A New Year of Glad

Winter has officially closed its grip upon us here in the United States, making this the perfect time of year to catch up on reading that really long novel you’ve been meaning to read for so many years. If you’re an avid reader, you undoubtedly have one of those; a literary mega-tome that you keep hearing you should read, yet you just haven’t gotten around to it for one reason or another. Maybe it’s something classic by Tolstoy, or Proust; perhaps a more contemporary voice like Knausgaard.

For me, that “big book on my shelf I keep meaning to finally read” for years was Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. But that changed in 2009 when I finally made my way through the entire 1,000-plus pages thanks to a wonderful online reading group called Infinite Summer, which supported a community of readers making our way through the book all at the same time. Thanks to their combination of social media, community forums, and guest blog posts guiding readers through the book week by week, a novel that I may have left unfinished a third of the way through suddenly became a lot easier for me not only to finish, but to understand and become engaged with all the way to the end.

InfiniteJest cover

Now that we’re in book’s 20th anniversary year, I was thrilled to discover that a new group of talented and dedicated readers who appreciated Infinite Summer as much as I did are reviving the community for another go, this time as Infinite Winter.

I’m in for a second go at this, and I hope you will join us.

The plan is simple: read Infinite Jest with a few hundred of your closest friends with a goal of 75 pages per week from January 31 – May 2, 2016.

Of course, it’s not really quite that simple, because Infinite Jest is not a simple novel. But as I discovered the first time through, it’s the complexity of the book, and the mechanics involved in reading it, that actually make it such a great reading experience.

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photo by Chetan Menaria

Letting Go to Move Forward

I just had my last-ever meeting with my boss. She’s leaving our office  after 13 years of work in higher ed marketing for a big opportunity in a different industry and a different town. She’s taking a bold step, leaving behind an institution that not only helped shape her, but that she helped shape for others.

I’ve been trying to figure out how I feel about the whole thing and frankly I’m in a bit of a daze.

On one hand, I don’t blame her for leaving when she is. Our office and our campus have been on a very bumpy road this year, especially over the past few months. She stepped up to take on a lot for our team and was not rewarded well for her efforts. Combined with all the continued protests and negative vibes going around our campus, plus new leadership still just settling in and others vacancies still to be filled, I think her timing is actually probably perfect.

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Revised

This blog post has been revised at least eight times over the past week. Today is Friday, and I’ve been trying to maintain the discipline of posting every Friday whenever possible. But sometimes the thoughts I think I have to share at the beginning of the week revise themselves.

This started out completely different; a bigger, more complex idea with links to examples and images to embed and some kind of vaguely witty structure to link it all together. Sometimes it’s hard to think small.

But the more I write, the more I discover what it is I’m really trying to say, and all of a sudden I’m writing something very different than what I initially set out to do.

So this post has been revised. Updated in a lot of little ways, mostly deletions or small changes in the word usements I structure. Most of them you’ll never see unless I point them out.

But it’s a post. It’s some new content, something out of my brain and onto your screen. And more importantly, I shipped on time. I overcame the resistance, figured out how to not overthink it in the midst of so much else going on with my life, with my job, with my plans for the future.

I shipped. I met my goal. In the end, the only one who really cares about that goal is me. And sometimes the goal is revised.

Just like this post.

My HighEdWeb Tribe

How great would it be if we could be in two different places at the same time? If there was a time/space loophole that allowed you to be at work and stay on top of all the projects and tasks you need to get done, while at the same time another part of you got to be somewhere else, learning and exploring and growing, and hanging out with friends?

If I had the ability to be in two different places at the same time, one of me could still be in my office all of next week focused on one of the half-dozen major projects that have to get done; my other self would be flying to Milwaukee to learn and hang out with some of my favorite humans at the HighEdWeb Annual Conference.

I seem to long for a clone of myself like this every couple of years, those in-between years when the budget isn’t available for me to attend major conferences and I can only participate from afar by watching the back channels on Twitter and catching up on presentation slides after the conference is over. Which is still useful, and frankly it’s often the only option for hundreds of people who never get the time or budget to attend these events in person.

Part of the wonderful thing about conferences these days, especially those for and about people working in web and social media, is that they naturally bleed over into the virtual spaces where a hashtag like #heweb15 is all you need to catch up on what’s happening practically in real time (and good luck keeping up!)

But still, nothing beats actually being there and immersing yourself in the conference. I remember how energizing it feels to be able to focus on new ideas from presenters you may have never seen before, meeting people in real life you’ve only ever known online, absorbing the ideas and happy vibes of those around you.

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Taking Out the Trash

There are few things more satisfying than being able to identify stuff you don’t need/want/use anymore, gather it all up and get rid of it. All month long I’ve been taking out the trash and let me tell you, it’s been one of the most satisfying projects I’ve worked on all year. The only thing I regret is waiting so long to do it.

You know you’re an adult when an empty 22 x 8 foot, 60-cubic-yard, solid steel waste container being unloaded onto your driveway makes you feel like a kid on Christmas morning. To me, this container wasn’t empty—it was full of possibility.

