Wednesday, April 28, 2010

I’m Two-Faced About Facebook

Social networking is a phenomenon that is clearly not going to go away. And Facebook – with how many registered faces now? more than 65 million? – is the biggest party in cybertown. It will get bigger, too. No doubt about it. There are no capacity issues when the party is taking place in a virtual dance hall.

I resisted signing up for a long time. The concept didn’t hold much value for me. Besides, I have enough trouble keeping up with the friendships I could be enjoying in person or over the phone. Do I need this added sense of social responsibility?

But when the prep school I attended created a Facebook community, I began to flirt with the idea of joining. Part of the draw was the fact that the prep school no longer exists, so the virtual alumnae association had no competition off-line. The dealmaker, though, occurred when I realized that – in lieu of a picture of my actual face – I could associate my profile with the cover of my novel. Anything to help market The Somebody Who.

So I joined Facebook probably a year and a half ago. And for a while, I visited somewhat regularly. I don’t regret my early activities in that most popular cyberland. Last April, I reunited with a friend I hadn’t seen in thirty years and hadn’t been in touch with for probably fifteen years. And in October, while I was in Virginia, I had lunch with one of my best buddies from elementary school and junior high. I had last seen her at my wedding, in 1987.

I’m grateful that I have found both these friends. But I also know that I probably could have found them without Facebook.

I should also mention, as long as I’m just a paragraph away from the subject of my marriage, that yes, my ex (since 1994) has a Facebook page. And yes, I’ve perused it.

This is the part of Facebook that makes me feel particularly uncomfortable. I am able to look at photographs that have nothing to do with my current life. I am able to see which friends belong to whom. I am participating in a collective surrendering of privacy, and so I am part of the problem.

But, when you think about it, the surrendering of privacy in this realm is fairly tame. There’s just not a lot of highly personal stuff revealed in most of the postings. Take, for example, some of these comments I’ve seen in the News Feed:

“It’s Friday!”

“I’m so bored.”

and (drum roll, please)

“Fixing dinner...”

About five or six months ago, I stopped visiting Facebook on a regular basis. I still occasionally (very occasionally) get a direct message from someone, and when I do, it appears in my email. I’m cool with that. And I’m even inclined to respond.

But the postings that show up on a daily basis? I don’t know that this is our greatest moment as a species.

…Chances are I already know it’s Friday.

…If you’re bored and you choose to announce it, I will likely remember what my mother used to say to me: “Katie, bored people are often boring.”

…As for your dinner? Gee, I sure hope you take pictures when it’s done!

I realize that, in sharing these comments, I might lose a few “friends.” But in the world of Facebook, I’m actually not even sure what it means anymore to have a “friend.”

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Observations from the Niche-Free Zone

Back in the mid-‘90s, when the Internet was in its infancy, I got a call from someone representing the Barnard Alumnae Association. He was calling regarding a directory they were putting together. He was seeking information for my entry in said tome.

Yes, I said it: tome.

You see, this was to be an actual book with actual pages. Something alums would order so that they could access information regarding women, like themselves, who had experienced higher education at the venerable college that attracts tough, independent New York types and is affiliated with Columbia University.

After answering the man’s questions as to “what I do,” he said something that filled me with pride: “You don’t really fall into any category.”

My response? “And if I ever do, please shoot me.”

It will seem unrelated for me to suddenly bring up American Idol, but I’m kind of entitled, what with my no-category status. Besides, there actually is a reason to bring it up. I first should confess that, yes, I’m one of the hooked masses. I love American Idol for all kinds of reasons, and I’d detail them here, but a character in my second novel (not yet published) already has done so, and I really want you to hear it from her mouth. Regardless, something I’ve noticed this season is the judges’ desperately wanting to home in on a contestant’s niche. Is she country? Is he blues? Should she go the pop route?

Recently, Siobhan Magnus (the refreshingly quirky glass blower from Cape Cod who can somehow scream without being “pitchy”) defended herself against the judges’ comments as to “who she is.” I can’t quote her verbatim (and I’m too lazy in the moment to Google it), but essentially, she conveyed that she wasn’t interested in being pigeon-holed.

