Goldfish attention spans don’t justify anything.

At least three times in the last two weeks, I’ve been in meetings where the infamous 8-second time span was cited when talking about the demographic and psycho-graphic “realities” of generations, including the infamous Millennials.

Specifically, the so-called statistic is that most people’s attention span has dropped to 8 seconds (sometimes less), down from 12 seconds just a few years ago. Even a goldfish has a longer attention span! Usually, it’s cited along with hand-wringing about how if a business is going to stay alive, they need to cater to this and figure out how to say what they need to say in mere moments.

Make everything bite-sized and completely digestible. Improve the app, shorten the video, and cheapen your message, just to get the eyeballs.

Here’s the problem. It’s a myth. Complete and utter myth. Every word of it.

The people over at the Ceros blog have done the full breakdown, if you would like to read it yourself. The short version:

  • The research barely measured what it claimed to measure.
  • The paper wasn’t peer-reviewed.
  • The whole thing was funded by Microsoft in order to help sell short interstitial ads.
  • Oh, and the research never actually measured length of attention span — that was a quote thrown in from an un-sourced online search.

Also, if you think about the logic of the statistic, it doesn’t make sense. The so-called generation of a short attention span is also the generation of several edition long series of books — Game of Thrones. Harry Potter. Hunger Games. Of Netflix binge watching. Of a constant side gig or side hustle that takes a ton of attention. Of programming complex and powerful programs. 

2016 Pew Research Center studies found that short and long form written articles tend to get similar numbers of readers, and the longer an article is, the longer readers tend to stick with it.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t know a single person who won’t spend hours Googling and researching and watching YouTube videos about whatever it is they are truly interested, excited, and passionate about. Give us three seconds of something intriguing and a hanging question, and we’ll dig in. Heck, that’s why clickbait works. If we got distracted that easily, we’d never click on headlines that ended with “you’ll never guess what happened next!”

Add on to all of this the additional fact that measuring attention spans is notoriously difficult, even before you get to defining what exactly an attention span really is. Or how the heck you measure a goldfish’s attention span.

So, what? The point is still valid, right?

That we’re all distracted as a matter of course. That it’s so much harder now to get someone’s attention, and we all need to just adapt a bit to make our messages easier to digest.

Nope. At least not in that form. This all smacks of another well-known and much rightly-mocked meme. “Millennials have killed …” Millennials haven’t killed whatever industry is being talked about today any more than attention spans are painfully low. It’s like complaining that petticoats are getting smaller, rather than looking at this newfangled women’s fashion trend called pants.

It’s never been a matter of dropping attention spans. It’s a matter of looking for a convenient excuse for what is difficult, or a shocking statistic to prove how different things are. For dealing with the pressures and challenges created by an environment. In many ways, environments created by changes made to deal with the assumptions about what someone wants. Tell us that attention spans are dropping, shorten your content, and then point to the shorter amount of time spent reading as justification for that change.

Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy.

There is more content more available to us now than there ever has been in the past. That means more decisions to be made every moment, and more competition for those decisions. Many of those decisions also feel more important, because we understand more thoroughly what kind of an impact they may have. Pile this on top of the very real decisions that comes as part and parcel of deep economic and social pressures, and of course decision fatigue comes in to play.

It’s not a matter of less attention available. It’s a matter of making sure that the point you are trying to communicate, the message you are creating, or the story you are trying to tell is something that piques curiousity. Something that has real relevance, not just something re-stated for the tenth time. Something based on anything other than assumptions. Something that highlights what you are uniquely awesome at and have a new idea, insight, or information about. Preferrably, something that respects the language someone speaks and the platform they choose.

In other words, something respectful.

Discussion Topic of the Day at 1,000

Crossposted at

In the last 208 weeks, I’ve asked my friends a thousand questions. Quite literally. Starting January 14, 2013, I posted a question to my Facebook page for no reason other than to get people’s opinions. The conversation was interesting, so the next day I did the same thing. And again. And continued asking a question intended to spark conversation every weekday thereafter.

