Sunday, January 27, 2013

Social Network

         When I was growing up, my social network was made up of friends who lived within bike-riding distance. I lived eleven miles from town, so the social network was pretty limited. We had a party-line (look it up, children – anyone under 30), so phone conversations were might have been shared with all the five numbers that shared the line. If we, the kids, wanted to talk, it meant getting on the bike and going to see one another face-to-face.

         As a result, I had three friends with whom I interacted socially on a regular basis through most of my childhood. The introvert in me liked that. Of course there was school and church with the opportunities to interact with others, but my social network of three was about right for me.

         As an adult, with the advent of the Internet, social networking became a global experience. I have made and maintained “friends” with people from around the globe. I maintain two Facebook pages, two Twitter accounts, three blogs, a LinkedIn account, and a website. Through the various social networks, I am in contact with nearly a thousand people on a somewhat regular basis.

         I have three friends with whom I interact socially on a regular basis. The introvert in me likes that.

         Everyone with whom I interact through the social networks is someone with whom I have some kind of connection. On my personal Facebook page, I know every single person personally. Through my professional Facebook page and LinkedIn account, I either know the person or know them through professional connections. Twitter is the one medium through which I connect to people I do not know personally, but whose content is something I enjoy. As a result, Twitter is the most fluid of the social networks based on those I follow or allow to follow me, but it has led to a partnership and one of the closest friendships I have today.

         The Manti Te’o scandal over the last week has once again drawn social networking into the forefront of public discussion. How could someone actually be drawn into a relationship with someone he has never met? How could someone experience grief over the death of someone they have never met in person? Have these critics never heard of or one of the other dating sites? Some surveys indicate online dating sites are becoming THE way most singles meet others for dating.

The whole concept of “catfishing,” or drawing someone into a relationship with a fictional individual suddenly came back into our vocabulary (after being introduced through the 2010 documentary). I find it fascinating that someone would go to all the trouble to invent an entirely different life in the hopes of ensnaring the target. It says far more about their mental unwell-being than it does about the ensnared. Most people are innately trusting until someone gives them a reason not to trust.

Social media are designed to connect people and I confess. There are some people I now know and hold in high esteem I met through my original blog. I even made a 24-hour round trip to New York to meet a group of bloggers in person. One blogger organized it because she wanted to meet the people who interacted with her writing. I am still in contact with several of those bloggers six years later. That community of people interacting with one another spanned coast-to-coast and northern-border to southern-border. While each of our blogs reflected the individual personalities, we all shared common interests which connected our blogs in the first place.

Those who wonder whether social media can lead to relationships have likely not fully engaged in the media. The media are designed specifically to foster relationships. Whether they develop into real-life friendships as several of mine have done or even a romantic link (as I keep hoping will happen), the nature of social media encourages connections. Because I am such an introvert by nature, I find it much easier to establish some common grounds before meeting a person. The connections through my blogs and twitter have brought meaningful people in my life with a means to communicate inherent in the media. Those people whom I have met, I look forward to seeing from time to time when I am in their city or they visit mine. My online social networks are ever expanding and are for the most part enriching.

Just as the bicycle limited my social network when I was a child, I keep just a limited set of friends with whom I interact regularly. I like and value the thousands: I need the few.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Call Your Mother!

         Eventually it is going to sink in: I need to call my mother more often. Children are often chided to call their parents, but it can be so easy to place that call on the back burner until we hear from them. I genuinely dislike talking on the phone and avoid it as much as possible, so it is very easy for me to put that phone call on the “to-do” list without any urgent stars next to it. Then I get a call from her when she thinks I am done with work, or even in the middle of the day, leaving the short message, “call when you can.”

         “Call when you can” means “I have bad news to share with you.”

         Just as I am bad about calling, so is my mother, but lately I have been getting that call on an almost weekly basis. The news always comes with “a name I have known all my life” and “died” or “cancer” or “stroke” or “heart attack” or “other serious condition.”