Good for Siobhan!

I get it that there are reasons to claim a niche. If you focus on one thing, you will likely devote all your energy to it, and you will therefore improve within it and have a better chance for success. Undoubtedly, had I claimed a niche by now, I wouldn’t be constantly wondering if I’ll make ends meet on a month-to-month basis.

But, if I were stuck in one place, I’d also not discover new places.

I love my nonprofit work, which I “happened into” back in 1987. I had grown tired of waitressing by then, and so I began temping. When an assignment landed me at the Ford Foundation, I gained a new perspective on “office world.” Who knew there were kind, altruistic people doing the nine-to-five grind? (I didn’t.) Now, after many nonprofit staff positions and loads of amazing, Kodak-moment experiences, I do fundraising and program development work on a consulting basis. My clients are awesome, and what they do for folks in Los Angeles is life-changing.

I love my fine art work, which began when I “happened into” a bead store. For almost 10 years now, I’ve been seduced by what I call the unbearable lightness of beading. I’ve made jewelry, mobiles, and wall hangings. And without beads, I’ve made original greeting cards using recycled materials. Most recently, I’ve opened a shop on This means I’m in the process of moving my independent website inventory to a more well-traveled location. Sure, I’m competing with about 50,000 other jewelry designers, but I love my work, and so I believe in it.

I love my creative writing. In fact, I love nothing more than making sentences. I am even happy with that one. And this one. And the next one.

So what “do I do?” the Alumnae Association wants to know.

I look for joy. And when I find it, I look for more.

Funny that these musings reference Barnard. I remember, when I first arrived there (me, a 17-year-old from rural Virginia), I was so struck by my classmates and what I heard during informal freshman orientation conversations. The most common answers to peer-posed questions were two-syllable hyphenates: pre-med; pre-law; pre-med; pre-law; pre-med; pre-law… I was shocked, but I never felt pressured. Even then, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing from the mouths of babes. These 17- and 18-year olds had their whole lives figured out.

I hope it’s gone well for them. I hope they like their niches.

As for me, I’ll keep confusing the judges. And although I may scream at times, I’ll try never to sound pitchy (or… something that rhymes with that).

Please visit my etsy shop at . And tell your friends.

If you haven’t done so already, pick up a copy of my novel at Amazon. Just do a search for The Somebody Who. You’ll see it.

Know any nonprofits who need help with their fundraising? Send them my way.

I’m here.

I’m the one without a niche.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Confessions of a Non-Stalker

Back in the 60's (or maybe it was the 70's), a couple who are among my mom’s and my late dad’s contemporaries traveled from Virginia for their annual experience in New York. One night, they went to a Broadway show. The wife noticed a man sitting in front of them (or perhaps in their row), and this is what she said to him: “I know you’re someone famous, but I don’t know who you are.”

“My kids don’t think I’m famous,” he replied, kindly.

The man, not famous to his children, was Sidney Poitier.

I share this little anecdote because I just had to do some Googling. I wanted to make sure I got the actor’s name right.

Not Sidney Poitier's name. I know who he is, but rather, I wanted to check on the name of the actor I'm about to talk about.

It's Edward Burns.

Edward Burns has been around since the mid-90’s. In 1995, he made the scene with his indie film, The Brothers McMullen. He wrote it, directed it, and starred in it. A guy from Long Island, he had a tri-state tale to tell, and he told it well. He’s been busy ever since.

And one night, about ten years ago, he went to the movies.

So did I.

I had driven over to the Laemmle 5 on Sunset. Don’t remember what I saw. When I left the theatre, I entered the elevator to return to the underground parking structure that was designed by sadists. (Sidebar: is it any wonder there is now a Trader Joe’s within that complex? But I digress…)

Edward Burns joined me on the elevator, pressed the button for his parking level, and together, we rode down to the lower levels, each of us looking somewhere else.