In 1,456 days, I’ve asked 1,000 unique questions – and a few dozen duplicates. My little list of 380 or so Facebook friends have posted well over 10,000 comments engaging in discussion on topics ranging from ESP to love, comfort food to political office, and just about everything in between. I’ve got people on my friends list that cover the spectrum in just about every sense of the word, and I have never had to moderate or intervene to keep it civil.

I didn’t have a particular reason for starting this project, other than curiosity about what my friends thought about the things that really didn’t have any other reason to come up. In the beginning, it wasn’t even really a project, just a thing that I did.

In very late 2014, I pulled statistics for the first 500 questions and discovered some interesting tidbits — that the most controversial topic of those 500 was blood donation, for example. I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with the topics, but I did know I wanted to do something. Several incarnations of various projects were experimented with.

In 2016, I started A Thousand Things to Talk About, a podcast based on those questions. I went all the way back to the very first question and started there, offering 2-3 minutes, every weekday, of research into what was behind each topic, and still quite purposefully not offering my own opinion. I am more interested in what everyone else thought.

I also started pulling the list of questions – eventually each printed on an individual card – out at family events, networking soirees, and social gatherings. I’ve always learned something new and interesting, even about people that I’ve known for years. Previously awkward situations even started settling into respectful, intriguing group conversations I didn’t want to end.

Through 208 weeks, 1,000 questions, more than 10,000 comments, over 250 podcast episodes, more than 28,000 downloads, and lots of conversations, I’ve come to one big conclusion: questions are a key.

Research tells us (a phrase very familiar to anyone who listens to my podcast) that getting to know someone is about making a connection, listening, and identifying with them in some way, shape, or form. Every answer is a chance to engage in conversation with ourselves and others. Every conversation is a chance to develop empathy, understanding, connections, and networks.

To me, questions are a key. Not to any particular lock, but instead to our shared humanity, because they invite connection.

To me, questions are a key. Not to any particular lock, but instead to our shared humanity, because they invite connection. That’s been one of the best things about this particular project; watching social networks of otherwise unconnected people emerge and grow through a shared experience that wouldn’t have existed had someone not simply created space in which it was OK to share a small part of one’s self.

I don’t think questions will solve for world peace, or suddenly make us all perfect people. I do think that asking questions will almost always be a better place to start than making statements, and if my questions help grease a few of those conversational wheels, all the better. I will continue asking questions, professionally and personally, and look forward to what the next 208 weeks might bring.

All of which is really a lead up. In all truth, I’m curious: what’s the best question someone has ever asked you?

AAF Presentation: Facebook is a living room, Twitter is a cocktail party

Earlier this year, I was invited by the American Advertising Federation of Spokane to give one of the three speeches for their first-ever Pika Kucha style event. They modified the format slightly, asking for 20 slides for 30 seconds each and a presentation to go with them. I knew almost immediately what I wanted to talk about: a theory that I’d been working on for a while. Namely, what exactly the proper metaphor for many of the social networks out there might be.

One of the most common questions I’m asked (after “so what did you go to school for?”) when people hear that I do social media full-time is “so what exactly is Twitter about anyway?” I’ve puzzled out over the years that it’s easiest to explain by staring with a network that at least most people are passingly familiar with – namely, Facebook. And then relate it to something else they have passing familiarity with.

It’s an idea that makes explaining why crossposting isn’t a respectful social media strategy much, much easier. And it’s a way to explain the basic expectations of most social networks very simply.

What’s your favorite way to explain your preferred social media network?

When repetition isn’t respect: Why cross-posting is a counter-productive social strategy.

One of the things I love about working and living in social media all day, every day is that it’s a loose network of self-creating, self-moderating, communities of choice. Everyone who is on a social network chooses to be there. Reasons are their own, but the networks that make up “social media” build, thrive, and die on the emergence of community.

This emergence is a big part of the power of social networks. Each one has its own voice and its own feeling. The community and audience are one in the same, and when you’re engaging, you’re speaking to and with that community.

One of my deeply held beliefs is that respect is necessary for effective, human communication. Without respect, a relationship of any kind breaks down over time. A big part of respecting someone is respecting their choices, especially if you choose to engage with those choices.

