Tag Archives: community

Theme Thursday: A seasonal affair

In some ways, projects mirror conversation. In particular, if you put your hands on either in an attempt to force it to go your way, you will most certainly fail. Words may be said, items may get checked, but in the end either your partner or your underling will resent you, breaking the human connection of conversation and productivity, respectively.

The temptation the first week was to beg people I know to contribute, which I largely avoided. (Should the admission that I didn’t wholly avoid it embarrass me, here? Probably not.) The temptation the second week was to fear that I had made the game too hard by raising the bar a notch.

I want to promote this project. I don’t want to constrain friends and fans. I want people to contribute, but I don’t want them to feel compelled to do so. These Theme Thursdays should be games, should be fun! And we’re (here in the north hemisphere) wrapping up our summer, which means it’s prime time for fun!

Therefore, a broad and unrestrained topic, rich in both memory and metaphor:

This week’s theme: Summer

Have fun. 🙂 Remember, all forms of narrative are fair game: fiction, non-, and poetry, along with photos.

Guidelines

The only right I assume from you posting a comment is that I am able to host your work on this blog for non-commercial purposes with attribution. You keep all other rights.

I do have plans to attempt to monetize this site once the boulder rolls a little further down hill, but at this point there are NO ASSUMPTIONS OF COMMERCIAL RIGHTS. I will contact authors on an individual basis for any and all commercial purposes.

Make the entries as short or as long as you want, and any genre is fair game: fiction, non-, and poetry. Publish in comments stories, no matter how polished or raw, according to the game of the week. If I like your story, I’ll contact you and ask for permission to remix your work, which I’ll post with the next week’s contest.

You have one week to submit your story, and please, please do. I don’t want this site to be my literary masturbation. Join me, and perhaps get some free editing and mentoring along the way!

**

Now for the first remixing of my chosen story from the game two weeks ago (one week for them to write the comment, one week for me to write the remix). The new piece is entirely fiction and not fed by the author except by the original post. Here goes!

The original (authored by Claire):

My mother is the kitchen, her smooth edges and pillowy white skin, soft and yielding and warm. The kitchen is sensuality in form of mother-love, my youth and my upbringing, my salty tears boiling over, my dishpan hands longing to be held.

When I miss my mother, I go to my kitchen. I make tea, the whistling kettle becoming her voice, the steam her fingers on my own. I fix it the way she likes it, orange pekoe, condensed milk, only I slip in two teaspoons of white sugar, the colour of her inner arms. She’d cringe at the sacrilege, but I need the sweetness of her words to cut the harshness of her reality when she impresses upon me to sit up, to buck up, to not feel so sorry for myself, to not sit alone and cry, to be proctive! to smile! to make friends!

But I feel sorry for myself in the kitchen. I cower with mug in hand and stare into the murky liquid that is only the colour of tea and let it wash over me, warmth, comfort, soft, yielding. My mother. My kitchen. me.

The remix:

“Smile,” she says to me. “You wouldn’t have it so bad if you made some friends.” Her voice is harsh but falsely polished, like the linoleum floor. It reflects light sure enough, but it makes the incandescent bulb look cooly flourescent. “Smile, God damnit!” I close my eyes and lick my lips. My toes curl as my head sinks, chin falling to my breasts. “God damnit,” she sighs, turning back to her cutting board.

Her knife moves fluidly like quicksilver. You wouldn’t know it was steel if you hadn’t felt its cut. I can feel her eyes flicking between what she’s doing and her peripheral so she might see if I’ve regained my composure. I think she takes pleasure in breaking me down; she doesn’t bother insulting me if I’m visibly subdued.

Her teeth grind. “Smile.” The word hurtles her mouth quietly, like a sand storm. It corrodes my skin, could cut to the bone. Her voice recognizes no armor. I am nude in front of it and damaged in its wake.

Said. “Smile,” she said. My head shakes of its own accord, my hair shaking loosely like horsemane, and my eyes open to a different kitchen. My kitchen, suburban, with the bright windows and the pink marble countertops. Light in my mother’s house always seemed filtered; here it feels so clean. There it seemed dirty; here, sterile.

I can’t tell if this is helping, this psychological experiment of mine. I escaped my mother so long ago, but I want to remember her without the childhood fear. I make the tea, orange pekoe with condensed milk, just like she has it in my nightmares. The smell doesn’t bring back anything definite, but my muscles tense, making my head fall to my chest and my eyes close. I bear all the same reactions from my childhood. A friend called it emotional regression, but I like to think I’m moving forward.

She is my mother. I want to remember her without fear. I want to connect the encouragement I see now that she was giving me with those words from my memories. Make friends had sounded so cruel, nearly impossible, nearly a curse. What if I had made friends? Would I have heard her the same way?

No, that’s not where I want to go. I relax my muscles and let my head fall back so that I’m looking at the ceiling. I breathe, deeply. As I exhale, my chin falls to my chest again, and the tea kettle whistles in earnest.

She grabs the handle violently as I’ve felt her grab my write. That tight grip would’ve left bruises on me, still might. Hot water falls freely from the spout, filling her cup, which already contains the milk and the leaves. I look away, try not to imagine the difference in threshold between her sulfuric grip and the burns of hot water.

