Happiness on Social Media

Life has been a bit of whirlwind. Only today does it feel like the the dust has settled. And it’s a rainy, dreary, depressing day.

After the kids’ and my spring break trip to Chris’s cousins in Boston and Nantucket, I led a blogging workshop at the Indiana Writers Center and a social media workshop at Religion Communicators Council, both in Indianapolis. Then I visited family in Chicago. It was all great.

I went solo on this recent trip to Indy and Chi-town. And the adage is true: you travel faster when you travel alone. But maybe fast is not always best.

Since taking this MOOC with MIT and last week’s keynote from Daniel Sieberg (I dig Bill Aiken’s summary of Sieberg’s Keynote), I’m asking myself these questions about my social media habit:

Is social media really making me more creative and connected?

Am I using social media only to market my stuff? Or do I really want to get to know you and your stuff too?

Am I oversharing with all my blogging, tweeting, Facebragging, instagramming?

See, I bumped into a friend on the street yesterday and she asked me how my spring cleaning was going. My first response was embarrassment. How did she know I was spring cleaning? But then I remembered my joke on my FB status. I’d updated, “While spring cleaning this morning, I found $3 – who says housework doesn’t pay?”

I felt a little flattered and a little naked. Truly, I write so people will read me.

So, on one hand, I worry if no one will read me, and then, on the other, I worry if people will read my stuff and react. (I write like I dance, like no one is watching me.)

In our last MOOC session on motivation and learning, Natalie Rusk mentioned that the keys to happiness are purpose and belonging. That these lead to personal growth. Maybe social media is for the social good when it encourages all of us to belong, to be purposeful, and to grow together.

Maybe when the rain stops and the dust settles some more, I’ll figure it all out.

Until then, here’s where I market my stuff on my social media — I’ve still got room in my Writing Retreat 4/25-4/28. And I need a few more good writers to make the weekend happen. We can discuss our digital diets over a nice long, leisurely dinner together.

One hour off technology

Writing and Mothering and Listen To Your Mother

pink buds blooming
Across from my apartment, things are starting to bloom.

How Women Can Have It All

flowers in Pennsylvania

On Wednesday night I came home from a work trip to Elizabethtown College, where I was leading communications and organizational change workshops for United Methodist Women. I hung out with my fam and then flopped on my bed with the latest issue of The Atlantic. I LOVE their cover stories; the issues on single women, obesity, and parenting have given me a lot to blog about. (For example, see Letting My Kids Find Their Own Happiness.)

My first reaction — and I feel bad about this — was sheer jealousy. As the author, Anne-Marie Slaughter, admits several times in the article, she is elite. Ms. Slaughter worked for the Obama administration and is now a professor at Princeton College. Sure, I have an advanced degree and a decent job. But as I consider new ventures in the coming months, I don’t get to pick between national policymaking and the Ivy League. (Or do I? Perhaps, it’s true, we women aim too low?)

I feel held back from success, not  just by the age of my kids and the demands of my work, but also by my husband’s chronic illness. As a friend commented on Facebook, “I’d like to have written that article, but I’ve been too busy having it all.” So yes, I was jealous. I wasted time comparing my achievements to Slaughter’s and I came up short. But as the saying goes, Don’t compare your insides to others’ outsides.

I found a lot to like in The Atlantic Article on Having It All, including Slaughter’s suggestion that kids’ schooling hours should match parents’ working hours. As an after-school teacher, (yes, I have part time jobs to go with my full time job), I think kids should stay longer at school. And they should do fun stuff, like drama and sports and art. We all need more time to play. Let’s make work and school more playful and creative and then it’s not such a drag.

One missing ingredient in the article is the need for everyone to create a supportive community, not simply have an awesome spouse. I know I get by with a lot of help from my friends and family. You can pursue happiness  –and remember the pursuit is guaranteed, not the attainment — if you have a village behind you. I’ve written about the three things we need for community: hard work, passion, and diversity.

I need to remember the hero’s journey. The hero has to try and fail several times. And the hero has to leave, even if that means going on a business trip to Pennsylvania!