On social networks, this respect means being aware. Aware of the choices that your community and audience have made in network, aware of the voice of the network, and aware of the desires of the community.

This respect is one of the reasons that whenever I discuss professional social media management, I argue – strongly – against direct repetition of content across networks. Posting the same thing at the same time in the same voice across all of your social media outlets may seem like an easy “hack” of the preponderance of networks that it feels like you “have” to be on, but in the end, it’s just disrespectful. It’s better to do one, two, or three social networks very, very well then to be on ten social networks, and disrespecting most of them.

This isn’t to say that occasional repetition should always be verboten. There are times such as special announcements, purposeful series, or emergency communications when it makes sense to post the same thing across multiple networks. Some networks are also very similar, and sharing similar content may be the best strategy, though even there it should be done with an element unique to that network. It’s never effective to post 20 hashtags to Facebook, but on Instagram, that can be smart.

However, as a day-to-day social media strategy, relying on posting the same images, memes, insights, information, or even announcement at the same time, in the same voice, with the same management just is not effective. It doesn’t respect the community you’re engaging with. And the community will notice. There’s technical reasons – the most effective times to post on LinkedIn are rarely the most effective times to post on Snapchat, for example. There’s also emotional reasons – if you are spraying the same content across multiple networks without any awareness, then you’re not giving someone a reason to engage with you on different networks. You’re telling them that their choice and their community are merely a copy and not worth respecting – so why should they put effort into engaging with you?

As a social media manager, content creator, or human being, you should be thinking holistically about your community and your audience. Your choices matter – and so do the choices of others. So respect those choices and put in the effort to manage social networks uniquely.

A Love Letter To My Pod

Valentine's Day 2014

Valentine’s Day 2014, done D&D right.

The word “family” has always been a flexible word. I happen to like the fact that “family” is very much a self-defined word, and every person has a slightly different context for it, but calling someone “family” is the near-universal language to share how important someone is in your life, and the details may be personal. As the oft-misquoted saying goes, blood is thicker than water, right?

I’ve never been someone that fit easily into a tribe. Even growing up, in my incredibly accepting and supportive family, I never seemed to quite fit. I found support, love, and passion in the theater, in public speaking, and in swim team, but even in all of these things I have very much been the odd one out. I was the theater tech geek who wanted to be on stage. I was the speech and debate nerd that wasn’t a political science major. I was the fat girl in athletics. I was dating a woman while at a Catholic college. I am bisexual, a sexual orientation that is oft overlooked in the queer spectrum. I could continue to list all the ways I am “different,” but what it really comes down to is that, like most people, I’m a compilation of a thousand wonderful, beautiful contradictions that somehow add up to a complete whole that doesn’t quite easily fit into any pre-defined mold.

Yet somehow, in a very slow process that’s been happening over the last decade, a family has developed. I sometimes call myself “lucky” for my family, even though I know there have been hundreds of tiny little decisions that have added up to the reality I am living in now. Explaining what, exactly, these decisions were, however, has proven almost impossible — with the caveat that it probably has something to do with Spokane Public Radio and turning around one night to attend theater auditions. Point being, though, that the sum total result of millions of factors have resulted in a chosen family that I completely and utterly adore.

I adore my chosen family not only because every single one of the people I include in this group is completely and in their own way, awesome; or because they accept me fully for who I am. It’s not even the fact that we all call ourselves “the Pod” (even though we do, half jokingly), for lack of a better term. It’s because even though we form a semi-cohesive Pod Unit, we are all still independent individuals. I would love and care for and adore and call every one of these people “family” separate from my relationships with the others, and the fact that we can be a chosen family together is icing on the cake. I love that it is without question (but with lots of communication) that we are there for each other, be it harvesting oats, fixing broken toilets, or staying up until all hours of the night sharing secrets at conversational tone that we never thought we’d be comfortable whispering to another soul.