“Sit up,” she hisses, her voice only softly carried by the breath. “Your cringing makes me sick.” My eyes close again and my head jitters, a small flinch as I picture her dousing me in that steaming-hot tea, hitting me right in the vulnerable spot of neck exposed to her. The burn would turn my neck red, making my soft, untanned skin different from her ivory near-white. How I yearn to be different from her; give me the burns! I could scream it!

When I feel myself near tears with begging, I open my eyes, and her nose is mere inches from my cheek, cup poised to spill. “Sit up, stop cringing, and smile. You’re not making any friends over how cruel mommy abuses you at home.”

I hear the garage door open, and I’m back in suburbia. Shivers crawl down my body, and I touch the spot on my neck that mere moments before I had silently begged my long-dead mother to purge from my fair flesh. I feel the muscles loosen under my practiced fingers, grateful for their salvation. My husband, when he comes in, will ask me why I made the tea again. He’ll be angry, but I’ll tell him the memories are getting better. I can do this; I can overcome.

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Author: Greg Freed

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Filed under Features, Fiction, Theme Thursdays, Writing

A Societal Yearning: Masculine friendship and community

Your first reaction, depending on who you are, may be feminist outrage. I urge you to recognize your disagreement, put it away, and then take a deeper look. That said, Amos gets even the introductory exposition to this blog post. Take it away, Amos:

I’ve spent a good deal of time in the last four years considering the value of, and the fragility of, simple male friendship.

I say “simple” friendship because family and partners can maintain a separate and vital status in a person’s life. We’re stuck with the family we’re born into or bear; and divorce, while easy, is not as easy as it could be.

I say “male” friendship because it seems to me that women are, in ways, built more readily for deep bonding with their peers. My sense is that it’s more of an inherent thing, something genetic, but as always with the nature versus nurture question, the answer ends up being “well, some of both.” I haven’t lived as both a man and a woman though, so I can’t be sure. The general roles that evolution has put men and women into (which can be broken or tweaked just fine by a careful society, when needed) lean men at least slightly away from the deep bonding that women seem wired for through.

Male relationships often seem to drift toward (and prefer proximity to) superficiality, fun, and beer. Special people can be special exceptions, but beyond small grace periods, those precepts are broken at the masculine peril of expendability. And stray from the precepts knowing that, in order to call attention to your rule breaking and rescue the friendship, many men would have to become rule breakers too.

And that, rarely, are they willing to do.

Primal hunting and the life-or-death dependence of the military are some things that seem to break this tendency. They seem to tie men together on a deep and emotional level forbidden by our time-constrained lifestyles that offer a million fun replacements for things that displease. What more naturally binds women together seems to more readily remain in the lives we’ve all fallen into.

I always think of the scene in Moby Dick in which one attack of many is mounted on a pod of whales. The males flee individually while the females huddle together, standing by each other even though it may be the germ of their destruction.

I also think of the following passage from “Letters to a Young Poet,” a collection of correspondence doled out by the great German poet Rainer Maria Rilke.

Women, in whom life lingers and dwells more immediately, more fruitfully, and more confidently, must surely have become riper and more human in their depths than light, easygoing man, who is not pulled down beneath the surface of life by the weight of any bodily fruit and who, arrogant and hasty, undervalues what he thinks he loves. This humanity of woman, carried in her womb through all her suffering and humiliation, will come to light when she has stripped off the conventions of mere femaleness in the transformations of her outward status, and those men who do not yet feel it approaching will be astonished by it.

In our everyday American world, bonds with other human beings seem less vital than they might have been at other times, or might be in other places. It’s not generally close bonds with other people that support us, not the fidelity of a tightly-knit community that bails us out when we face a difficult or even dangerous situation. Instead, the money we earn supports and bails. It gives us our food, our shelter, our health care, our transportation, and our entertainment.

In that way, the jobs we hold come to be our most vital companion in life. In that way, the jobs we hold become the important starter for almost any conversation with someone we’re just meeting: “So… what do you do?”

How can simple male friendship compete with this?

Recently, when using Facebook to ponder the significance of my name, a friend replied to me. I was considering how my first name means “Burdened” in Hebrew, and how my last name means “Gamekeeper of a Park” in English. The friend told me that I was wrong in my definitions. He said that Amos Parker actually means “He Who Overanalyzes.”

In pondering the nature of male friendships and overanalysis, I feel as I often do: underanalysis is overrated. Searching for the wellspring of existential loneliness is a worthwhile pastime.

**

“Hey Devon,” I said. “Good to see you.”

I shook his hand once he’d closed the door.

“Good day at work?” I asked.

“Busy,” Devon said.

“Yeah?”

“Cancer center’s a great place to work. Life causes cancer.  I don’t think I’ll be fired anytime soon.”

I nodded, smiling like a cynic.

“Care for a beer?”

Devon brightened. I already had mine open.

“Hell yeah. Choices?”

“Check the fridge,” I said.

Devon nodded, going to the mini-fridge in the basement where the beer could stay cold without taking up prime real estate.

“What do you feel like doing tonight?” I asked as Devon popped the top and took a swig. He swished it around in his mouth, wondering if he should’ve taken a seasonal brew. He swallowed.

