“Go look at the moon.”

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The other night, I was walking with Gemma. I got to the top of the street and looked up to see the full moon in the sky above me. I audibly gasped. Or yelped. Then started walking back home. By the time I walked through the front door, I was uncontrollably sobbing.

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My dad died. My dad died over Christmas.

It has been a whirlwind of activity since. Travel. Visitation. Burial. Lots of decision-making. Lots of things to take care of. And all the phone calls. My father had so many friends–every time I look through his contact list, I find another name to call and share the sad news.

There are lots of things I want to say about my dad (good thing I have a blog). He could talk to anyone anywhere about anything with genuine interest and could work a room without being “on.” He was particularly sentimental, and could be as easily moved by a church hymn as by a Carolina Panthers win. He had a soft spot for dogs, and any four-legged creature that entered his house risked being spoiled rotten. He had a love and respect for history, and his bookshelf is lined with tomes about Roosevelts, Kennedys, and Europe in World War II. (I think there’s an Edward Rutherfurd novel among the mix, but that’s almost the same, isn’t it?)

He was a private man–I’m likely sharing more here than he’d want folks to know–but he always opened his home and heart to friends and family. He could be opinionated–a dominant gene–but he was also amazingly informed and deep. One of my favorite memories is, as a teenager, sitting with him by a roaring fire in December. I’m on the couch wrapped in an old blanket while he sits cross-legged on the floor. We spend the next several hours talking about everything—life and history, spirituality and politics, insights of our past and hopes for the future—until the clock strikes four in the morning and the glowing embers die out. Clearly, this apple doesn’t fall far from the existential tree.

He and my mom split when I was only five and our time together was limited to weekends and later, after he moved down South for his work, school breaks and holidays. We learned how to make the most of it. Quality time over quantity time, we’d say. The telephone became our lifeline and every single day after school, I’d dial his 800-work-number and tell him about my day. Even as an adult, I rarely went a week without speaking to him.

When I was little and he dropped me off at my mom’s after our weekend together–the rite of most kids of divorce–he’d say to me, “Go look at the moon. It’s the same moon I’ll be looking at.” It meant that, even as the miles divided us, he was as close as looking up, that I wasn’t alone. It’s a phrase and action we returned to again and again over the decades, even when I grew up and moved with my husband to New York City. Especially then.

So, looking up at Thursday’s bright and beautiful Wolf Moon, it was the first time I saw the moon without my dad on this planet to look at it too. It will be the first of many moons I see without him. I lost my breath at the thought. All the busy-ness of the past couple weeks ground to a halt and grief finally had its chance to push through. The tears fell faster than I could catch them.

I suspect that grief is not something I work through; it will work itself through me. It’ll pop up when I least expect it–seeing a photograph, sitting at a stop light, hearing a song, or doing absolutely nothing–flooding me with emotions and tears and maybe, one day, smiles. But, as my dad often reminded me, it’s good that we miss people. It means they’re important to us. It means that we love them. And I know I will miss my dad very, very much.

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The Real Deal

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Patti Smith is the real deal. She’s one-of-a-kind, original. An innovator, a trailblazer. She is authentic. Last week, the singer, in all her authenticity, graced the Nobel ceremony in Sweden as it honored Bob Dylan with the prize for Literature. Dylan himself didn’t make the event (maybe he had Hamilton tickets?), so Ms. Smith came in his stead and performed a devastatingly beautiful, emotional, and timely rendition of Dylan’s 1963 song, “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.”

And what did you hear, my blue-eyed son?
And what did you hear, my darling young one?
I heard the sound of a thunder that roared out a warnin’
Heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world
Heard one hundred drummers whose hands were a-blazin’
Heard ten thousand whisperin’ and nobody listenin’
Heard one person starve, I heard many people laughin’
Heard the song of a poet who died in the gutter
Heard the sound of a clown who cried in the alley
And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

A verse or two in, she started to falter and then stopped singing altogether, as the guitar kept time. The song got away from her. It’s a fear of every performer. “Going up,” they call it. Maybe she forgot the lyrics. Maybe she lost her place on the music. Maybe she was unexpectedly overwhelmed by the prestige of the event. Maybe she was taken in by Dylan’s haunting words.

