies to get the complete lowdown. After you have read the policies, if you don’t like what they do and how they function, then cancel your Facebook account. But know this: privacy online is an oxymoron.

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Turn. Turn. Turn.

To everything there is a season. Autumn is my favorite time of year, but even as it is just beginning this year, I recognize that there will be limited time to enjoy it.

Mom is moving. My 85-year old mother has purchased a new home and is downsizing to live all on one floor. This is an excellent choice for her, since she is still quite independent and healthy for her age and did not want the constraints of an apartment where she could not have taken her piano. Here’s the only drawback: my mother is moving at age 85. That means she really can’t handle the most physical of the work involved in the process. Honestly, at age 56, the process is not so easy for me anymore either.

My mother is far from being a pack-rat, but anyone who lives in the same home for 22 years will have accumulated some amount of stuff. It’s the general stuff of life: things that were given as gifts, things that once served a purpose but won’t be needed in a smaller home with a smaller yard, and things that were decorative once and are now just in the way. But with extraordinary help from my sisters and sister-in-law we have managed to go through most of Mom’s stuff.

Yesterday, Mom and I (with some much-needed and appreciated help from my husband) got most of the extra stuff ready for a garage sale, which will be held next weekend. Mom will get it all priced during the week and by Saturday morning we should be ready to just open the garage door and start selling. Anything that’s left will be donated to charity.

At the same time, we are working to try to get some remodeling done in Mom’s “new” house. It’s very challenging to find a contractor on a tight deadline, and there are some projects we would like to have done quickly. Mom needs a first floor laundry closet installed, wants a bedroom closet door expanded, is planning a whole new kitchen, and wants a very poorly jerry-rigged rear entry problem solved. My sister who is an interior designer has been incredibly helpful with the kitchen layout and planning, and I am working on a plan for the back entry. Several contractors have been in for consultations, but the only way they can take it on right now is piece-meal, so we are prioritizing what will get done first, second, and third, and what must be done before mom moves in before Thanksgiving.

So there you have it: a deadline is looming. Most of my lovely autumn weekends will be spent, at least in part, helping mom. We have some time set aside for parents’ weekend at our daughter’s college, and a couple of just for fun local events on the calendar. But mostly I am viewing this season as an investment in Mom. Other family members will definitely step in to assist and that’s great, but I know that Mom’s moving date will get here faster than we know, so even though my back hurts from hauling stuff around yesterday, this is really just the starting point.

IMG_0385To everything there is a season. This fall will become a season of transition for Mom. For me, I will choose to call it a season of helpfulness, which is all I have to offer right now: some physical labor for painting, carrying boxes, and tearing out carpet; some mental capacity for space planning; and the slightest bit of talent for drafting primitive architectural plans.

Today was a brief reprieve. While I should have been taking care of some house and yard work at home, the sunshine and remaining warm air were calling us too loudly. So we took a little drive to the lake, instead, and took a walk, took some photos, and flew a kite in the brisk, warm, breeze.

And when we’re done getting Mom settled into her new place, I have a very strong urge to go through everything in our own home and get rid of almost all of it. Winter may become the season of purging, if my back can stand it. We’ll see how that works out.

It’s Time to Rebuild

If you’re not outraged you’re not paying attention. That’s a tagline from a bumper sticker I saw many years ago, and the longer I live the more I realize it is true.

Here we are on the anniversary of the worst attack on Americans on our own soil, and I am struck by the incredible chasm that has opened among our people in a mere fourteen years. The memories of that horrible string of events on 9/11/01 still sting for every adult and many children who witnessed the TV coverage. Disbelief grew into grief which morphed into outrage.

The days and months that followed brought our nation together in ways that had previously been unimaginable. Suddenly all of our best was shining like a beacon for the rest of the world. There is nothing like a tragedy to pull people together, and Americans showed off their finest in volunteerism, cooperation, and charity. We felt a patriotic duty to mourn the dead, assist the injured, heal the wounds, rebuild our damaged landmarks, and memorialize the horrors of the attack.

One World Trade Center shines like a beacon of remembrance where the twin towers once stood.

One World Trade Center shines like a beacon of remembrance where the twin towers once stood.