“Oh, I’m ok with anything.”

“You sure?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

“We can do anything. We can play a videogame, a long board game, a short board game, sit and chat, watch a movie….”

“Anything’s fine, really, just so I can relax. We’re friends. It’s all good.”

“You really don’t care?” I asked.

“No,” Devon said. “It’s up to you.”

“Ok. Well… how about War of the Ring?”

“Oh… yeah…” Devon replied, his facial features twitching like an old building in a strong wind. “I guess. We… might have time, and… I think I remember the rules.”

“Let’s go then,” I said. “Women like to talk about things and men like to do things.”

Devon managed a smile and raised his beer to me. I made a show of ignoring him and clanking mine up against the toaster.

“What are we going to do?”

The man stood outside the house, shivering. His wife’s teeth had chattered as she’d spoken. The man looked at the boards that covered the walls. He didn’t know when he might get another job. Winter was coming, and he worried there’d be no money to keep his family warm.

“I’m looking every day,” the man said. “I’ll find something. I’ll find work.”

His wife shivered. The man put his arm around her.

“We have… enough food in the basement… from the garden…” she said. “But we can’t burn the food. How are we going to keep from freezing this winter?”

The man blew hot breath on his free hand. His wife took the hand from him and tried to warm it herself.

“I’ll think of something,” he replied. “Don’t worry your pretty little head.”

“Hey Devon,” I said. “Can you do me a favor?”

“Sure buddy. What’s up?”

“Great,” I replied, relieved. “You know I’ve got too many board games, right?”

He nodded, half smiling.

“You’ve got a lot of space at your place, right?”

He nodded.

“Can you help me store some of them?”

“Sure!” he said. “I love board games. You know that.”

I smiled and continued. I felt like justifying myself: “I’ve told you why I have so many, right? It’s all I can do to tread water with my job. I don’t feel like I’m gonna mean anything to anyone with work. Sometimes I’m worried I’m gonna die a mediocre failure.”

I trailed off, smiling like I was joking. Devon was silent, waiting.

“Someday I wanna be able to use them to give something back. They bring people together, or they can. You’ve seen that with the guys, right? They’re nothing like what everyone thinks about when they hear the term board games.”

Devon nodded.

“Someday I want to create a big program, maybe with the library. It’ll be something fun, something that gets people out of the house, away from the TV so they can do something together. It could be a major town thing. I just don’t know how to do it yet, how to pull it off.”

“Sounds great,” Devon replied. “You’ll make it happen.”

“My girlfriend may not be comfortable with the money I’ve spent on them,” I continued. “That’s one of the problems. I have to keep trying though, somehow.

I have to feel like I’m working for something, to have some kind of life raft. And, with the cancer she’s been through, it’s even harder to justify the cost.”

Devon nodded, his expression cooling.

“I feel bad hiding it, but I have to feel like I’m at least trying to do something for people, to give something back. Michele can be so intolerant with things she doesn’t agree with. I have to feel like I’m trying hard, trying my best. Part of that is having a real collection. I’ll come up with something. This’ll buy me time.”

“I’d love to help,” Devon replied. “That’d be sweet to have all that stuff at my place. Mi casa es su casa. Can I paw through it whenever I feel like it?”

“It wouldn’t be a problem?” I asked, tentative in the way I raised my pitch at the end of the question.

“No no no. That’d be awesome. My pleasure.”

“Great!” I said, knocking him playfully on the shoulder.

He jumped a little.

“You’re a good friend,” I added. “If it’s ever a problem, let me know. I don’t want to be a bother, and it’s hard to come by good friends out here in the middle of nowhere. Sure, Saint Johnsbury is a town, but it isn’t much of one, right? All this cold. Everyone hides away, and the one’s who wouldn’t have already run away.”

“You’ve got that right,” Devon replied.

“You feel that too, don’t you?” I was glad to hear that he agreed with me. “I really don’t want to be a problem. I can’t afford to lose any friends.”

“Problem?” Devon replied, laughing just a little too loudly. “Why would you ever be a problem?”

“I’m cold, Dad.”

“Me too, Dad. I can’t stop shivering.”

Both the boy and the girl were doing their best. They tried to be tough. They wore the extra clothes that their parents had found, but layers weren’t enough.

“Let me bring you some food,” their mother said. “It’ll give you some energy, and it’ll warm you up too.”

Their father knew it had to be cooked to really warm them up.

He went outside and looked at all the other houses where they lived. Snow had fallen all over. Icicles were dangling from the homes of some of their neighbors. They were the neighbors who were lucky enough to have the wood to burn, and the heat their fires made escaped up through the roofs and melted the snow there, making the icicles possible.

The man didn’t have any icicles on his house.

Here and there, because he had to, the man began taking boards from the outside of his home. It was only a few, and the house could handle it. The man even convinced himself that it made the house look tougher, more lean and mean.

He took the armloads of boards inside and kept his family warm.

“Hey Devon,” I said.

I stepped in through his door and closed it. I was uncomfortable. I felt out of place, like it was one of those days. My sensitivity was acting up, my low-level autistic fragility. I couldn’t control the feeling. I knew it’d poison things if I couldn’t at least hide it. I tried to figure out where it would stash.