Then she said, “I’m sorry. I apologize, I’m so nervous.”

It was a moment that was precious and honest and unguarded. It was devoid of the gloss and polish that have become the currency of our auto-tuned culture. What she knows, how she sings, can’t be taught in music school. She isn’t here for “perfect.” She is here to crack you open.

I use to think being authentic meant not giving a fuck about what other people think. But Patti, who clearly wanted to do a good job for the crowd, proves that isn’t true. Then I thought it’s about being vulnerable. But I’ve had days where my mascara ran down my face for all to see as I cried on the subway—maybe you have, too; it only meant I had a bad day, not necessarily an authentic one.

Maybe there is no right answer, but, to me, it seems like authenticity comes from a willingness to be vulnerable. Being open to getting up in front of people when you have stage fright. Being open to admitting we need help. It’s laughing at ourselves when we get too serious or dropping the facade of “perfect” in the company of others. It’s writing when we think no one will read it or hitting “publish” even when the words don’t always come out right.

When Patti copped to being nervous, the audience of nobles, artists, scientists, and intellectuals didn’t boo or hiss. They didn’t storm out or demand their money back because she made a mistake. No, they applauded in support and maybe exhaled with relief with the knowledge that even a legend gets jitters. How amazing that we can still celebrate and be humbled when we see authenticity standing right in front of us! And, in her willingness to show her vulnerability, she gave permission for others to show theirs. Soon, tears streamed down the faces of women in tiaras and men in white tie. In a moment when she failed to be perfect, she shared an exquisite truth about authenticity. And the result is perfection.

And what’ll you do now, my blue-eyed son?
And what’ll you do now, my darling young one?
I’m a-goin’ back out ‘fore the rain starts a-fallin’
I’ll walk to the depths of the deepest black forest
Where the people are many and their hands are all empty
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters
Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison
And the executioner’s face is always well hidden
Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten
Where black is the color, where none is the number
And I’ll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it
And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it
Then I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin’
But I’ll know my song well before I start singin’
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

Giggin’

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“Sometimes…I miss performing.”

I was having lunch recently with an old friend, an actor currently onstage in an off-Broadway musical. We had performed community theatre shows together decades ago, and it’s wonderful to see him doing what he loves—on Broadway, regionally, and in national tours. I suddenly found myself wistful for the days I used to do plays and musicals, and I told him as much.

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“You can still perform,” he replied. “There’s always something out there to do. It doesn’t have to be on Broadway.”

“Maybe one day,” I said, and sheepishly backed away from my original statement.

Sure, there was the ukulele showcase and the impromptu one-off. But these moments have been few and far between. Life gets in the way. There’s commuting to the office, walking dogs, making dinner, running to Costco, doing laundry, catching up on Outlander—all what the kids today call “adulting.” It’s hard to head out to a rehearsal on a weeknight when you can barely stay awake past 9:30.

Plus, in this era of celebrity and competition shows, it can feel like there’s an infinite number of people trying to gain access to a finite number of opportunities or that any of those people are better than you. It’s easy to forget the only requirement to do something is to simply, well, do it. Don’t wait to be an actor, act. Don’t wait to be a singer, sing. Don’t wait to be a writer, just write.

I took my friend’s philosophy with me to our local watering hole recently when my guitar-playing friend, Alan Brace, and I played our first gig as AB,CD.

 

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A half-hour and eight songs later, we’d made our North American debut. That we were even there was part-fluke. Sure, Alan and I had met up a few times and worked on some tunes over the past year. But when my neighbor mentioned she was looking for someone to fill the early slot for a local gig she was organizing in a month, Hubs piped up, “Camille sings with her friend!” Opportunity knocked—or blurted—and I answered. Our “band” was booked on the spot, and the rest, as they say, became a blog post.