Fast forward fourteen years. As a nation we have struggled through war, recession, and three presidential elections. We have suffered through catastrophic hurricanes, the explosion of a space shuttle, and a bombing at the Boston Marathon. We have seen more women than ever rise to fill seats on the US Supreme Court. Minorities have filled more top government offices than any previous time in our history, including the office of President. We have seen race riots, cop shootings, and an unbelievable string of mass shooting incidents at colleges, high schools, and even elementary schools. All of these events have been challenging for our nation, but the real tragedy for me is that through all of this our people have appeared to drift farther apart rather than come together.

We are more divided by social issues, religious beliefs, and economic classes than ever before. We have become left versus right, conservative versus liberal, and power versus poverty.

I am not a sociologist or psychologist, just an ordinary person who pays attention. Outraged? You bet. How about incensed? How about, I can’t even work my brain around the fact that Americans can’t seem to be able to discuss issues in a civil forum without descending to name calling, bullying, and bigotry? How about, WHAT IS WRONG WITH US?

What can we do about it? We can seek civility at every turn. We can look for opportunities for dialogue and discussion and negotiation. We can dig deep into our psyches and turn off the switch that causes knee-jerk reactions. We can insist that our politicians and leaders engage in meaningful, purposeful debates on the crucial issues that face our country: poverty, education, health care, the environment, and the economy.  Much like the building of the 9/11 Memorial in New York City, all of this requires compromise and cooperation.

If you are reading this and labeling me an optimist, you would be wrong. I am the first one in every group to be called either a pessimist or a realist. But today, on this anniversary of a horrific tragedy that left thousands of Americans dead and injured, I am looking back on what was also one of our shining moments of triumph over tragedy. For the sake of generations to come, I choose to hold out a small shred of hope. Who’s with me?

New York City Virgin

Okay, okay, okay…I know what you are thinking. How is it possible that you have lived in New York State for 46 of your 56 years and never before been to New York City? Honestly, it’s not that I didn’t have the desire to go. I would have visited years ago, but we have always been busy spending limited vacation time and dollars doing other things, often with family or events involved. We have visited other cities, some several times. New York City called, just not as loudly as the others. So when our daughter announced she would be moving there, the Big Apple was ripe for picking.

All cities are expensive, but we went in knowing that we had a limited amount of time and a limit on what we could spend, so we made some careful choices. Our first and I would add, excellent, decision was to find lodging through Airbnb. We wanted to stay in Brooklyn since that’s where our daughter would be living. We found a wonderful little efficiency apartment in a very nice, quiet, neighborhood just a short walk from the subway for just $100 a night. We have stayed in far worse places for far more money. Our host was a kind and very friendly woman from Trinidad who could honestly be a Brooklyn tour guide. She was tremendous and her place was perfect! This was our first Airbnb experience and it was wonderful.

We chose our itinerary carefully. If you want to go to New York for the food you can choose from thousands of fabulous restaurants. If you want theater there is plenty. If you want museums take your pick. If you want shopping it’s all there. What we really wanted was atmosphere, and most of that comes either free or really cheap.

My first view of the Statue of Liberty was looking out the window of the café at IKEA Brooklyn. We went there the first night after moving our daughter’s stuff into her apartment, since there were a few more things she needed and couldn’t bring from home and we were looking for a cheap dinner, anyway. The statue took my breath away, even looking from IKEA. When we finished there, I drove through the cobblestone streets of Red Hook to get a better view of Lady Liberty. Honestly, that view alone was worth the long drive that whole day. It gave me pause to think of my ancestors coming from Italy, Ireland, and Denmark to find a better life in America.

On our first full day we hopped on the subway with our daughter and took the 30 minute express train to Grand Central Terminal. From the moment we walked into the building I was in awe. The building is more beautiful than its photos. The celestial barrel ceiling is grand and gorgeous, and the details around each window are impeccable.

From there we walked out onto Park Avenue and up 42nd Street for a quick sandwich at Pret a Manger (use the French pronunciation: pret-ah-man-zher), a chain of delicious and freshly made items where lunch was just $24 for all three of us. Again, we weren’t there for the food, just the atmosphere.