“Amos!” Devon replied. “Now the party can start. Flames of War is on the table. Beer?”

“Sorry I’m late,” I said.

He handed me an ale from the fridge, the top already off. I took a long swallow and hoped for magic.

“Ken’s been working on his bike,” Devon said. “He got some extra oomph for the engine. And there’s a new gun he’s been eyeing. You want a gun for Christmas?”

He jabbed me playfully in the ribs. I almost dropped my beer.

“No thanks. I don’t feel like one.”

“Oh. Well come play with us then.”

“I’ll just watch…” I said.

I was starting to sweat. I felt like I was between a rock and a hard place.

“Thanks though,” I continued. “I don’t really like that game. It’s… painful. It’s like having salt rubbed in my eyes.”

“Oh,” Devon replied. “Ok.”

“Actually, I don’t feel well. I need to go home and write too. I can’t make sure Michele’s taken care of if I don’t make a career of it. I get panic attacks if I have to go more than a day without writing some, and… my windows of time are tiny.”

I wiped at my brow and finished my beer, knowing it wasn’t enough to harm my driving. But I wanted at least that much in me when I thought about having bailed.

“Oh. Ok. Say hi to Michele for me.”

I felt bad about bailing, but it could’ve been worse.

The winter wore on, and it was a cold one.

The food ran low ahead of schedule. The man was more and more worried about his wife and kids. He scoured town up and down for both jobs and wood to keep them warm, but there was nothing to be found that other men hadn’t found already.

Lying in bed one night, holding his wife close, she tried to comfort him.

“You’ll find something honey. Keep your chin up.”

“I can’t,” the man replied. “I can’t keep my chin up. It takes dignity to do that.”

“You have dignity. You have us.”

The man held his wife tightly, trying to keep warm with what she’d said. He could feel the cold all around, and he was worried about the children in the next room. He looked out the window and saw snow falling in the moonlight.

“I’ll be back,” he told her, getting up.

He went out the bedroom door, down the stairs, and outside. There were already holes showing here and there in certain less important walls. One of them kept a closet protected from the winter. Another kept the living room insulated, and they stayed mostly in the bedrooms anyway.

Working quietly with the crowbar, he took off some more boards. By the time he was done, he could see into the kitchen.

He went inside and lit a fire in the stove. He stood by it, warming his hands. He went upstairs, feeling the heat follow him toward the bedrooms. He left the doors to the bedrooms open a little, so that the heat could follow.

“I just can’t deal with it anymore,” Devon emailed me, as part of a long, hard email. “I don’t think we can be friends. I didn’t know what to say when you called me. I really was busy. I think it started during Michele’s treatment. I can’t believe you kept all these board games when the money could have been used to help Michele. She had cancer, man. It’s been making me angry for almost two years now.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” I wrote back in desperate reply. “Why’d you send me emails every once in a while saying you’d just been busy when just ignoring me would finally have given me the cowardly hint? Couldn’t you man up instead?”

“I helped you and Michele through her cancer,” Devon wrote, “bringing food and everything. You owe us so much. How selfish are you? When Ali and I moved into the new house a year ago, you didn’t move the games out quickly. I asked you twice. I even had to take your punching bag back to you myself. That was a really hard time for me. I just threw up my hands.”

“You’ve made almost no effort to communicate with me for almost two years,” I wrote back. “And I thought I had the games out by the deadline you gave me. I didn’t even know there were problems between us. How was I supposed to? Do you think I’m psychic? How can I just know that someone has totally changed his mind? Why didn’t anyone tell me? Don’t I deserve at least that respect?”

“I’m sure we both did the best we could,” Devon emailed me. “Have a nice life.”

“The best we could? The best we fucking could? If that was the best you could do,” I emailed back, “you need to polish your best. And the best I could? How could I give my best when I didn’t even know what the work was?”

There was almost nothing left of the house. It couldn’t even hold the heat from the fire long enough to be worth it.

The man, his wife, their daughter, and their son were all near to freezing. There was no work, and there was no wood. Everyone else in the neighborhood was either in the same trouble or unwilling to make their lives harder still by helping.

“Dad?” the daughter said one day. “I hear the house creaking.”

Wind blew in from every wall. The man had tried to ignore it, but he could tell that the house was giving way. He started to cry, even in front of them all. He couldn’t help it. He wasn’t even a man. He knew he had no choice.

“Dad?” the son said. “Where are you going?”

“Are we going somewhere, dear?” his wife asked.

“Take… what you can,” the man said. “We’re going to live with my parents.”

They left the house just in time. Turning around in the snow, the four of them watched as the house collapsed. It happened in a great cracking rumble. Some neighbors poked their heads out of their windows to see what had happened. They wondered if the wood might be available to them.

When they reached his parents’ house, the man knocked on the door.

“Can we… stay with you… mom?”

The man’s mother gave him a big hug. He was much larger than her, but he seemed much smaller.

“Of course you can, dear. Let me fix you all something hot to eat.”