 

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The audience was extremely supportive—it helps that it was filled with mostly awesome friends and neighbors—but, best of all, I had my moment where I stopped longing to do something and simply did it. Sure, I could relay a thorough critique of performance jitters—where I was out of breath, where I was a little flat or sharp—but if you were in the audience, you probably didn’t notice or care.

 

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Photo credit: Jennifer Brown

 

Days later, I found myself onstage again (man, Opportunity sure is knocky!). This time as a reader for the Creative Writing Awards ceremony at Symphony Space in Manhattan (technically, on Broadway), which celebrated the writing of New York City public high school seniors. My company, which sponsors the event, put out the call for actors and I signed up without even thinking. In a quartet of seventeen- and eighteen-year-olds, I read No, a poignant piece by high schooler Keitha Clemon Duhaney that deals with the aftermath of sexual abuse. It was a true honor to interpret her words, and, for another moment, to feel back in my element.

 

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Photo credit: Paul D’Innocenzo

 

My actor pal was right: It doesn’t have to be big. You don’t have to be on The Voice to find validation. Your passion doesn’t need to be a make-or-break endeavor, (unless you want it to be). Do what gives you joy, what fills up your tank. Don’t wait around for “one day”—a lot of days pass while waiting for “one day” to show up. Invite friends over to read a Shakespeare play. Sign up for an open mike night in your town. Show off your juggling skills for your dogs.

Or you can even get together with your girlfriends for three-part harmony right in your own backyard.

 

 

What do you want to do? What are you waiting for?

The Ways and Means to New Orleans

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“I got the ways and means
To New Orleans
I’m going down by the river where it’s warm and green
I’m gonna have a drink
And walk around
I got a lot to think about, oh yeah…

This go ‘round, the “drink” was iced chicory coffee, an earthy compliment to the tower of billowy beignets and powered sugar designed to raise my A1C levels. The place? Café du Monde, an institution in the center of town.

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That’s right. We went about a month ago—our first trip!—and now Hubs and I know what it means to miss New Orleans. The Big Easy. The Crescent City. NOLA. Whatever you call it, make it a must-see on your itinerary. And be sure to bring a fork.

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Times Like These

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Tolkien quote

By now, you’ve probably heard about the terror attacks in Brussels, Belgium and the Turkish capitol of Ankara. It’s devastating, terrifying, and seems like affirmation that the world is in complete disorder. Most folks are are expressing condolences and concerns online. Some are decrying the bombers as “cowards.” Other voices are loudly calling for revenge.

I get it. Anger feels good. Anger feels powerful. Getting angry makes us feel like we’re in control, like we’re taking action. It’s “the American way.” What we don’t want to hear is that “anger” is just a self-righteously dressed up word for “fear”—fear of not getting what we want, fear of losing what we have. Yet reacting from a place of fear won’t solve the chaos we feel in our current divisive atmosphere. In fact, it’s playing right in to what terrorists are out to do: Divide us, disconnect us. As long as we keep trying to build walls or “carpet-bomb” ideologies or shut down borders to those fleeing danger, we’ll never achieve the stability so many of us say we want. Matching their hate with hateful reactions reminds me of the proverb, “He who seeks vengeance must dig two graves: One for his enemy and one for himself.”

There is so much to say, so much to process. It’s taken me two days to even find the words to put this post together. Sayings from Lao Tzu on softness, Thich Naht Hanh on compassion, or Mr. Rogers on “the helpers” come to mind. There isn’t enough bandwidth to make sense of it all. But I’ll share this: I once heard Marianne Williamson say of the 9/11 hijackers that “they were not cowards; they hated with conviction.” She then asked, who among us sent love into the world “with conviction?” None of us could say that we loved with absolute conviction. I still don’t always remember to do that, though I’ve never forgotten her point.