One of the painted ceilings in the New York Public Library

One of the painted ceilings in the New York Public Library

A brief hop away was the elegant New York Public Library. I could live there: stunning architecture at every turn starting with the twin lions out front to the marble stairwell to the hall of Astors (all of the John Jacob Astors and relations who were the original patrons of this fantastic building); rows and rows of books; paintings, sculptures, and historic artifacts galore! Our only disappointment was that the original Winnie the Pooh and friends who live there and are usually on permanent display were out for much needed repair. The Readers and Writers Shop at the library was compelling me to purchase something, and I left with a lion printed book tote.

We strolled through Bryant Park and along 42nd Street to Broadway then made the trek through Times Square. Our daughter said, “Hold on to your wallets, we’re going in.” Times Square is what everyone loves to hate about America. It is the pinnacle of crass commercialization: loaded with advertising for everything from high end cosmetics to low-end tee shirts. The hustlers are everywhere including the infamous “naked cowboy” and his really-too-old-and-saggy-to-be-doing-this female counterpart who needed waaaaay more than pasties, but I guess she must think she’s still young and attractive. The fashionistas strutted in Manolo Blahnik’s. The homeless sat on the sidewalk waiting for someone to drop a few bills into a plastic cup. New York provides a glimpse of humanity in all forms from the glorious to the grotesque. The one great thing about being a tourist in New York City is that you don’t have to feel weird about it, because so many are doing the same thing. Everybody’s got a camera or a phone in front of their face snapping photos.

We walked back toward 6th Avenue, stopped briefly to drink some water and people watch outside the Wall Street Journal building, and then walked on to Herald Square and Macy’s. If you’re a fan of Miracle on 34th Street it’s a must do, and the still in use original wooden escalators are a fun little diversion.

A short subway ride away was the iconic Flatiron Building. As a devotee of interesting architecture, this was a must-see for me. The wedge shape and interesting Beaux Arts look of this office and retail building did not disappoint.

Back onto the subway, we headed south toward Greenwich Village. We enjoyed the cooling shade of Washington Square Park and watched the college students and leftover hippies. As I drank the last drop of water from my bottle on this 90-degree day, I could see an elderly Chinese woman making her way through the trash bins in the park and picking out bottles and cans to add to the bales she was pushing on a cart. In New York State those bottles and cans are worth a nickel each. She passed by our bench, and I held out my bottle for her to take. Her gratitude was palpable. She muttered a thank you in broken English with a huge smile on her face. I got the sense that she doesn’t often get that type of ordinary, personal donation. We watched children playing in the park’s fountain and listened to street musicians, then got back onto the subway and headed toward the Financial District.

On the Brooklyn Bridge, looking towards Brooklyn. The sign speaks volumes.

On the Brooklyn Bridge, looking towards Brooklyn. The sign speaks volumes.

Walking the Brooklyn Bridge was absolutely, positively, worth every moment and step. Car traffic moves along the lower level, and up above there is a pedestrian thoroughfare with a lane for walkers and a lane for bicyclists. You can step into the biking lane for photos, briefly, if you look both ways to make sure no cyclists are headed your way. They go fast and may or may not ring a bell to let you know they’re coming. Luckily you can usually hear them coming on the wooden bridge walkway.  The views are exceptional on all sides: from the Manhattan skyline to Battery Park to the Statue of Liberty and Governors Island. The bridge, itself, is a work of art and a feat of cabled suspension engineering that you can’t believe was even possible in the late 1800’s. At the end of the walk, a delicious pizza was our reward at Grimaldi’s in the famed DUMBO neighborhood (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass).

A couple of notes about getting around:  We walked almost seven miles in one day, so wear very comfortable shoes.  For subway rides, get the $30 unlimited Metro Pass and you can get off and on as many times as you like.