         I have a hard time accepting my own age, and I am still surprised by all this news. I have to realize that at my age, people who were adults when I was growing up are now old and people who were old when I was growing up are now really old. Five people who lived within a mile of me when I was growing up (and I grew up in the country, so five people is a HUGE percent of the neighbors) have died in the last year. Three of those people were like parents or grandparents to me.

         I do not think about aging. It does not cross my mind. It just happens (thank goodness).

         Perhaps, though, aging should be more in the forefront of my consciousness. I moved away from my childhood community over twelve years ago, so it is easiest to preserve that community in my memory just the way it was when I left. The phone calls have reminded me that though I moved away from the people I knew well, life, and all its changes, has continued for them and for me. Not only do I need to call my mother more often, I need to remember all the people who have been important in my life more than just at the funeral.

         The recent visits home and the frequent thoughts of those who have died or are suffering extended illness have made me reminisce for the place I still call home. As much as I miss it and miss those who are a part of it, life has continued for them and for me. Despite the passing pangs of nostalgia, I have no lasting desire to go back. Moving on, though, does not change the value I have for those people and places in my history: I am who I am because of their influences and no clichéd appreciation diminishes the gratitude I have for those influences.

         Yes, I do need to call my mother more often. I also need to call the community.

         “Hello. It’s Rusty. Yes, it’s been too long. How are you?...”


Monday, January 21, 2013

When the President Thinks of Me...

         …he considers me equal.

         Today I watched the second inauguration of President Obama. It was the seventeenth inauguration in my lifetime and the first time I shed a tear. Some presidents I voted for. Some presidents I voted against. Some presidents I was too young to understand or care what it meant.

         This was the first inauguration that mentioned me, a gay American, as fully equal in citizenship.

         The key word is equal. I, and others in the GLBTQ community, do not seek anything special. We want to be equal, not lesser than. We simply demand that discriminatory laws that prohibit equality be repealed. President Obama gets it:

We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.

It is now our generation's task to carry on what those pioneers began. For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote. Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity; until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country. Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for, and cherished, and always safe from harm.

         I could not control my tears. As a social justice Christian, as an educator, and as a gay man, the words of the President moved me to a new point in my life. The dialogue of nearly one-half century convinced me that our leadership would never accept me, much less embrace me, as a full citizen of the country. Nevertheless, the President likened my desire to be considered an equal citizen of the country to that same struggle of women and ethnic minorities in past centuries.

         Contrary to what the naysayers scream, there is nothing special about equality.

         Equality is bland drudgery compared to discrimination. Seneca Falls, Selma, and soon Stonewall, have shown this.

         In physics, negative energy leads to nothingness. In theology anything that does not build-up destroys. Both science and religion recognize the power of positive and negative.

Hatred consumes the hater.

Love energizes the lover.

Discrimination limits the discriminator.

Light overcomes darkness.

That the President understands the difference signals a change of perspective greater than I expected to see in my lifetime. More and more people understand just what he means when he says, “We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still….”

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Right One

         For the last eight years, every job I have had has been paid through grant funding.  As a result, I have changed jobs every two years as the grant funds reached their end. I am again in year-two and have started updating my resume because, once again, the grant funds are ending. It has become almost routine for me to be on some form of job search.

         My friends all respond with shock and dismay when it becomes official that my job is going away. I do not always react with ecstatic joy when I find out there are no local funds for my job, but I do go into the job with my eyes fully open, so I am never shocked when the conversation comes. Changing jobs every two years is not my ideal, but it has given me experiences I never would have had if I had maintained a traditional career track.

         As much as I have learned and gained in the last eight years, I want to settle into a position for a longer period of time in order to fully apply the many things I have learned to the position. Contrary to what non-educators may think, making systemic change at any level of school takes a full three to five years. I want that challenge.