Those behind the atrocities in Brussels and Ankara must face and deserve consequences for their horrific deeds. Of that, there’s no doubt. But an angry, knee-jerk response on our part almost guarantees that days and times like these will happen again and again. We need to find another way. We need more than thoughts and prayers.

Just hours after the incidents, the people of Belgium were outside writing messages of peace on their streets. Do we have the conviction to do the same?

 

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Mofo FOMO

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By the time you read this, chances are, enrollment for Marie Forleo’s B-School will be over and done. I know that because I keep getting email from her and her friends nearly every day, sometimes twice a day. I don’t mind them. I like them. They are filled with wonderful ideas–starting your own business, becoming an entrepreneur, using your authentic self to create success. And, come the deadline, I will most likely–highly likely–feel woeful for not signing up. I imagine that’s the first lesson of B-School: Make people feel like they’ll miss out.

That isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s probably the best way to garner your audience. And Forleo has a big audience. I know I was salivating at the mouth to join her entrepreneurial seminar and I have no idea what I want to “preneur!” (She even has an answer for that!) She’s extremely good at what she does and her team hit me right where I live: Fear of missing out, or FOMO.

 

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Lunch Time

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He just showed up one day–the creature prowling around the front yard of our house, then the neighbors house, then back to us. We’d see him up the street, down by the park, in our backyard. It’s not unusual to see feral cats in the neighborhood, especially since we’re out walking the dog several times a day. They don’t bother us; they run away if we get too close. But not this guy. He’d actually walked closer to us. He came when we called him. This guy was different.

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Tennis, Anyone?

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I can’t say for certain what sparked it. Maybe it was the over-the-counter allergy medication I started taking. Maybe it was the warm fall day or my approaching birthday. Maybe it was the new moon or the sun moving in Libra. No matter what it was, almost overnight, I was beset with the urge—the need—to play tennis.

On an ordinary Wednesday night, I grabbed my tennis racquet and shouted, “Let’s go!” before heading out the door for the nearby tennis courts. Hubs was obliging. After all, I couldn’t play by myself. So for the next thirty minutes, I hit the ball—mostly into the net—with a ferocity I hadn’t felt in ages. “I got a demon in me,” I repeated over and over like a mantra. By the time we got home, the demon had fallen back asleep. She would wake again the next night. And the night after that.

Must. Play. TENNIS!!

Must. Play. TENNIS!!

In my entire life, I’ve only had a marginal interest (and less aptitude) in the sport on the court. I played doubles on the tennis team in 9th Grade and won a total of ZERO games (apologies to my doubles partner, Nicole—it’s wasn’t you, it was me). Even as an adult I rarely picked up a racquet—and when I did, it was my Prince Jr., made with a smaller grip for kiddie hands, I’ve had since I was twelve. I could hardly be called athletic and I wasn’t even remotely competitive. And yet, now, the feel of smacking a fuzzy ball over a net with as much force as I could muster seems as satisfying as eating a Reuben sandwich. (Yeah, that good!)

The “Demon” showed after work like clockwork. We’d walk the dog, get dinner ready, then head out, making sure to pick the court furthest away from the “pros.” No need to embarrass myself just yet. After only three nights, I noticed I was getting better. My backhand was tighter and my forehand improved considerably, especially after I asked Hubs how to hold it. (I mean, the racquet, ya pervs.) I was quicker on my feet, volleys got longer; I was even out of breath—“exercising,” I believe they call it. I felt a deep, if delusional kinship with Serena. I factored in how many games I could get in before the tennis courts closed in December. I mentally tallied up the cost of new shoes and winter workout gear. I checked for nearby indoor facilities.

And it wasn’t just the novelty of hitting a ball over a net. I felt plugged into something. I could see deep lessons in how I could control the ball instead of reacting to it, how my shots got weak when I lost focus, how I could move myself towards the most advantageous spot instead of letting the ball pass me by. I grew quiet and contemplative when I played. This is more than a sport, I thought, this a map to living. When I asked Hubs, “Do you notice that I hardly even talk when I’m playing tennis?,” he replied, “Why do you think I keeping heading out there with you every night?”