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Author: Amos Parker

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Filed under Creative nonfiction, Features, Fiction, Guest author, Writing

Beginning blogging and WordPress.com tips and tricks

I’ve been pleasantly surprised that even though my readership is small, several readers have asked how to make a website like mine. I’m going to charitably assume you mean my blog, which is what you’re reading, and not my temporarily abandoned website. Therefore, here’s a post about choices I’ve made, research I’ve stumbled upon, and hacks I’ve created. I will start with the most rudimentary information, since it’s what has been requested, and move on to the more difficult work and choices.

Blogging services

The first question a embryonic blogger wants to ask is what service to use; there are several. WordPress, Blogger, and Squarespace are the most used sites among my friends, family, and colleagues.

WordPress

I chose WordPress for two reasons: I had professional experience with them through StyleFeeder, and I appreciate their dedication to open source communities. However, WordPress.com blogs do not get to see many of the benefits of WordPress’s open source community; if you want to revel in the programming aspect of it, visit WordPress.org, download their server software, and tinker with it. Not up for that game? Well then say goodbye to easy extra functionality via WordPress plugins; you can’t use them. Also, there’s no javascript support at all, so you can’t even hack code together. Everything that you accomplish has to come through their already-provided widgets, which was tricky for me but also enjoyable.

The site does have many useful background tools, some of which are shared with Blogger. However, the default viewer statistics seem to be much more advanced on WordPress than Blogger (unless you use Google Analytics, which WordPress.com blogs can’t do). Also, media storage and other functionality such as media sharing that looks equivalent between the two sites is actually, in my opinion, much more user-friendly on WordPress.com.

In my experience, WordPress is used mostly due to their open source software, which isn’t any good to me, and also mostly by companies. While I’m very happy with my choice of home, average Joes tend to avoid it in preference of Blogger.

Examples:
gregfreed.wordpress.com
ranyachantal.wordpress.com
writingcontests.wordpress.com

Examples of WordPress.org blogs:
www.hyperorg.com/blogger/
blog.futurestreetconsulting.com

Blogger

Very many of my friends from Emerson and back home and most of the people I’ve found through Twitter so far use blogger. In my opinion, the sites looks messier in design than WordPress equivalents, but content should drive most of your visitors, meaning that the cluttered Blogger look shouldn’t dissuade you in itself. Also, how clean or cluttered your site looks will depend mostly upon the amount of time and effort you’re willing to put into design.

Blogger, at first glance, has more functionality that a WordPress.com blog and is more user-friendly for simple tasks. For example, you can put javascript on Blogger, allowing you to automate “Twit This!” buttons and other sharing services, which will garner you free PR. WordPress.com does not have this functionality, and making a workaround (see below) via html has already cost me several hours and will cost me more time in aggregate hours in the future.

Examples:
steadyblue.blogspot.com
mundaneproject.blogspot.com
dallasdreamer.blogspot.com

Squarespace

I only know two people using Squarespace. Both of their sites show extreme customizability and are built for heavy traffic and easy use. I’m under the impression that their blogging and site building experience has been fairly intense, but they both have something to show for all of their time and effort. Paul Wesman has worked in communication for years, and his blog shows his dedication to corporate quality and readability. Sadi Ranson-Polizotti is a deaf friend and mentor who is renowned for her knowledge about Bob Dylan, Lewis Carroll, and the written word; she has a new book of poetry, For Goodness’ Sake, due in August through Twilight Times Books. (Boy, do I wish I had an affiliate program right now… lolz.)

Examples:
www.paulwesman.com
tantmieux.squarespace.com

Hacks, or making my WordPress.com blog work for me

I discovered Problogger early, which has been both helpful and not. On the one hand, they have very good advice; on the other hand, most of their advice seems to me like common sense, or rather, like the decision that I came to when I thought to myself for a second about what I was trying to do with my blog. Either that, or their advice was far in advance of where I happened to be.

New readers are hard to come by, and you want your blog to be ready to receive them when they arrive. Problogger posted an article recently about the nine first steps for new bloggers. I’ll try to cover what I think they missed below.

Design

Readers coming to your site will have a series of questions in mind, such as Who does this blog belong to and why am I reading it? or Where’s the good info at?! Not having readily available answers to these questions puts your new reader at risk of leaving the site and never thinking of you again.

From Tim Ferriss I learned several points, but one most crucial theory: Do not have an easy exit point for new viewers. Every link that a reader can see within seconds of entering the site should be directed back at your site. Yes, you want to plug other people’s blogs wherever possible, but you don’t want a reader to leave your blog before they’ve even seen one post, and they will if they have reason to believe that you’re leading them into more interesting content than they expect to find on your site.

The topmost section of your website should be dedicated to you. Have an About page so that potential readers can get to know you and feel like they belong with your content. Have a Contact page, letting people know that they can feel free to contact you. List your most recent or most viewed posts at the top of your sidebar so that readers can find the interesting content they’re looking for as quickly as possible. Just don’t provide an easy out or the viewer just might take it.

