My Shrinking World

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The photo that started me thinking

In my last post I wrote about how addicted much I love Instagram. If anything—since I wrote that post I’ve become even more of a fan. But that’s not what this post is about.

The other day (for the first time ever) I met an Instagrammer in person (@montaukpete)—someone I’d never met before nor do I “know” on Instagram. A guy was getting ready to kayak on the river I pass each morning on my walk. I asked him if I could take a photo of him for Instagram and that’s when he told me he was on Instagram too!

That’s not what this post is about either—not exactly.

I’m also on Facebook where I’m “friends” not just with people who are friends in real life but also (probably like a lot of you reading this blog) lots of other writers and readers, too, most of whom I’ve never met in real life. The other day I posted one of my photos on FB instead of on Instagram (the accounts are not linked and I plan to keep it that way)—

That’s when it happened—and what this post is about. My worlds collided.

First things first: right before I posted the photo, I became friends on FB with two Instagram friends. It was wonderful. One in Montana and one in Norway. The kind of connections we all hope to make in social networking. Friends without boundaries. One of those Instagram friends “liked” that FB photo. But so did my daughter, my cousin, and my son’s girlfriend. A neighbor. The mother of one of my daughter’s friends who has become a close friend. And another two close IRL friends. Then several bloggers who are now also FB friends. Next a couple of friends I’ve also only met on Facebook. A few of these Internet friends I’ve been fortunate enough to talk to on Google Chat, too—and they’ve become IRL friends.

Back to the photo. It was also liked by my hairdresser and a former co-worker who has become a good friend, and a friend I’ve known since high school. That photo brought into sharp focus that I have several different worlds, Instagram being my latest. I also have my world of Mom and family. My world of Facebook and author friends. My world of Writer Unboxed (where I’m a contributor and also an admin assistant). My world of Twitter and blogging that I’ve been part of for over three years. My real world of neighbors and town as a Maine citizen. And the world of my childhood.

But with that one photograph, I also realized that all my worlds are closing in fast to create one small world. Kind of like a reverse big bang. And I have to say, I’m a fan. Now there’s something I like even more than Instagram—because the way I see it, no matter how I find friends (or they find me) I can never have enough of them.

Which leaves me with just this: thank you for being a part of my world, my friend.

How has your world changed with social networking? Have you made friends with people online who have become IRL friends? Do you like your life blended or do you prefer to keep it compartmentalized?

Cheers,

Julia

In Writing, Tell the Truth

The-Rooms-are-Filled

Today I’m very happy to have my friend Jessica Null Vealitzek as a guest on my blog!

Jess and I met online, connecting over writing and a mutual love of good books when she first got involved with Great New Books, where she is one of six contributors (by the way, if you haven’t seen this blog, you should check it out). We started talking about writing and reading and publishing (we were both writing novels). Fast forward to the current day, and Jess just last month debuted a wonderful first novel (that I just finished reading and loved!): The Rooms Are Filled. In addition to Great New Books, Jess writes for PDXX Collective and has her own blog at True STORIES. She also contributes to the anthologies Three Minus One and The HerStories Project. (Did I mention that Jess also has two young children?)

Please welcome Jess with a post about something near and dear to her heart.

 

In Writing, Tell the Truth

I often think back to one particular assignment in Ms. Jenewein’s Expository Writing class my senior year of high school. We had to interview someone and write an article.

I chose to interview a friend’s father because, starting with almost nothing, he had worked hard to become quite successful. I asked him questions, typed up the answers, and turned in my profile. Probably B-worthy. Fine by me.

Ms. Jenewein handed it back with something like, “You can do better,” written at the top.

Excuse me? It was a perfectly respectable article. I’ll take the B, thank you.

I walked up to her desk, article in hand, hoping to talk her out of making me re-do it. She asked me why it was so dry, why she didn’t feel she knew the subject of the interview. Finally, I crinkled my nose and quietly admitted, “I don’t like him very much.”

“Aha!” she said. “Write the real version. He’ll never have to know.”

The final article, the one I earned an A for–the one I was proud of–was called, “Interview with a Vampire.” (The movie was big at the time; I was being clever.) Ms. Jenewein hugged me and said, “This is the result when a writer tells the truth.”

Russian proverbI have never received another piece of advice more useful. Tell the truth. Readers know when you’re lying, when you’re fitting the story into the words you want to say, or don’t. You know it, too. And when, in the midst of writing, you hit upon a truth you didn’t even realize was there, it’s golden.