Each one of these people has come into my life, and our shared lives, differently. We’ve stuck it out together through changes in our family, ourselves, and our lives that we never saw coming. We’ve been there for each other through the joys, through the sorrows, through the New Project Energy and the depths of depression.

Each one of the members of my Pod is creative, energetic, passionate, enthusiastic, unique, challenging, inspiring. There is chaos, uncertainty, friction, communication, breakthroughs and slogs. I also have complete trust that should one of us make a decision that the Pod was not the healthiest choice for themselves, that decision would be respected.

I suppose this is part of why the idea of family is so important to me. While it’s been said that “blood is thicker than water” for well over 300 years, the origin of the saying is that “the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.” I may not share a few specific pieces of familial DNA with my pod, but that fact, to me, strengthens our bond, for it’s a choice we all make constantly, daily, and completely. Our love, respect for, and encouragement of one another does not diminish or lessen the amount of care, compassion, love, and support in the world. It is my honest and sincere belief that our love for one another creates more room in our little slice of the Universe for even more to be found. Our expression of these feelings may take different forms, but above all that expression is both honest and respectful.

So yes, chosen family. I love you. I am in love with you. Most importantly, thank you. For making the choice to be yourselves, to be independent, and for choosing to let me (and us) walk next to you and with you on your journey.

Reading List: We Are All Our Own Works in Progress

Unfinished Work

I’ve been wracking my brain for the last week trying to figure out how to complete a poem. Right now, it’s about 10 lines long, and I have been keeping it in my “works in progress” folder. Whenever I get something new in that folder, I tend to obsess over it for a few days, trying all kinds of directions to try and “finish” the poem.

That Works in Progress folder sometimes feels like it’s mocking me. For the last while, I’ve been trying to not get angry and frustrated with myself for all the works in that folder. And that Works in Progress has been taking on a new meaning for me. By not judging myself for having “too many” things in that folder, I’ve been realizing that a “Work in Progress” is far from something to judge myself harshly for. It’s the sign of work happening. It’s the sign that creativity is happening (something that, for a long time in the depths of my depression, had been hiding from me). In fact, having works in progress, to me, is a sign of life.

Works in progress need to be respected for exactly what they are and where they are. Their potentiality exists, but respecting them for what they might be instead of what they are seems like a path to insanity.

Brain Pickings: The Psychology of Your Future Self

Quoting philosopher Joshua Knobe and author Daniel Gilbert, Maria Popova’s always-thought-provoking Brain Pickings considers the question of present self and future self. The constant challenge of long-term planning — we are the people we are now, trying to guess what the people we are in the future might like.

Gilbert argues that we’re bedeviled by a “fundamental misconception about the power of time” and a dangerous misconception known as “the end of history illusion” — at any point along our personal journey, we tend to believe that who we are at that moment is the final destination of our becoming. Which, of course, is not only wrong but a source of much of our unhappiness.

I really like the idea of the end of history illusion — because the idea that someone is “done” or is “perfect” or that everyone reaches a point of being “complete” is something I’ve struggled with a lot. Like a poem that doesn’t quite feel right, constantly stressing over that incompleteness ends up making things worse. After we reach a supposed “finish line” we still need to wake up the next morning, after all.

The Fat Nutritionist: Real Food

And the fact that we are all works-in-progress and deserve the respect for that very effort is highlighted in a heart-wrenching way by Michelle, the Fat Nutritionist in her post about “Real Food”:

Right this minute, there is someone going through chemotherapy shopping at your grocery store, buying popsicles and ice cream to help their sore mouth, and worrying what the cashier is going to think.

There is someone on hemodialysis buying white bread instead of whole wheat, trying to keep their phosphorus levels reasonable between appointments and hoping for the best.

There is a person attending intensive outpatient treatment for their eating disorder who has been challenged by their therapist to buy a Frappuccino.

There are dietitians picking up a dozen different candy bars to eat with their clients, who feel ashamed and guilty about enjoying them.

There is someone who just doesn’t have it in them to cook right now, and this frozen pizza and canned soup will keep them going.

There are people recovering from chronic dieting and semi-starvation who are buying chocolate and chips at their deprived body’s insistence.