I was so excited because I knew, at last, we would be getting rid of years worth of old, useless stuff that had been piling up, including a big pile which had been collecting since we first bought our house eight years ago. There was a big pile of wood scraps, old decaying cabinetry, shelves, rusted metal and other scraps from various minor renovations that was somewhat “out of sight, out of mind” in an old decaying potting shed that had been built off the back of our garage by previous owners decades ago, and that shed was itself now decaying and falling to pieces. After generating more scraps for that pile ourselves during a bathroom upgrade at the beginning of the month, we realized the time was right to put an end to all of the madness.

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Putting It Together

I’m exhausted, but I couldn’t sleep if I tried.

I did try, but I haven’t had my usual uninterrupted night of sleep in a couple of weeks at least. I’ve been constantly distracted at work by notifications and messages and reminders of something else that needs my attention, and I’ve had to figure out how to the share responsibility for looking after a multi-limbed thing that, like a quantum theory cat, seems to only behave predictably until you observe it, then it veers somewhere else you didn’t expect.

This is part of what is has been like for me as a co-chair of the HighEdWeb NY Regional Conference that we’re hosting here in Ithaca today. It all feels so familiar, working with people and organizations I’ve known for years. But there’s also an alternate-dimension feeling to it all, being on the other side of where I normally am, where people I usually find myself traveling to see have now traveled to see us and each other.

Planning this conference has been like putting on a wedding, a variety show, and a trade expo all in the same space on the same day. There are guests who have traveled hundreds of miles and paid us money to be part of something exciting and helpful; our presenters have put in hours of their own to create a show of new ideas they’re excited to share; we have sponsors and vendors who want to introduce themselves to potential new client; it’s exhausting even writing about it, never mind keeping track of it.

I couldn’t be happier.

A few hours from now we’ll have officially kicked off our conference, and I’ll be bouncing from one presentation room to another, and on my phone from one Slack channel to another, looking after a bunch of amazing volunteers that have helped us get things together and making sure everyone who is there feels that everything is awesome. I’m so excited to see what we’re going to learn today, so amazed that we’ve got 130 people here to learn and discuss new ways to do our jobs better, and I’m so proud to be part of the team that is making this happen.

I love being part of HighEdWeb and maybe someday I’ll do this again. Just give me a few days to catch up on my sleep first…

How Nice People Leave

sunset_road

We’re losing a valuable member of our team at the office today, and it sucks.

Well, it sucks for us anyway – not for her. She’s leaving to get married, returning to her home state with her new husband, and returning to the job she left when she came to work with us. That’s right–she’s so good at what she does that her old employer was happy to make room for her to return. In other words, she’s going to miss us too, but she’s not going to be hurting for career opportunities.

We’re all very happy for her, obviously. It’s exciting to see a talented person embark on a new chapter of their life, seizing an opportunity and going for it. And it’s not all that unusual, really. Staffing turnovers are just another part of the landscape even in higher ed marketing offices like ours. I can think of a dozen people who have left our team for one reason or another during the nearly five years I’ve been in my job. And we’ve had just as many new people join the team in that time, including the one who’s leaving today.

But her departure stands out to me because she is going out with the most awesome courtesy and professionalism anyone could have hoped for, going above and beyond anything I’ve seen before to be absolutely sure we know as much as possible about how she did her job and that we’ll have the tools and resources we need to help us continue the work she started.

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Making a Resolution Long Pass

I love that New Year’s resolutions have become so ingrained in our culture as something doomed to fail, and yet we continue to make them. It’s hard not to see the start of each new year (or even a new month) as a time for renewal and positive change in our lives. Who doesn’t want to be a better person?

But I’ve learned that the resolutions that fail are the ones that weren’t made in good faith to begin with. I wasn’t being honest with myself about what I could accomplish or change, but merely what I was hoping I could change; I had vague goals, but no real plan for making them happen, and suffered little consequence if they didn’t happen.

So here’s to making honest resolutions, based on not just what I want to gain for myself, but what I want from myself.

I won’t resolve to run more if what I really want is an excuse to buy new shoes.

I won’t make resolutions just because I think they’ll make someone else happy. I will follow my gut, not my ego.

I will find my tribe and share my resolutions with them. I will change my surroundings/environment/context to reflect and support my goals.

I will make a resolution that means something, a resolution I can plan for, monitor its progress, and bring to a close by the end of the year in a way that feels like more than just accomplishment – it feels like victory.

My New Year’s resolution is a long pass to myself from today into the future, a throw from the end zone of last year so high and so smooth that I can watch it climb and arc overhead as I run forward through the year, dodging interference, leaping over tackles, and plotting my way to the point I know the ball will be landing at the end of the year ahead of me, and I’d better be there to catch it.

This website is a big part of that resolution – turning something I didn’t know I had into something more tangible I can share. I’m going to keep adding to it and expand the scope, and I’m not even completely sure how I’m going to do it. But I have a good idea where that pass I’m throwing is going to land at the end of the year…

Time to get those running shoes on.