RSS widget

That said, making the RSS feed I have in my sidebar was a bit tricky; maybe it’s because I’m a nub, maybe it’s because I wanted a custom RSS feed where I could decide what content my blog would link to. In order to accomplish my task, I created a Google Reader account. In Google Reader I subscribed to all the blogs I wanted to keep up with, which included Facebook friends, actual friends, and family in addition to the helpful blogs like Problogger and the blogs that created material I was actually interested in. Start sharing posts you think your readers should see; they will be allocated into an RSS feed at http://www.google.com/reader/shared/YOURGOOGLEIDHERE, which can be accessed via the “Shared items” menu. Access that page, and you will see the link Atom Feed next to the universal feed icon: feed-icon-12x12-orange. Copy the link location.

At that point, go to My Dashboard->Appearance->Widgets and drag the RSS widget to your sidebar (I drug mine to the bottommost section). Copy the link location for the Atom Feed where the widget says “Enter the RSS feed URL here.” Name the widget if you want (mine is titled simply My Google Reader), change whatever settings you want, and click Save. If that doesn’t work, mash you head against the keyboard until you successfully spell out Head hit keyboard sequentially, and then contact me, and I’ll do my best to help.

Subscribe links

After a little research on this crazy web of ours, you’ll find that WordPress.com recommends Google’s FeedBurner for all your subscription uses. Though a little tinkering is required, I now recommend it, too.

After signing in with your Google account, a basic page will load that says Burn a feed right this instant. Type your blog or feed address here. So do it and follow the rest of the instructions.

Go to the Publicize tab once you’re set up with FeedBurner.

Click on the BuzzBoost tab on the left, change the settings as you see fit, and then click Activate at the bottom of the page. When the page reloads with the service activated, there will be a box with javascript that FeedBurner tells you to put on your site. Except you know that you can’t use javascript on a WordPress.com blog. Therefore, check on your own to make sure that your RSS feed is activated by pasting http://feeds.feedburner.com/XXXXX?format=xml where XXXXX is set as your FeedBurner profile name.

Next, go to the Email Subscriptions tab. Simply click Activate.

Now go to My Dashboard->Appearance->Widgets and drag the Text widget to where you would like it to appear. Input the following code:

Subscribe to this blog via <a href=”http://feedburner.google.com/fb/a/mailverify?uri=XXXXX”>email</a&gt;!<br>Subscribe via <a href=”http://feeds.feedburner.com/XXXXX?format=xml”><img src=”http://feedburner.google.com/fb/lib/images/icons/feed-icon-12×12-orange.gif”></a><a href=”http://feeds.feedburner.com/XXXXX?format=xml”>RSS</a&gt;!

Replace the XXXXXs with your FeedBurner profile ID, and the code should be ready to go! I coded the RSS image and the hypertext seperately so that the image would not share an underline with the hypertext.

If, like me, you would like to invite people to join your Facebook group, simply create a group and then use the following code:

<br>Also, join this blog’s <a href=”http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=XXXXX”>Facebook group</a>!

Replace the XXXXX with your group id and it should be good to go!

“Share This!” links

As I said before, WordPress.com does not support javascript, so there’s no way to have automatically updated buttons. However, these buttons are so useful in publicizing a blog that it just seems a horrible waste to not have them. Therefore, I developped a workable work-around, though it does take some effort to pull off for each blog.

After some research I discovered the basic submission links for some of the syndication sites I felt my blog might likely get plugged on: Del.icio.us, Digg, Reddit, Facebook, and Twitter. I also discovered, though I can’t remember to link from where, AddThis, which on one page covers all sites that anyone anywhere might ever possibly want to link your blog to. While AddThis has such powerful capabilities, I opted to keep the specific website buttons because the less you ask of your audience, the more likely they are to follow through.

A little HTML trick I picked up: in order to have the icons contain links without being underlined, you have to link them seperately from text. Because of this, the HTML looks redundant, but it’s not; it’s simply a little extra code to reflect a design choice. The code I use for the buttons is below, and instructions on how to use the code follows it.

<a href=”http://del.icio.us/post?url=XXXXX;title=YYYYY&#8221; target=”_blank”><img title=”del_icio_us” src=”https://gregfreed.files.wordpress.com/2009/07/del_icio_us.png&#8221; alt=”del_icio_us” width=”16″ height=”16″ /></a><a href=”http://del.icio.us/post?url=XXXXX;title=YYYYY&#8221; target=”_blank”>Save to del.icio.us</a><a href=”http://digg.com/submit?phase=2&amp;url=XXXXX;title=YYYYY&#8221; target=”_blank”>
<img title=”digg” src=”https://gregfreed.files.wordpress.com/2009/07/digg.png&#8221; alt=”digg” width=”16″ height=”16″ /></a><a href=”http://digg.com/submit?phase=2&amp;url=XXXXX;title=YYYYY&#8221; target=”_blank”>Digg it
</a><a href=”http://reddit.com/submit?url=XXXXX;title=YYYYY&#8221; target=”_blank”><img title=”reddit” src=”https://gregfreed.files.wordpress.com/2009/07/reddit.png&#8221; alt=”reddit” width=”16″ height=”16″ /></a><a href=”http://reddit.com/submit?url=XXXXX;title=YYYYY&#8221; target=”_blank”>Save to Reddit
</a><a href=”http://www.facebook.com/share.php?u=XXXXX&#8221; target=”_blank”><img title=”n20531316728_2397″ src=”https://gregfreed.files.wordpress.com/2009/07/n20531316728_23971.jpg&#8221; alt=”n20531316728_2397″ width=”16″ height=”16″ /></a><a href=”http://www.facebook.com/share.php?u=XXXXX&#8221; target=”_blank”>Share on Facebook
</a><a href=”http://twitter.com/home?status=Check+out+XXXXX”><img title=”twitter” src=”https://gregfreed.files.wordpress.com/2009/07/twitter.gif&#8221; alt=”twitter” width=”16″ height=”16″ /></a><a href=”http://twitter.com/home?status=Check+out+XXXXX&#8221; target=”_blank”>Share on Twitter
</a><a href=”http://www.addthis.com/bookmark.php?pub=dvd&amp;url=XXXXX;title=YYYYY&#8221; target=”_blank”><img title=”aolfav” src=”https://gregfreed.files.wordpress.com/2009/07/aolfav.gif&#8221; alt=”aolfav” width=”16″ height=”16″ /></a><a href=”http://www.addthis.com/bookmark.php?pub=dvd&amp;url=XXXXX;title=YYYYY&#8221; target=”_blank”>Even more ways to bookmark</a>