About twenty minutes later, I pulled into the parking lot of the Mayfair at Franklin and Bronson, as I had decided to pick up a few groceries on the way home. It must have been winter (if L.A. can be said to have one), as I recall I was wearing my royal blue, sort of all-weather jacket – a noticeable color among the more common, muted shades of winterizing Angelenos.

When I had filled my basket and approached check-out, I saw that my elevator mate was waiting in the most available, fastest-moving line. Yup. Edward Burns. Seven or eight zip codes ago, we were sharing an elevator. Now, we were both at Mayfair.

Self-conscious in my royal blue outerwear, I chose another check-out line.

The non-stalker line.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

How I Got Out of Jury Duty… without even trying

As a self-employed person, I’ve bristled whenever I’ve received a jury duty notice. I would like to perform my civic duty, but the financial ramifications prevent me from getting enthusiastic about it. Two weeks with no billables is simply not affordable. A lengthy trial would bankrupt me. So for years, I submitted my excuses, and they were accepted.

When I received a summons in November of 2002, however, I had a different response. I was coming out of some extremely lucrative consulting months, and I knew that if I could ever manage the financial constraints of jury duty, this was the time. So I showed up on that designated Monday morning.

Within a few hours, I was called into a courtroom. Along with 12 other “auditioners,” I was placed in the almighty wooden box, and I listened to the judge’s brief description of the case: a young man had made an extremely threatening telephone call and so he was being prosecuted.

The prosecuting attorney sat at her place, tightly dressed in a power suit. At the other table, the defendant sat alone. He wore dark cargo pants, and his white shirt -- partially unbuttoned -- was in desperate need of an iron. As the judge explained, the young man who had made the phone call had been offered a defense attorney but: he had chosen to represent himself.

My eyes grew wide as these details were revealed. After years of avoiding jury duty, I was stoked. I couldn’t wait to participate in this trial. It would provide some fascinating insights into human nature, and as a creative writer, I crave any opportunity to study character.

The next step in the process began with the judge assigning numbers. Among the prospective jurors, I was “number eleven.” The judge then described basic aspects of the legal system and followed that with general questions that would elicit the raising of hands from “we, the would-be jury.” He also directed specific questions to individuals in the box.

It had been a while since I had engaged in something this close to a classroom experience, and I took great pride when I answered a question correctly. I also paid close attention to my fellow auditioners… their stories, their perspectives, and their answers to the judge’s questions.

I was fully engaged.

This initial process went on for well over an hour. Then, we were given a break.

After ten or fifteen minutes, we were called back into the courtroom. The other prospective jurors and I returned to our assigned seats. The prosecutor and the self-representing defendant returned to their opposing posts. And once the room had settled, the judge let us know that, per the system, each side had the right to dismiss any prospective juror without an explanation. The judge also stated that if anyone were dismissed, they should not take it personally.

He then turned his head to make eye contact with the prosecutor.

“Is there any juror you would like to dismiss at this time?” he asked.

“Number eleven,” she said.

“Yeah,” the self-representing defendant echoed. “Number eleven.”

I left the courtroom in disbelief. After all the years of wanting to get out of jury duty, I had changed my tune. Not only had I accepted the summons, I couldn’t wait to get started. But… it was not to be.

It took me a day or two to realize what probably happened. But I think I know what I did in that jury box. It’s about my face. And actually, it’s a bit remarkable that I figured this out. After all, if you combine me with all the people with whom I’ve had contact, I’m the one who’s seen my face in action the least. Still, though, I think I know what happened. Through my facial expressions, I indicated that I was thinking. Constantly. And through the nods I inadvertently shared while others expressed their experiences, I indicated that I had feelings and opinions.

It’s too bad the prosecutor and her opponent chose to interpret my expressiveness as they did. Because, yes, I do have feelings and opinions. But I also am capable of being unbiased.

I’ll never know how I might have viewed that case. I never got a chance to hear the facts.

And, since that November eight years ago, I’ve never received another jury summons.

I don’t believe one can get dismissed from service by “trying,” so I’m not recommending anything here.

Just sharing what happened.

Just sharing my unbiased opinion of what happened.