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Engaging for Mental and Social Health

ConnectingThere are two obvious indicators of the level of stress in my life: how long my beard is and my presence (or lack thereof) on social media. When I’ve got a lot of projects at work, someone in the house is sick, extra family appointments/obligations—or D, all of the above—I can’t seem to make time to trim the beard or bring myself to carve out time for the socials. Those two things, for whatever reason, are the first to go.

It’s a little complicated because part of my job is actually managing our social media accounts. I have a small team now to help with that, so during times I’m overwhelmed, I lean on my fellow team members, just making enough time for quality control, but not much else. And my personal accounts? Forget it. Basically comatose.

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A Little Fun With Curation

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Background

A big part of my “day-to-day” working at the National Writing Project is curating—selecting, organizing, and presenting information online. The public aspect of this can been seen on nwp.org, Educator Innovator, or our social media accounts. I’m not the sole curator for our organization, luckily I have help from brilliant colleagues, but in a way, I’m the primary curator for online content.

The Task

Yesterday, we were a “core partner” for Digital Learning Day, and a couple weeks ago our team decided that we’d do a Storify of the day’s events as part of our post-event coverage (and in case you don’t want to read this whole thing, I’ll give you the final product now (though I do hope you read this anyway)). For those of you not familiar with Storify, it’s basically an online platform for curating content from across the web. One of my colleagues focused her attention on gathering assets throughout the day for this project, but knowing what a tremendous amount of content was going to be shared online via Twitter, Facebook, Google+, YouTube, and hundreds of other sites, I was also glued to the stream, grabbing highlights along the way. Here are some questions I considered while gathering the info:

  • What is the story? Yes, it was about digital/connected learning, but it was also about how teachers engage students in learning using technology and what the products of learning were. The day was also about considering access and equity issues regarding technology and education around the U.S., and what the future of digital learning looks like.
  • What’s our story? NWP and its Educator Innovator and Digital Is initiatives were core partners, along with other partners that we often collaborate with. In fact we had a collaborative project called #Make4DLDay which was a set of challenges to engage people in “making” to celebrate. I wanted to try to represent everyone who is closely related to NWP in some way.
  • What’s the source? Not only did I want to represent partners and individuals related to NWP, I also wanted our story to have a variety of content that would include thoughts, perspectives, stories, photos, and video from several major sources like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

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And About This Facebook Thing…(again)

facebook_againLately—probably because I’m on vacation and find myself with a little extra time to think (I know, not good)—I’ve found myself wondering why I haven’t been checking Facebook. I still post stuff there occasionally, but I haven’t really scrolled through my News Feed in months. If you’ve noticed my absence in your likes and comments, which seems unlikely since no one’s said anything, this is why. I’m just not drawn there anymore.

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Creating and Sharing As Deeper Engagement (or Things We Make that Others Laugh At)

Things We Make that Others Laugh AtI’ve been in a few thrift stores lately and one of my all-time favorite things about thrift stores is finding and…um…celebrating the ridiculous stuff that people have owned and passed on. I make up stories in my head of the original owners and what possessed them to buy these things in the first place. I like to imagine the unbelievable joy they derived from owning this thing that I am now mocking in shameful judgment. Did they truly love this crazy shit and grow tired of it? Were they possessed to buy more crazy shit so they had to sell this stuff to make room? Did they just die and leave it for their heirs who then experience moments of comic relief in their hour of grief? Were these prized possessions actually fashionable or popular in some place and time?

Then my mind drifts back one step further to the artist. The Creator. The font of endless creativity from which sprung this gem that I now hold in my hand. Sometimes it’s obvious that, sure, at some point it may have been original, beautiful, cool, whatever. And other times I can derive no understanding of what possessed someone to think that what they were making was actually a good idea or would be remotely desirable to any member of the human race.

And here’s where I venture into something deeper: is this what keeps us from creating…writing, playing, composing, making, sharing? Will someone laugh at this? It’s already been done so why should I do it? Will this thing only matter to me and if so, why should I bother sharing it? Why bother making it in the first place for that matter?

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#whatiwrite: Bridges

I write bridges. They take different forms, but as I thought about the topic of “What I Write” for the National Day on Writing, I realized that despite all the different forms my writing takes, what I really write are connections, or bridges.

Here in this space, I write and share things that connect my audience to me, and often through comments or reactions—either here or through some other vehicle—I’m then connected to other people’s thoughts and perspectives. This space helps build bridges not only in that way, but also it helps me create bridges of thought. The writing and creating process begins, grows, evolves, and changes, and by the end, when I’m ready to hit “publish”, I am different than when I began. Often my ideas and views are connected in a much different way than what I first imagined.

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Just A Bunch of Monkeys

As I go through this world I am constantly amazed at how much like monkeys we really are. Sure, we’re slightly evolved, but if you strip away the inventions and higher-level talk, we’re just a bunch of animals. Maybe I’ve been watching my kids too much, who are evolving from basic primates to sophisticated humans, but I think my observations stand.

While I was studying music in college, we were exposed to some really outside shit. Of course there was twelve-tone music and atonal music, which were actually not so strange to me. But imagine listening to pre-pubescent boys screaming, played backwards and looped, over church bells (of different sizes) ringing, also played backwards and looped. Yeah. Creepy. Anyway, with a lot of this “new” music, we debated whether this was basically a monkey at a musical typewriter—like it was so random, basic, or so strange it took no skill or creativity to make—or it was really a product of genius. I used to sit in class and imagine myself and my classmates as monkeys banging away in the jungle, scratching and screaming when we found something that tickled our fancy while the others hollered and hissed back. Mind you, we thought pretty highly of ourselves, as many 18-22-year-old-undergrads tend to, so I often found great amusement in this exercise.

This thought has recently resurfaced in my little brain but has been transposed onto social media. Are we really thoughtful, intelligent, enlightened humans, connecting with each other through advanced forms of social behavior and technology? Or are we simply a bunch of monkeys scratching ourselves and hollering to impress each other? I think it’s really both and I think it should be, after all, we are still basically monkeys. We can’t take ourselves too seriously but I think we’re obligated to share our knowledge, perspective, and experience, and with these somewhat new tools, it’s all pretty easy to do. Obligations aside though, I still find great amusement in being a monkey myself and playing with the rest of the herd.

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