Copy this code into a text editor with a replace function, such as Microsoft Word. Using the Replace All function, replace all XXXXXs with the exact web address of your post as you can copy it out of your browser’s address bar. Replace all YYYYYs with the title of your post. Select all of the updated code, put your WordPress post creator into the HTML tab, go to the part of the post you want the links to appear in, and paste the code. Click either Publish or Update Post and then check your links. If there are any errors, it’s probably user-generated, so look over your own HTML code before you come crying to me about how it’s broken. If it is legitimately broken, however, I would like to know and will help you resolve any issues. If you want submission links that are not included here, AddThis is a much better research tool than I am: I will not do your research for you.

Good Luck!

And with that, I’m outta here. I have that faint yet numb buzzing in my head that’s generated solely by technical writing, so it’s definitely time for a break!

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Author: Greg Freed

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A Paradigm Shift in Project Management: Hierarchy to adhocracy

“Sharing power is not the ideal of some ‘utopian’ future. It’s the ground truth of our hyperconnected world.” – Mark Pesce

**

In my search to uncover blogs about copyright issues, I discovered The Human Network. Mark Pesce’s video presentation to the Personal Democracy Forum and transcript both struck me as worthy of the attention of internet community members and people interested in the new organizational structure we’ll see soon; a new structure seems a nearly necessary outcome to the victory of efficiency, a consistent human pursuit.

For example, the ideal corporate workplace is an hierarchy: you know via network or job title who is responsible for what and how they should be approached, and you also know to whom you and they are responsible. Therefore, when an assignment falls to you, you track down the people you need in order to complete the task under budget and ahead of schedule. You have to negotiate the political struggles that exist in large workplaces as people strive to either make their name or shirk any work possible without standing out as a slacker. If you do this successfully, your project will likely succeed. Situations of this type gave rise to my favorite capitalist maxim: Successful business is not about money; it’s about pooling together the correct assortment of talent to fulfill a need and the money you need to do that.

However, anyone who has worked in a corporation long enough to dry their wet ears and withdraw their big eyes knows that luck plays a larger role in whether you’re equipped to handle any given project than coordination and that the budget and schedule have as much tendency to be unmanageable as they have to be set by someone other than you. You also know that the larger a company is, the more difficult it is to find the person you’re looking for. Instead, you become complacent with your social circle within the company and rely on them to either help you complete your project or to put you on the path to a person who can probably help. Initiative, while praised, is your prerogative, and you learn thatmore often than not its only reward is hours spent tracking down a person who’s too busy to help you anyway.

And while sometimes it’s assumed that the smaller the company the more efficient because people do more tasks than their job title allows, there are obvious flaws that small businesses constantly evidence. Job-title creep breaks the ideal of division of labor and results in shoddy jobs that require more time than an expert would take. In addition, sometimes the relevant expert simply isn’t available, and the financial position of the company makes tracking down an expert either impossible of futile.

Even in the best of all corporate hierarchies, when we let go of the fallacies and human error that plague all communities and look at them at their most sublime, politics, ignorance, and misinformation exist as constant variables in the equation of efficiency that downsizing attempts to get around and networking tries to nullify. Yet they persist.

Adhocracies are communities whose networks are far less structured than hierarchies and yet are more capable of sustaining efficiency for several reasons. Examples include Wikipedia–where a crowd (hence the term crowdsourcing) generates information that, through editing, supposedly reaches an unbiased state–and open source communities such as SourceForge.

First, unlike the top-down hierarchical structures of corporations whose efficiency depends upon the trickling down of responsibility and the ability of the lower castes to find proper function-matches within their own castes (about as reliable as Malcom’s demonstration of water falling down your hand in Jurassic Park), adhocracies post jobs and users volunteer. Whether or not the job gets done on time and according to parameters is guaranteed only by the community’s ability to organize itself around a set of priorities, which, since their communication tool is the internet, specifically their website and whatever design functions are built into the core site, users tend to fulfill reliably.