All around us are people listening to what their bodies need and attempting to make the best possible choice within a context of overwhelming food pressure. All of their choices are valid, and every single one of these foods is “real.”

It is not a coincidence that the foods popularly imbued with “realness” map so cleanly onto class-related ideas of healthy, high-status food.

Everyone deserves respect and kindness from others, and almost more importantly from themselves. That respect and kindness, sometimes, can be very difficult because it involves standing up for yourself, which sometimes doesn’t feel kind. However, unless you show kindness and empathy and respect for yourself, then showing it to others can become draining, because unless your own needs are met, you don’t have a chance to rebuild enough energy for others.

Meghan Tonjes F.A.T.: Love isn’t Unconditional

And Meghan Tonjes, who I am a constant fangirl of, makes some extraordinary points about this in this F.A.T. video, where she points out that it’s better to “give people the benefit of the doubt that they are doing the very best they can.” In this same video, she highlights how incredibly important it is to treat yourself with that same kindness and benefit. As she puts it,

“You never feel like you have to stick by something … that doesn’t serve you on your journey to being a healthier person.”

“Love isn’t unconditional. Love thrives on the condition that you treat me with respect.”

At the end of this video, I wanted to stand on my chair and high-five this beautiful woman. Being a work in progress doesn’t mean you are required to stunt your journey for others. Responding authentically includes being willing to cut someone out that simply is not healthy for you.

Jill Malone: Four Agreements

And finally, we return to Jill Malone. In her post Four Agreements, Jill lays out how important it is to not protect someone from their journey. The entire short post is worth a full read, but here’s the conclusion:

My life is easier when I don’t attempt to decipher the behavior of others. If I have questions I’ll ask. If I’m curious I’ll engage. But I’m not here to save anyone, which is lucky, because I can’t.

Embracing the Work in Progress

A work in progress is just that — not finished. As human beings, I believe we all have a right to learn from our experiences, and treat ourselves and others with respect. A big part of this is being willing to embrace with open arms that we make mistakes, we can’t figure some things out, and that we are worth respecting ourselves. Like the poem that just isn’t quite finished, it’s a sign of life, a sign of respect, and a daily practice of self-care to care for ourselves first.

The Power of Your Story

In a system where data-driven is the lifeblood of business, of corporations, of education, of communication, a story provides personalized color and context. It is less stripped-down, less numerically based and less “big picture important” than the data-driven approach. The story fills in the data that humanizes numbers.

We are all a collection of labels — the things we identify as what makes us “us” — but those labels are nothing more than chapter headings. What creates excitement and interest and power in those labels is the story that tells how they fit together and solve the seeming conflicts. Labels can be limiting — stories can be liberating. Though the opposite can be true and freedom can found in adopting a label, it is the part that label plays in the story of you that creates that space.

Knowing one another’s stories takes effort and takes a willingness to be vulnerable. That vulnerability, in small groups and communities, develops naturally. With groups that know us well, labels become less necessary, because context comes built-in. The further outside our built communities we get, the more important and less precise these labels become.

Reclaiming your story is a huge part of defining who you are, and who you might want to be. Informational and aspirational. The data provides the structure that, in practice, becomes a measure of the authenticity of a story.

A story will always be told. Always. We often crave a fill-in to the labels that we see, perceive, or believe exist. When a story is not provided, we create one. The stories will always be understood in ways that can be perceived by the person hearing (or creating) the story. Knowing a story will always be told, and that vacuum of space between labels will crave filler, telling and reclaiming and claiming your own story is a process not only of self-definition, but also a process of self-discovery that asks us to figure out how we fill in that space for ourselves.

Trying to tell someone else’s story when you do not know it means that you are filling in details as you understand them, details based on your perceptions and ideas. Telling someone else’s story means making assumptions about them.

Telling your own story, though, is a beautiful, powerful, and liberating thing. Owning your story means being willing to live in your own skin, with all of the changes and flexibility and resilience and experimentation that involves. It means being willing to try on different things, see how they fit, keep what works, and change what doesn’t. It means owning that experimental period in college, your terrible taste in music during middle school, all of the choices and experiences that add up to you.