That happened to me just a few years later, in college, and it was an experience that has served as one of the more important moments in my life, both creatively and personally.

I sat in my dorm room revising a creative nonfiction piece, a letter to my alcoholic uncle I’d been working on for some time. The piece was dear to me, as was my uncle. He was a poor father, a poor husband, he was in and out of rehab, he borrowed money, but I loved him—we all loved him. He was a goofy, playful, charming man and I’d always felt a special bond with him. Once when I was young, he pulled me aside at a Christmas party and told me how much I meant to him. It was one of my most cherished memories. His slide into homelessness had been devastating.

I wrote all of this in my letter to him. And because he once wrote me a card that said, “I am proud to be your uncle,” I ended with, “I am proud to be your niece.”

Something about the piece, though, didn’t feel right and I couldn’t put my finger on it. I stared at the words. Then I found myself picking up the pen and writing: “I found out later that you were drunk the time you told me how much I meant to you.”

I continued writing almost without thought: “You were drunk. But that’s okay.”

And it was. It was okay. At the time, this was a revelation—that not only my uncle could be flawed, but our relationship could be flawed and I could still love him and be loved by him. Instead of writing the story I wanted to tell, I’d told the truth. I felt lighter. And my letter was much, much better.

There are loads of books that use many pages explaining how to write. In my opinion, it comes down to just three things: Read a lot. Write a lot. And tell the truth. These don’t ensure you will be a good writer, but you can’t be one without them.

It’s such a tall order and yet so absolutely freeing: simply tell the truth. It will be more than good enough.

pic-screen-shot Jessica Null Vealitzek is the author of The Rooms Are Filled, the 1983 coming-of-age story of two outcasts brought together by circumstance: a Minnesota farm boy transplanted to suburban Chicago after his father dies, and the closeted young woman who becomes his teacher. You can read more about Jessica and her book on her web site.

Five Things Making Me Happy

photoSpring is finally here in Maine. The snow is gone and the first daffodil bloomed in our yard yesterday, and to celebrate I decided not to wear long underwear today (although I did debate; the thermometer registers just 41 degrees). It’s been a long, hard, cold winter, and I’m ready for spring.

Jackie Cangro’s recent blog really resonated with me. She wrote about why she’s thankful for spring. Even on gray, cold days like today, I’m feeling inordinately happy about Spring along with the need to celebrate the things that make me happy.

Wikipedia says…Happiness is a mental or emotional state of well-being characterized by positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy.

And here, in no particular order,  are five things creating my personal state of well-being…ranging from contentment to intense joy!

1. Bird life is returning! We still don’t have leaves on the trees (they’re just starting to pop), but that’s almost better—I can see all the birds I hear. This morning we saw a Great Blue Heron land at the tippy top of a tall pine (it was pretty amazing). We also saw a Downy Woodpecker, a Pileated Woodpecker, and two days ago we saw a bald eagle (that’s not the royal we…by me I mean me and MEH—My Engineer Husband). The Ospreys have also returned to the coast of Maine and I’ve seen plenty of those. Along with the exciting, the usual cadre of robins, finches, juncos, chickadees, and gulls are out in full force.

2. And speaking of MEH, he’s back at work… definitely adding to my sense of well being (although I do miss him being around all the time).

3. I’m also learning to live with 24-hour supervision…how can this be good you’re wondering? I recently got a Jawbone UP. Like I said it’s been a long winter and I haven’t gotten nearly as much exercise as I should have. On top of that, I haven’t been sleeping too well. This handy hi-tech bracelet-gadget will hopefully help me by tracking my steps and sleep. It’s also a good way to remind me to not be quite so sedentary in my writing habits—I’ve set it so that it buzzes every 45 minutes to remind meto get up and move around for a while. Now that the ice is gone and the weather is a little warmer I can get outside and walk!

4. Instagram is my new social networking favorite. I’ve been snapping up a storm and (best of all) connecting with other photographers from all over the world. What a wonderful community! I’ve found the Maine group (#igersmaine) and one of my photos was already selected as an #igersmaine picture of the day (the one accompanying this post). I’m mostly enjoying the photos of horses, ranches, cowboys, and the open lands of the western United States because they’re providing inspiration for my WIP. But I’m also loving the photos from all over the world: Moscow, Nairobi, New Zealand, Australia, England…just to name a few. And I’m learning how to do timelapse videos which has been very cool (thank you @timelapse_California for all the help!). Oh… and I love the baby goats…because what’s not to love about baby goats? If you want to connect with me on Instagram, find me @juliamunroemartin.