Second, the pure universality exposure of posts and searchability of online communities resolves the hassle of finding the right member with the right skill set to complement your project. Rather than your cubemate Bill telling you that Janice from tech support might be able to assist you, plop your requirements into a search bar and go–as any seasoned HR personnel can tell you, if you have a specific problem and need a specific skill, you’ll find everything you need is hotword coded, thereby searchable–or let the talent pool come to you.

The end game of adhocracies is a more dynamic community layout able to complete projects more efficiently than hierarchical structures. Some problems will remain.

First, and most obvious, is human error on a small scale, including typos and erroneous information or algorithms. It exists and can only be mitigated by assuming it will occur. Wikipedia, for one, has this angle covered in more ways than by reminding you that they make no claims of accuracy. Many of the tools they have on their website including a cache of previous pages, editor tracking tools, and their editorial team all work to mitigate human error from their site. Also, the flexibility of their project (due largely to their disclaimer about accuracy but also to the community’s commitment to accuracy) allows them to update pages long after a corporate campaign would have to have moved on.

Second are the major snags that that bog down all projects. Scope creep will not disappear due to a more efficient allocation of resources. Volunteers or even whole communities biting off more than they can chew due to ambition or greed cannot be wholly mitigated.

Therefore, what’s truly at stake in the discussion between hierarchies and adhocracies is the way in which projects are managed. This situation is not, though I enjoy Mark’s rhetoric, a meeting of the finite and infinite, but rather a clash between an old paradigm and a new one where the business world is awaiting a widespread shift from one to the other. If we assume that these stated management problems will continue even after the widespread adoption of the new project management paradigm, are we left with the cataclysm Mark discussed in the linked entry? No; rather, we’re left with an old question which wants to guarantee security in an endeavor (That is, Who is responsible for completing the project?) to a question that seems to have less though actually implies more security (Namely, Can the project be accomplished?).

Having said that, I must admit that I see the inherent power shift to which he’s referring, and I must assume that those in power will resist the necessary transference. For all the badgering about Communism that techies and internet junkies receive, the paradigm into which we’re moving is community-based. However, when you hear about the power of communities to organize themselves and complete a task, do not think about Stalinist Russia, which was in itself an hierarchical power structure where responsibility trickled down from, well, Stalin. Instead, imagine a thousand separate and independently functioning Craigslists where DNSs define the national lines and Google checks all the passports. Somewhere in one of these communities, someone posts, “I need y” and a multitude responds, first from within the community and then from without, “I can supply y” and the poster is left to pick out of the responses who he’ll trust to fill his need including but not limited to accepting all offers for help.

Money, along with other project limitations, will and must exist and sets limits to the amount of effort a community contributes to any particular project. For nonprofits, which most adhocracies are today, the community acts on passion and does all things at all times. As the paradigm shift occurs, however, money will become a prime concern for adhocracies as people become professional rather than volunteer, as we can see occurring with Amazon‘s Mechanical Turk and on Craigslist itself. In these instances the efficiencies of adhocracies remain and yet the community’s desire to do all things is severely limited by their desire to eat and to guarantee such necessities as housing.

Because adhocracies will accomplish tasks more efficiently than an hierarchical management structure, money will become an issue. I will not engage in the folly so early on as to think that such communism will mount outside the bounds of the internet; we have seen that it will not. Also, such communism is not done in the name of communism as an ideal but rather, as it stands now with nonprofits, for passion, and later, as corporations adopt adhocracy as a management style, for money.

This exact issue will demand the power shift that Mark mentioned, a shift of power from the hands of managers into the hands of the community, or, for rhetoric a lay readership may more readily appreciate, a shift from facetime to efficacy. The community will demand and have the power to secure absolute transparency within corporation as they have with the current nonprofits, especially when their efforts are combined with other communities whose sole stated purpose will be to establish said transparency; the adhocracies currently in existence have already set the tone for what users will expect from new communities in the future. The power and efficiency of adhocracies come from hyperawareness and hypervigilance spawned by a community’s open access to all relevant information, keeping account of all aspects within a company; thus, force will shift from the hands of managers, who for the large part will cease to exist, into the hands of the communities crunching and reviewing the numbers.

I have no doubt, as we have already seen, that managers will fight the elimination of their class at large. However, the shift of business from a worse to better solution will facilitate the shift over and despite their moaning. But don’t get me wrong: I don’t begrudge them their moment of complaint. Managers are people who have spent their entire lives developing a set of skills that in one fell swoop will become obsolete, and I pity the frustration that moment must cause. But happen it will, if only in the pursuit of efficiency.

I expect a class of community analysts to rise up in place of managers. Their main function will be–rather than spurring workers to get the project done, for that will happen of its own accord do to the nature of an adhocracy–to make sure that the resources are available within the community to solve the problem put before it. This will not be a source of governance but rather a source of publicity, or rather of recruitment. Multiple communities with the same aim already exist, and competition between online communities will rise as management structures shift into the new paradigm. Community projects will be posted and completed with little or no oversight, drastically reducing the overhead cost of corporations in addition to the simple benefit of efficiency increase brought about by shifting from an hierarchy to an adhocracy.

What will happen to governmental hierarchies… well, that’s another fun question. But that’s for another time and another post.

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Author: Greg Freed

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Filed under Criticism, Workplace