When you are willing to tell your story, even in limited contexts to limited audiences, even to just yourself, then it’s a willingness to not make assumptions about yourself. To define what your own labels mean to you. When your internal space between labels has already been filled, then the story someone else tries to tell about you can have less impact, and the fewer assumptions they have to make. It seems like a path towards creating a more authentic interaction for everyone.

Reading List: “No” Is A Complete Sentence

In my wanderings around the web, I often find myself in themes and topic areas that end up tying together in interesting ways. This is a compilation of the blogs, books, and reading around a particular topic and my thoughts connecting them.

Photo by Ariel G on Flickr, via Creative Commons.

A question of consent and self-determination

The interplay between self-determination and consent culture has been on my mind, which has been playing out in my reading. The idea of consent (or enthusiastic consent) have proven very sticky wickets, because, frankly, the bright line between “yes” and “no” get very grey — not because “no” is ever grey — no means no means no — but because what all might be a “yes”, assumed, believed, implied, or spoken, gets complex when mixing together social, personal, and interpersonal.

Clear, unequivocal consent is the gold standard — the enthusiastic “YES!”. What it takes, in one’s own head and one’s own daily patterns of action, to have the self-determination to speak up in either direction, is where that kind of consent culture must begin.

Jill Malone: Mine

Let’s start with Jill Malone, one of my very favorite authors and bloggers out there. In her post “Mine”, Jill discusses in beautiful detail the kind of unintional predator-prey relationship that a lack of boundaries can create, and what it takes to stand up to that.

“I get to say what my terms are. And I get to change them whenever I want to. I can stop you in the middle. I can stop you before you’re through the doorway. I can stop you years from now. You need my consent to have a relationship with me, and you need my consent at every level of intimacy.

I didn’t always know that. And once I learned it, it was hard to employ consistently without feeling like a dick. I belong to myself. That is all. I am my own. You’re just visiting, and you have to be invited. This isn’t just the way I finally learned to date, it’s also the way I finally learned to love.”

Captain Awkward: Dating an Atheist

That boundaries issue, and the challenging no-win type situations that trying to set those boundaries can create, are explored in this great Captain Awkward post.

“know that there is no perfect feel-good way to say “BOUNDARIES!” to people who are trammeling yours”

Which the Captain then points out that even when setting those boundaries, there are some people that may just not want to accept those that you set.

“With this group, it sounds like WHATEVER you say that is not “Oh yes you’re right thank you so much for your kind concern, I will do what you say immediately” will be taken as a) the HEIGHT of rudeness and b) proof positive that this boyfriend is a bad influence on you and that they are right to try to separate you.The game is sort of rigged so that if they win if you break up with him, they win if you go all out trying to convert him, and they win the longer they get you to pay attention to them and the more you try to convince them that he’s great, because it gives them the illusion that you care about their opinion about this and that they have power in this arena. Any of those outcomes validates the idea that they were right to speak up.”

And this kind of no-win situation, where any response is one that validates the opinion of the person expressing it, is one where the person expressing / touching / acting shows little respect for the idea that your boundaries are valid. It’s tough to not feel like a dick in that situation, because they’re the ones imposing their reality, and the social contract says we should adjust to match others as much as we can.

Captain Awkward: Splitting the Bill

And sticking with the Captain, how that disrespect of your right to have an opinion is further higlighted in the post about trying to split the check with the in-laws, where the Captain points out how this kind of no-win situation gets set up:

“You say they are “sensitive,” aka, easily offended, which it sounds like they wield as a manipulation tool. Let’s break this down, shall we? They repeatedly act like total clods, leaving you to pay their tab, and then they are the ones who are offended if you bring it up? … And you are sort of …not allowed…to get offended yourself at their behavior? They are taking advantage of the social contract that says it’s rude to call attention to rude behavior, and deliberately trying to make it emotionally expensive for you to challenge them so they can keep enjoying the status quo where you take on the entire financial and emotional burden.”
“Only you and your husband can decide what feels right, just know: It will never change on its own. They will never get it on their own. Hints do not work, they just create a sea of plausible deniability for clueless and malicious people to swim around in.”