Sadly, our plans for Day Two did not work out. On that day our daughter was heading to her new office for the first time so we struck out alone to explore the Metropolitan Museum of Art, stroll through Central Park, and visit Rockefeller Center. We planned to meet our daughter for dinner, and then visit the 9-11 Memorial together in the evening. Due to the fact that I have a wretched esophagus condition that sometimes causes extreme pain and gets worse under stress, we had to scrub those plans. The pain came on suddenly toward the end of the subway ride uptown. We ducked into a nearby Barnes & Noble hoping it would ease up, but it didn’t, so we rode the subway back to our room and I spent the day in bed. Ugh. I am fortunate that most of my days are good ones, but the occasional bad day seems to come at the worst possible times.  I have wanted to see the Metropolitan Museum of Art since I was a child and read From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. The book is about a brother and sister who run away from home, hide out in the museum, and find a mystery they must solve. The book made that place come alive in my mind and it still fascinates me.

We will definitely make plans to visit again since those sights are still on my list, as is the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Guggenheim Museum. Now that our daughter is truly a New Yorker, we have a very convincing reason to visit, and you can see a lot in just a couple of days. In all of the swarming, gritty, cacophony that is New York City there is definitely a pull. We will return.

New York or Bust

We moved our Big Girl to the Big Apple. A brief visit to New York City has left me with plenty to write about, but at the top of my mind right now is our precious elder daughter, a fully grown young woman who is off to make her way in the big, big city.

It feels very much like we drove her to the edge of the precipice, looked down a steep cliff into the water below, and pushed her off with an admonishment to sink or swim. Of course that’s not the case. This was a planned journey and one she’s had her eye on for several months. But even our preparedness doesn’t block the emotional toll of packing our young adult daughter off to what amounts to a foreign land, even though it’s just a car day’s drive away.

When she came home from doing her Master’s Degree in London, we did not know that she would be home for nearly a year. The first few months were a little rocky as she struggled to get her footing and as we all worked to get used to living together again. But that was short-lived. Eventually she found some work and we worked out the kinks. We always knew it was a temporary arrangement and that she would move on.

About three months ago she made the announcement that she would be moving to New York City at the end of the summer. She didn’t have a job there, yet, but she was making a plan. She worked two jobs all summer long to save up a little nest egg. She will be telecommuting to her part-time marketing job from home, while also doing an internship for a marketing firm in lower Manhattan that specializes in the music industry.

Here's our New York City girl atop the Brooklyn Bridge with the Manhattan skyline in the background.

Here’s our New York City girl atop the Brooklyn Bridge with the Manhattan skyline in the background.

It is an understatement to say that there is a tremendous culture shift between our quiet, rural region in Western New York and the gritty, noisy, teeming streets of New York City. Perhaps that’s the hardest part for me. When she went to London we simply put her on a plane and cried our goodbyes. This time, we packed quite a bit of her stuff, including some small pieces of furniture, into our car and drove almost 400 miles to help her get settled and actually see where she will be living. Sometimes, unseen is easier to take.

New York can very easily feel overwhelming. Surrounded by people, you can feel lost in the sea of humanity. She was feeling a little of that as she showed us around on our first full day. By the end of the second day, she was already talking about connecting with some people she knows and making some plans.

We left, with some tears to go along with the hugs, of course, knowing that the choices are now hers alone. We have confidence that she will choose to swim, not sink. But here are the words of encouragement and advice that I could not bring myself to say out loud at departure:

My darling daughter: SWIM! But before you start, take just a moment to enjoy the plummet off that cliff. Let the exhilaration engulf you and breathe in the fullness of the moment and witness the plethora of opportunity ahead. When you hit the water, take just a second to feel the refreshment in hitting something brand new. Then stretch every muscle, and swim. Enjoy the work, the view, the grind that builds character and emotion and brain power. Remember to come up for air once in a while and give yourself a chance to simply breathe. Open your eyes, your heart, your mind, and your arms. Take in all of the atmosphere and knowledge you can. Build all the friendships you can. Good things do not come to those who wait; they come to those who work hard to get them.

I would love to tell you that I found a flowery quote to go along with this, but really what keeps running through my head right now are the words to the classic rock tune by Bachman-Turner Overdrive, “Baby, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.” So much of life is stretched out ahead of you. Go ahead and grab it!

And while you are swimming, remember that no one is more worried about you and confident in you all at the same time; no one believes in you more; and no one loves you more than your parents. Create the self you want to be. Congratulations on taking the plunge. Now SWIM!