5. The song “Happy” by Pharrell Williams. It’s on my iPhone’s “Feel Good Songs” playlist. The list is an eclectic mix featuring songs of Michael Buble, The Spiral Staircase, Darius Rucker, and Taylor Swift. Call me corny, but these songs really do lift my mood and make me feel more positive—which is one of my big resolutions for the year: focusing on the positive.

What’s making you happy this spring?

Cheers,

Julia

#SoLastYear

Earths

By Stephen Slade Tien, via Wikimedia Commons

During my end-of-year cleanup, I found an article I printed out a couple of years ago: Using Twitter to Tap into the Mood of the Planet. It got me thinking. In 2013, how much was I in step with the mood of Twitter…ergo the mood of the planet?

Here’s what I found out as I started digging.

On Twitter, the most followed account was @katyperry (she surpassed @justinbieber this year…who “dethroned” @ladygaga a year earlier). I do not follow Ms. Perry (nor the others) but more than 49 million Americans do, including 57 people I follow.

What about retweets? Of the 500 MILLION tweets sent each day, the most RT’d tweet last year—tweeted over 430,000 times—was one by Lea Michele (@msleamichele) thanking fans for their support after her boyfriend and co-star Cory Monteith died. I never saw that tweet until I started this post. However, I did see (but not retweet) the #2 most retweeted tweet—one in December that confirmed the tragic death of actor Paul Walker. That tweet was retweeted only slightly fewer times than Lea Michele’s (about 400,000).

I was 0 for 3.  I felt sad and unsettled to find out that the most RT’d tweets in 2013 were sad ones…did this mean the mood of the planet was sad? I wondered if it was true for other social media—so of course I had to search.

When I referred to “#2” in the above paragraph, I wasn’t talking about hashtags… rather, I was using # in the old school sense, but it does lead me to hashtags. Let me tell you, I searched and searched (for longer than I care to admit) but could not find the top Twitter hashtag of the year. During my search, I did find the top hashtag for Instagram: #love. And in my Google search for the #1 Twitter hashtag, I was directed to the top Google search trends…where I found the Google top charts and a short video about them. It also listed top searches—broken down into categories. In the first category—“top trending,” the #1 search was again Paul Walker. (I admit I did add to that particular statistic since I did a search for his name after his untimely death.) #2 on that list was Boston Marathon Bombing, which I also searched, actually more than once (my son was living in Boston at the time).

So, for Google and Instagram, I’m 3 for 3. Although I’m not on Instagram, I’m all in favor of #love…and it’s a happier emotion than portrayed on Twitter…so I’m in step with the mood of the Instagrammians (?) on this one.

At that point in my research I realized I was only half in sync with the planet…so I wondered: what about other parts of the Internet scene? Was I in tune or not? That’s when I got a little more aggressive in my searching. What about apps for example? Turns out the #1 App Download of 2013 was Candy Crush. I’ve never played that game on my iPhone or on Facebook—so again I was out of step. What about shared events on Facebook? I’m also not in sync with the most popular event talked about on Facebook: The Superbowl. I never “talked” about it or “liked” a share about it nor did I even watch it!

I started to feel a little nonplussed. I must spend ten hours a week on social media—was I really so out of touch…so different…I mean some of these things I’d missed completely on each of the platforms. I continued to search, and what I found next re-instated my belief that I am in step with the world, at least more than I thought: the “annual list of words to be banished from the Queen’s English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness” as kept for the past 39 years by Lake Superior State University. The top three words on that list are selfie, twerk, and hashtag…all of which I have heard of, do think are at least a bit overused, and yet I’ll admit here first that I have used 2 of the 3—online and even in casual speech—I’ll let you figure out which two. #embarrassing #ohno #YOLO

So what does this all mean? That I need to pay more attention? That I need to spend more time on social media? Or is it simply that I’m at least partially out of step with the planet—as proven by social media? Something I probably could’ve predicted based on the fact that often in my life I’ve been at least a little out of step with what’s hip…does anyone even say “what’s hip” anymore?

So…how’d you do with the mood of the planet? #comment #thanksforreading

#love