That sea of plausible deniability is one that is easy to swim in. Not actively looking for enthusiastic consent and/or assuming consent takes standing up to, not just hoping it will change.

Persephone Magazine: Beauty Therapy and Consent culture

How often many people (and often women) do not feel that speaking up is their right, or feel that speaking up is not “worth it” gets highlighted by P-Mag’s great short piece about just shutting up and taking one for the so-called team:

“All of us – all of us – had stories about how, in the course of some treatment that we willingly undertook to look or feel better, the person doing the treatment touched us somewhere we weren’t expecting; touched us intimately; made us physically uncomfortable; hurt us or injured us. And none of us said a word at the time.”

Militant Baker: Why We’ve Learned To Hate Ourselves

Building the kind of culture where individuals don’t feel that the self-determination exists to say “YES!” or “No”, even in situations where they supposedly have all the power, becomes an in-depth discussion from the Militant Baker’s history lesson on self-hate, where she talks about exactly where this fear of providing or removing conset comes from.

“Fear can be a healthy response and is necessary for some forms of survival; we do inherently have fight or flight for a reason. But our hatred (which is fundamentally fear) of bodies that look different is learned. Its a scheme created by wealthy men in smoke filled offices over 50 years ago. Allow me to ask you this: are you going to let your value as a human decrease because of a business man who is no longer alive? Are you going to base your decisions on how you live your life on a profit scheme? Are you going to hate yourself for not living up to a standard that does. Not. Exist? Lord, help us all.”

When She Woke

The self-defeating nature of what comes from this fear is succinctly put in the great book When She Woke by Hillary Jordan, which I picked up at random while wandering through Powell’s Books clearance section.

“She was thinking about shame… what had carrying all that guilt and self loathing accomplished? Nothing, except to sap her confidence and enfeeble her. And she couldn’t afford to be weak, not if she wanted to survive. No more, she resolved. She was done with shame.”

And while I don’t necessarily agree with the idea that weakness has no place, I do have to say I grok with the idea that a deep sense of self-determination is extraordinarily important.

Elephant Journal: Can Polyamory Help Destroy Rape Culture?

Coming full circle, to what happens when a culture values speaking up and providing clear, consistent, and enthusiastic consent is discussed by Tikva Wolf writing in the Elephant Journal, when she talks about one of the biggest necessities in functioning, ethical non-monogamy — making consent and communication expected and sexy.

“I used to think that stolen kisses were sexy, but now I see them as a sign of emotional immaturity and dissociation. I would much rather my partners be obviously interested in what I want than trying to see what they can get out of me. I would much rather be telling them what I want than waiting for them to guess.”

Explanation is Intimacy?

And while there are thousands more blogs, posts, stories, movies, and discussions out there about this expansive and important topic, I think the most important point made is this: that consent is a two-way street. Having the self-determination to actually stand up and express and opinion is the biggest piece of that. Respecting other’s ability to do so, and their opinions when they are expressed, is the other side. If no means no (as it should), then yes must mean yes. Both “no” and “yes” should be treated as complete sentences, because any further discussion beyond that is allowing someone else a level of intimacy that you have the right to consent to — or not.

Playing Catch-Up With Slow Time

This house does not have “history” in that deep-time, thick sense that a house hundreds of years old has. It doesn’t ooze history out of its walls and have hidden nooks and crannies with generations of stories. What this house does have, though, is a history that we know, comparatively, well. We are the 4th owners of the home. The home was built and landscaped by an arborist, who placed all of the plant life that we fell in love with. It was then bought by a couple that put in and stocked the shop. When half of that couple passed away, the shop was closed and (I think) rarely opened, and the maintenance of the house fell by the wayside. Then the gentleman we bought it from bought the house, with every intention, I think, of caring for the property, but age and medical problems intervened.

There are a lot of reasons, but the end result is that some parts of this property hasn’t been cared for, in some ways at all, in 5-10 years. Since it was built 34 years ago, that’s a pretty significant chunk of its life. So we’re playing catch-up with the very real impact of the slow march of time.