“You leave the world that you’re in and go into a depth or into a distance or up to a height. There you come to what was missing in your consciousness in the world you formerly inhabited.” (From Joseph Campbell on The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers)

As I set out on a new journey professionally, I know that I will fail. Like Odysseus, the homeland will be in sight and then the winds will whisk me back to the sea. Yet I will adapt. Each of us must make our own quest. With flexibility, creativity, and community, we can pursue happiness (a.k.a., have it all).

Happiness is not found in professional or material success — though give me that success and I’ll let you know. Honestly, success is found in having good relationships and in creating beauty and in being in nature.

So pursue happiness. When you embark on that pursuit, you become the mythic hero on a quest. You become the hero of your own life story. And you can have (or pursue) it all.

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Happy Campers

I tagged along yesterday as an older and wiser camper took my daughter on a tour of her new sleep away camp. We visited the arts and crafts cabin, petted an old horse in the stable and walked to the archery range.

But the most happening stop on the tour was at the stage set. The crew was painting, building, finding props for the production of Charlotte’s Web. Or maybe it was The Ugly Duckling. I was only half listening to the tour guide, hypnotized as I was by the young women working.

The campers and counselors were totally in the zone, like bees building a hive. Each doing their own thing, but doing it for a greater good. Work can be like this — like parallel play; like, we are doing our own thing, but we are side by side. And it all comes together in the end.

When I taught drama to kids, I tried to teach them that the lead role in a show was a small piece in a much bigger puzzle. The real world and work of theater is about collaboration. There are box office managers, set designers, costumers, musicians, lighting engineers, a variety of skilled craftspeople.

Theater is about craft — not about celebrity. It is about being in community and building something even brighter than the brightest star. Theater is about snapping the jigsaw pieces together to create the production.

As our tour guide and my daughter drifted ahead, I dawdled. I wondered if parenting, which often feels like my work alone, is a collaborative project, like a theater production. And maybe this is why I like sending my kids to camp. Yes, they are the brightest stars in my personal production. But they are, like all of us, workers on a set in a production even larger than I understand. They are co-creators of a new show. And I have to let them go.

As parents and as campers, we play our bit parts. We help build the set.

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Volunteering at the Shelter

Last night I volunteered at the women’s shelter at St. Paul and St. Andrew’s. I sat around with six volunteers and my family of five (whom I’d made come to drop off the homemade cookies). My husband and son cut out as soon as we finished our job of setting the table with plasticware and my son was assured he’d get community service credit for the help.

The girls wanted to leave too, but I told them, “Stay until the women arrive.”

I was sitting by the door when the six or so women arrived. I jumped to my feet and greeted them. “Hi! Welcome! Good to see you!”

One women looked confused and indignant, “Do I know you?”

“No,” I said. “I’m just being friendly.” I was embarrassed. Behind the woman’s back, one of my daughters, C., lifted her eyebrows at me protectively. I rolled my eyes, shrugged. Maybe, at times, I can be too friendly. Maybe she didn’t want friendliness, she just came for dinner and shelter. I didn’t mind.

I chatted with a woman who sat beside us. I complimented her on her camouflage-patterned rubber rain boots. We chatted about the ease of slipping on rain boots and all the pretty patterns they come in nowadays. One of my daughters has a pretty pair.

The food was ready and one of the volunteers suggested, “Please help yourself.”

I suggested, “How about a quick grace first?” Then I asked my boot-wearing friend to lead us in prayer. She stood up in the center of the room and blessed the food. I think that’s what she did, I couldn’t hear her too well and she mumbled. It was a short prayer and heartfelt — my favorite kinds.

The girls and I left before dinner. As we said good bye, the Do-I-know-you-woman gave me and the girls a big smile — a huge silly giggly smile — like a kid who’s made a new best friend. We smiled equally wide back at her.

I said good bye to another woman one who was smoking on the front steps. “I’ll come right in after I finish this cigarette,” she said. “Thanks for volunteering.”

“No problem,” I said. And for some reason, she reminded me of my mother. We hopped in a cab and came home.

I don’t know which of my rules this experience relates to. Maybe to the rule about Expect the Best, Love What you Bet. Even from your overly friendly self.