         Not every person is right for every position. The key to systemic success is finding the best fit in a position. There are positions open on my current campus, but I do not fit the profile of the person who would be most effective in that position. No matter how much I love the campus and am passionate about the students and staff, I do not have the skill-set that the position needs to be most successful. My love for the campus and passion for the students and staff would rather see the best person have the job as much as I would like to remain there. Education works best when the correct person is in the position for which they are best suited.

         By working grant-funded positions, I have had the fortune of changing jobs every two years and building a unique skill-set. As I have searched for jobs (and LinkedIn makes suggestions) I have found campus level jobs, central administration jobs, and jobs across the spectrum in corporate education (testing companies, textbook companies, and professional development providers). My challenge is finding the right position and getting it. I am going to miss my current position, but I look forward to the next opportunity that awaits me.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

"Chaos and Piss" and Friends

         In the middle of what seemed like a crisis-a-day with various friends, each dealing with different events crashing about them, I paused to write, “the knot at the end of the rope is not for hanging onto, it is for untying so you can go a little farther.” So many friends were dealing with such different problems, I reached a point where I genuinely struggled with maintaining myself so I could continue supporting them. I began to wonder what would support me.

         It was also around the time I purchased P!nk’s newest CD. I listened to it in bits and pieces without paying much attention to what was on it. After seeing her performance of “Try” at the American Music Awards, I decided that I needed to take some time and actually listen to the music, so I did what I do when I want to focus on a song: I made myself comfortable in my recliner, opened iTunes, put the headphones on, and cranked up the volume to a comfortable level, closed my eyes, and listened.

         Confession: I have been a P!nk fan since her earliest releases. I have never been able to define a particular thing about her, but her songs and persona present a bit of fierceness that we often hide in our female musicians. Her lyrics rarely hide her intent. They are direct, brash, and strong. Her newest CD, The Truth About Love is no different. There are a few (three) songs on the CD that I will listen through, but twelve of the fifteen, I have a hard time not hitting the repeat button the moment they end. Each one has lyrics that strike me to the core. However, there is one song that I have, according to iTunes, listened to over sixty times now. “Chaos and Piss” has become my go-to song anytime I begin to feel frustrated or down.

         Every once in a while a song strikes such a deep chord that it becomes the song of the moment. I do not think “Chaos and Piss” will be a big hit on the radio, but the lyrics so strike to the heart of so much in my life right now, that I cannot ignore it. It offers both guidance and truths I need to hear. Not many songs accomplish that.

         The second verse launches into a lesson I need to learn better, “Hey, I also feel things, more than I should, I don't relax very often, as often as I could.” Feeling passionately and deeply is one reason my friends come to me when they are in crisis. I am good at empathy, but…there are things I internalize that I do not need to. I cannot be much assistance to my friends when I empathize to the point of helplessness. I try to hide my feelings, but I do feel things, more than I should.

         The chorus, though is what keeps me coming back: “I don't feel like

Coming down, no I don't; I don't feel like Hiding out, so I won't; I can't turn the volume down; So I sit here in this, Chaos and piss, Watching the storm, passing; Storms are beautiful, Right here is beautiful.” The final chorus changes the last lines to, “Watching the storm passing, Storms are beautiful;

This life is beautiful, It is...” Those final lines may be what attract me so much to the song. Despite the challenges we all face from time to time, the storms are beautiful and so is life. When we are in the middle of a crisis, we have a hard time seeing the beauty in the difficult time, but it is there.

The song came to me in the midst of a cluster of crises with friends though my own life was going well. The narrator tells the same story. She is strong despite the challenges faced by her friends and she makes a series of crucial decisions that protect her from going down “the rabbit hole” with them. As a caring helper, sometimes I have to make the decisions that keep me from ending up in the same circumstance – even if it seems cold. It is enough that I sit in the chaos and piss and watch the storm pass.

I do not know how long the song will be on my constant replay list, but for the time being it gets me through my daily struggle to remain human and be the best friend I can be to my friends.