In some places, taking care of the problem is comparatively easy — trimming a few trees, taking out brush and undergrowth, repairing the stretched wire on a fence that is coming apart. The bigger challenge is in seeing, deciding on, and then accepting that there are some places where the damage has simply been done. It may have started as something that was supposed to be helpful. In fact, in most places, the damage started as something very positive — a piece of wire to prop up a brand-new sapling, plastic put down to keep the weeds at bay just long enough for things to get established, a watering system put in with the intention of keeping the ground alive. Like many things in life, every intention was positive, and for a while, it really was helpful.

Frayed Support
The challenge comes when emergence begins to take over. What was intended to be helpful is not constantly re-evaluated and adjusted to match current needs. What was supposed to make things easier gets worn at the edges and the plan is to dedicate time and energy to fixing it tomorrow. Something breaks, and fixing the immediate problem takes precedence over deciding if the break is an indicator of a larger problem. No matter what the reason, sometimes what worked wonderfully for a while becomes a hindrance.

For many of our trees, that emergence soon became a hindrance, which then became a scar, and is now well on its way to being healed over. For injuries that are not attended to eventually become a part of our fabric. So, for many of our trees, the steel cables and plastic hose that once propped them up and helped them grow now hang out of trunks, helpless but caught in the wood. We could try and exorcise the rough metal from the wood, but the two have become so intertwined that doing so could involve sacrificing a large part of the tree itself. We leave the cables there rather than cutting them to the quick — it may mean that the tree has more to grow in and around, but it also provides a reminder that, should that tree require deep pruning or cutting in that area, that there is more than simple wood hidden under the bark.

So instead, like the tree slowly enveloping the steel cable, it’s a process of acceptance. The tree is beautiful not only for the fruit and shade and life it provides, but the proof that no matter what the scars we may all carry and no matter how long we wait to address them, we can still be ourselves — just with a few frayed steel cables sticking out at odd angles, reminding us to tend the structures we create and never be afraid to adjust what was once necessary to prop us up.

Spring’s Creative Destruction

Cherry Blossom
When we moved in to this house last year, it was at the very tail end of fruit season, and we knew there was a lot of work to be done. Now that winter is pretty solidly shaken off, we’re getting the chance to really dig in and see what’s going on.

The grape vine had grown up into, and then pulled down, a 14 foot arborvitae along our back fence.

The grape vine had grown up into, and then pulled down, a 14 foot arborvitae along our back fence.

And what we’ve found is – a lot more than we expected. There are a couple of groves of chokecherries that have grown up and around behind the shop and garage. Cherry tree saplings have popped up just about everywhere, many of them in and around fences, other trees, and buildings. We’ve been doing a lot of cutting down, clearing out, and trimming back. It’s a lot of destruction during a season of what would usually be bursting at the seams with growth.

At the same time, it’s all creative destruction. In addressing the huge overgrowth of honeysuckle and chokecherries, we discovered a grape vine that is much, much, much older and larger than we first thought. In plowing up the vegetable garden bed, we discovered a raspberry patch that’s thriving, healthy, and spreading like crazy. A single puff-tail rabbit seems to want to call our yard home, and we’ve planted extra leaf lettuce near where we see him in an effort to keep him away from the rest of the vegetables.

The quince bush that appeared thorny and dead is now covered in blooms that have attracted droves of hummingbirds. There are even about 150 snap pea plants poking up out of the soil; we expected the old seeds to germinate at a much lower rate, but this just means we’ll have plenty of peas.

RhubarbAnd, like a promise of that soon-to-be summer, the rhubarb is showing dark, curly green leaves and bright red stalks. The stringy, fruity vegetable is incredible to dip directly into a cup of sugar. Sitting on the porch while the setting sun shafts through the trees, reading a familiar book and relaxing with friends, makes all the work worth it. The acid from the rhubarb tastes sharp, bright, almost overwhelming on my tongue… just like the beautiful, creative destruction of spring.