All day, err day

All day, err day

A week later, the night of my birthday, Hubs and I went out to dinner instead of hitting the court. No worries, I told myself as I checked the next day’s weather report and contemplated the mechanics of a “slice.” But at five o’clock the following morning, I awoke and felt a sharp pain in the ring finger of my right hand. In fact, the entire finger had become nearly immobile and curled up. I was half-asleep, but conscious enough to use my left hand to snap my finger straight. Within moments, mobility returned and the pain subsided, and, logically (my logic), I played tennis the next night. I was certain that my finger cramp and my tennis game were unrelated.

A visual approximation

A visual approximation of my finger cramp

The next few weeks were a succession of splints or wrapping my finger as I slept. My primary care doctor had no clue was what wrong and sent me a link on “tennis elbow.” My chiropractor prescribed hot water soaks. I eventually allowed a teeny-tiny possibility that tennis may have aggravated, if not caused, this condition and stayed off the court. I felt terribly impaired; I couldn’t even snap my fingers to order the Beast back into the house. The Demon grew surly and scattered. All the nuggets of wisdom I’d found on the court were suddenly lobbed out of the picture (bad tennis pun intended). When, after almost two courtless weeks, I awoke in the middle of the night with the same cramped and painful tendon flare up, I…well…I said, “Screw it! Let’s play!” and went back to playing tennis that night.

By now, I’d Googled enough symptoms and went to a specialist to confirm my worst fear: I have Trigger Finger. It’s a thing. An actual malady, not just something Yosemite Sam gets over protecting his gold. In short, the passageway for my finger’s tendons has narrowed due to inflammation, limiting dexterity. I’d first heard about the condition years ago, when a friend shared that her mother had it—only, her mother is from the Bronx, where it’s called “trigguh finguh.” It sounded terrible—okay, it sounded hilarious—and also like something I’d never, ever in my entire life want.

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While he couldn’t say with certainty what caused my trigger finger—the tennis only likely “triggered” the inevitable—the hand doctor told me that diabetics and the elderly are prone to getting it. I’m not diabetic…. He also told me there were two ways to fix it: An injection of cortisone and/or surgery. I worried, if that worst-case surgery scenario came to pass, I might never play the ukulele again. I got the shot and crossed my remaining functional fingers.

My boo-boo. Straight up.

My boo-boo. Straight up post-injection.

For now, my tennis career is on hold. “On the DL,” as they say, whoever “they” are. My season over (okay, the hand doc says I can play in a week). The Demon is, momentarily, too inconsolable to get worked up into a frenzy, tennis or otherwise. But, if experience tells me anything, it’s only a matter of time before the next obsession shows up. Watch this space.

Anyone ever have trigger finger? Itchy or otherwise? Or maybe a different absurd—not necessarily stomach-churning—malady you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments, and get well soon!

Unfriending Facebook

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“Facebook is down and everyone is freaking out about it on Twitter,” said Hubs the other day. I smiled and shrugged. I had no idea. You see, I hadn’t been on Facebook in weeks. Any news I got about the world–the GOP debates, the Pope, the fires out West, Joaquin–had come from, well, the news

It wasn’t my first Facebreak. A few years ago, I abstained for an entire weekend and patted myself on the back as though I’d finished a marathon. But any feelings of moral superiority were short-lived as I dove back into the time-sucking abyss of food pics, political rants and cat memes. Sure, Facebook has been great for keeping in touch with faraway friends and long-ago pals. And I’ve been able to entertain people with pics of the Beast. But FB has something to annoy everyone. Don’t believe me? Then I have a bridge in Farmville I can sell you.

This time, it wasn’t so much a lark as a necessity. I’m not saying I was an addict, but my borderline-obsessive Facebook scrolling had left me a resentful mess. I was spent from the absent-minded checking and rechecking of notifications. I was numb to the jumble of posts–ranging from joy to rage–that clogged my newsfeed. I was aching for connections that went beyond clicking “like.” I wanted something real. And it’s not just me. A 2013 study from the University of Michigan found that “rather than enhance well-being . . . Facebook use predicts the opposite result–it undermines it.”

