Wednesday, December 29, 2010

I was hoping this exercise would be a yawn

That may sound funny. Why would I want the response to my Blog Your Way Around the World essay to be a yawn? Doesn’t that mean people find it boring?

No. (Yawn.)

As Malcolm Gladwell explains in his book, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, yawning is a highly contagious activity. Just the suggestion of yawning—reading the word, seeing someone yawn or even hearing the sound of a yawn—is enough to cause many people to yawn. (If you yawned while reading this, you’ve got your proof.)

That’s what I was hoping for in this experiment. My essay spreading like a yawn; voters like yawners catching the “infection” and passing it along until it reached that magic tipping point that turned it into a virtual epidemic.

But Gladwell’s book illustrates that the magic tipping point is an elusive thing. It’s dependent on the combination of a variety of factors—the people involved, the appeal of the thing itself and the context of the potential epidemic. The book is fascinating, and I highly recommend it.

You can read about successful social epidemics that reached that wonderful tipping point, examples from Paul Revere to urban crime to Sesame Street.

Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

In brief: symbolism of the solstice

A short post on the shortest day of the year here in the northern hemisphere.

This has been a significant day for much of human history. A symbol of endings and beginnings. A time for celebration in the face of a challenging season, looking forward through the winter and the darkness. Marking the beginning of a new cycle of the seasons.

Since the winter solstice is the shortest day of the year, it’s also (obviously) the longest night. The longest night is the best opportunity for dreaming.

So on this solstice I am still hoping to achieve this adventure dream: Blog Your Way Around the World.

I hope you’ll share in my dream.

If you are a dreamer, you understand.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Mixing numbers games and word people

Numbers often seem like a foreign language to word people. I’ve been trying to get my head around lots of them in recent weeks. Click-through numbers. Bounce rates. The only one that really resonates with me is the time that people spend visiting this blog—that’s the time they’re looking at the words.

And yet the goal of this crazy Blog Your Way Around the World endeavor is sheer numbers. I need more votes than any other entrant in order to get the chance to take those eight (there’s a number I understand) adventure trips and to write about them.

That’s where the word person–numbers compatibility challenge comes in. Word people, specifically writers, tend to be introverts. The number one makes the most sense to us. Crowd in a bunch of other numbers and we can get confused, claustrophobic, even uncomfortable.

It reminds me of the year my nephew was in the seventh grade—and having to deal with algebra. The mix of numbers and letters just seemed unnatural to him. Numbers were supposed to hang out with numbers and an assortment of symbols to build equations. Letters were supposed to hang out separately and build words. Tossing them together in an algebraic salad was just wrong.

My mind is currently unsettled in much the same way.

I am faced with composing a social networking version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” coming up with the right combination of numbers, activities, and supportive participants. “Eight great adventures … five fabulous continents … two thousand voters … and one winning essay entry.”

That vote number, though, that’s the unknown. Which brings us back to that whole algebra thing. Solve for X. And there’s no knowing the value needed for X, because there are a fair number of other writers doing just what I’m doing and trying to get that magic amount to win the contest themselves.

Solving for X and building up those votes is harder than it looks, especially because it involves working and acting like an Xtrovert.

Let’s just take it one letter—uh, number—at a time.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Juggling metaphors and other quixotic things

My Blog Your Way Around the World effort has had to simmer on the back burner for a few days. There is more to life than social network campaigning, after all.

Went to Maine over the weekend to celebrate my mom’s birthday and to celebrate the season at a friend’s holiday open house. Most of the folks at the party were friends from Ferry Beach, one of my favorite places on earth. (That’s not to say I won’t jump at the chance to explore new places on the eight adventure trips that are the prize for BYWAtW.)

During the course of the evening, I agreed to helm a writing conference for women next August at Ferry Beach. It will be a fun challenge, I’m sure. And the first chapter of it was to do a little research and planning in order to write a description of the workshop for the conference booklet that’s going off to the printer soon.

Taking on this gig means that I’ll be heading up two writing conferences in the summer—the first is the Clockhouse Writers Conference for alums of the MFA writing program at Goddard College. I’m sure by the time summer rolls around I’ll be blogging about both conferences.

I’ve also been making arrangements for my monthly field trips for Trazzler, so the next few days I’ll be focusing on my travel writing.

It’s all about juggling.

Speaking of which, I learned to juggle back in the ‘70s after watching an episode of M*A*S*H. In the show Hawkeye has sustained a concussion in a Jeep accident and is trying to stay conscious until help arrives. Juggling is one of the things he does. So I watched and learned and tried it for myself.

Metaphorical juggling is more challenging than the physical kind—I mean, unless you’re talking about chainsaws. 

The tasks at hand don’t all travel their neat arcs at predictable speeds, so it’s not always simple to keep all the balls in the air. I’m feeling a little like I dropped the ball on this social networking campaign. But I’ve picked it up and added it back to the mix, and if I drop it again, I’ll grab it up again.

There are other metaphors that feel fitting to what I’m trying to do. Like “tilting at windmills” and dreaming “the impossible dream.” Perhaps I should be riding across the Spanish countryside on a skinny horse.

Perhaps I am.

That dust in the distance—maybe it is I.