The Facebreak Plan

My Man’s motto is, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” It wasn’t enough to just drop a bad (Facebook) habit cold turkey. I needed a to pick up a good habit to replace it, lest I get itchy and say “Well, just this one time” before finding myself posting my opinion on kale (IMO, it’s like Fenway Park: I like it, but I can’t stand the fans). I decided I would call a friend any time I got the itch*. To my amusement, a few friends were a little thrown when my number showed up on their caller I.D.

[*For you young folks, that’s using your smartphone to actually voice-speak to another person, preferably someone you like who is not trying to sell you a time-share.]

The second plan was to have a Facebreak buddy. My plans for logging off were met with countless responses of “I need to do that!” but only my BFF in Cali decided she would join me, which helped immensely. We checked in with each other most every day–like normal–to keep the “itch” at bay. “I’m having sweet tea and ribs and you’re the only one who knows! LOL,” I texted her. “At the beach and nobody but you is aware of that!” she’d reply.

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Lastly, I made sure to tell people I was going away for a little bit. It may seem a little presumptuous on my part, but I didn’t want my FB friends to worry that something bad had happened to the Beast. Let’s face it, the majority of them enjoy pictures of him the most. I’m completely fine with that.

The Digital Detox

The first week, I had a major case of “Facebrain”the neurological impulse to condense my life into pithy phrases, like “If you rearrange the letters in ‘Post Office,’ it spells ‘Hellmouth’,” or “Can we stop pretending that quinoa tastes good?” Still, though, I called a different friend everyday and began to find the connection I was looking for. The second week marked an uptick in my Instagram use–making the excuse is that it unleashed my “creative” side (yeah, right!). Then by week three, I was suddenly overcome with feelings of disconnection. My phone wasn’t ringing and the only emails I got were bikini wax Groupons. Thankfully, a text from a friend inviting me to lunch pre-empted a pity party. “How about tomorrow?” I responded, a little too eagerly, but grateful. As week four began, I noticed that my hunger to be in-the-know, validated, or “liked” had subsided considerably. Plus, I found I had all this free non-scrolling time to:

  • Start putting together a jigsaw puzzle IMG_20150830_180641
  • Paint a room
  • Repaint the room after realizing I didn’t like the color
  • Read Paolo Coehlo’s “The Alchemist”
  • Enjoy music on the lawn at Tanglewood
  • Browse a bona fied bookstore
  • Blog
  • Abandon the uncompleted jigsaw puzzle
  • Finish Brene Brown’s “Daring Greatly.”
  • Play dress-up with the dog IMG_20151001_174233
  • Clear out overgrown weeds from the backyard
  • Unpack boxes from last year’s move
  • Go to museums and look at art
  • Rearrange the guestroom
  • Do absolutely nothing
  • Try meditating
  • Try meditating again
  • Write in my journal nearly every day
  • Read all the “too long:didn’t read” articles I never seemed to have time for
  • Get my DVR down to 58% from 90%
  • Join a community clean-up 
  • Nap
  • Watch the sun set into the bay 20150923_184824

It’s Not FB, It’s Me

It’s been five weeks and I’m seriously debating whether or not it’s a good idea for me to go back. (Obviously, I think about Facebook way more than Facebook thinks of me–though, it thinks about me a little: I received a lot of “while you were away” emails and the FB Communications Manager followed me on Twitter.) If I do log on, things will have to change. Mostly, my expectations. I can’t get lazy again with my friendships, thinking FB will do all the legwork. Maybe you know exactly what I’m talking about. So, go do it. Pick up a phone and call a friend. Freak them out. And notice how good you feel when you hang up. And, remember, that any bridge to any real connection others with others doesn’t involve a password.

What are your thoughts on Facebook? What are your thoughts on connection in today’s digital world?