Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Does your writing pass the SO WHAT test?

Time is precious, so the last thing you want your audience to do is feel they wasted it on your copy. The good news: you can easily avoid this problem with a three-step litmus test.

One, take off your writer hat and put on your editing one. Two, pretend you are a member of your intended audience. And three, ask out loud as you read the piece, "SO WHAT?" (Or its cousin WHY SHOULD I CARE.)

Sounds curt, but it might be the difference between delivering value or spewing spam. Your job is to serve the audience, and often, points that seem so important within your organization are NOT important externally.

Moreover, when you serve your audience -- i.e. make your requests or mission applicable and meaningful to them -- you end up achieving the big goals that drove you to talk to them in the first place, such as increasing purchases, donations, petition signatures, site visits, etc.

With this one simple question, you can catch off-topic, off-kilter content early on. And that means SO WHAT just kept your audience from saying SO LONG.

Photo by Daikrieg

Monday, March 30, 2009

Prayer #59: Carpe Vitam

My high school homeroom teacher will never know I associate her with skinned cats.

Mrs. Roman was one of our biology teachers. She was best known for her friendly, calm demeanor; relative youth (only 10 years older than us); and her big physiology project, which was to dissect a cat.

That meant at least two days every year I'd walk into homeroom and get hit with the stench of formaldehyde -- my cue to keep my eyes facing front to avoid seeing the former felines spread out across the lab tables.

Mrs. Roman will never know I associate her with skinned cats because I no longer have the opportunity to tell her. In a tragic example of life's injustice, she succumbed last week to cancer. Only 35, she leaves behind a husband, three young children, and a grieving community.

Unlike with the cats in her classroom, I cannot avoid acknowledging Mrs. Roman's death. I cannot look away or hold my breath. Instead, I grieve for our shared past, years neither of us will see again. I grieve for her children, who will lose her anew at each milestone in their lives. And I grieve for the opportunities we all miss to celebrate life as we're living it.

* * *

When someone dies, do our memories revise? Do we look back and let the person slowly fade, so we can keep the loss and sorrow at arm's length? Or do we keep them in vibrant Technicolor, so that we remember the moments we did right, and can repeat them with others?

None of us can read minds or crystal balls. Yet with death, we all read the writing on the wall, even if the exact details are unknown. May we write toward that ending the best we can, and relish the story as we go.

Prayer #59: Carpe Vitam

To the God who exists outside of Time --

In the fullness of Your grace, help us forget the steady march of days, and instead live in the sacred, eternal now.

You are the promise that our lives will change -- not end -- with death. May our choices and actions help You keep that vow.


Friday, March 27, 2009

Friday Fun: Little Red Riding Hood on crack

If crack equals techno/house music, graphic design programs, and a post-modern sensibility. (Why, what did you think this was going to be about? Crack is whack, man.)

Here's a classic fairy tale as reinterpreted by designer Tomas Nilsson:

SlagsmÄlsklubben - Sponsored by destiny from Tomas Nilsson on Vimeo.

P.S. I don't know what the caption translates to, but I hope it means "trippy."


Hat tip to Jake Brewer for posting this on Twitter

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Should we save newspapers -- or journalism?

It began with a Twitter chat ...
@RocchiJulia: Why we can't let newspaper journalism die: http://tinyurl.com/cfyknv

@spurdave [aka Dave Svet of Spur Communications]: Should we save journalism or newspapers? I would like to see journalism have a sustainable economic model.

@RocchiJulia: Good distinction. I think we need to preserve in-depth journalism. I agree, the model and delivery should change with the times.

@spurdave: Thanks. My Dad was a newspaper guy. Watching this is killing me. We can't mourn the death of journalism. We won't be safe.

@RocchiJulia: I think the shifting models have caused laziness -- biased reporting, lack of research, etc.

@spurdave: I think a lot of the lack of quality in current reporting is due to budget cuts and a thirst for ad $. Impartiality went away.

... and ended with me making a thinking face. (Which, for those of you who don't make these often enough, involves furrowing your brow and tapping your finger on your cheek in contemplation.)

Without a doubt, the institution of newspapers is dying, dealing another psychological blow to our bad-news-weary nation. Shrouds, wailing, and hand-wringing are rampant. But what should we really focus on resuscitating -- newspapers and their outmoded business models, or journalism itself?

Before we answer, let's have a quick lit review:

* First, the actual news about the news, best exemplified by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's move to digital-only format. Here are woeful and upbeat takes on the announcement.

* Then, the dire situation cast with fine doom-and-gloom panache by Albert R. Hunt. Key phrase: "... maybe when the economy rebounds, newspapers will get a bounce, too, although the structural problems predated the financial crisis. And there may be costly casualties in the interim. That may not matter much for a vibrant economy. It matters a lot for a vibrant democracy."

* After that, a look at Arianna Huffington and her model-shifting Huffington Post, credited for seeing the newswriting on the wall (or perhaps blamed by some for holding the pen).

* Immediately following, a glimpse into the future of the newspaper industry. Will it be a for-profit model a la GlobalPost? Or will we (brilliantly? awkwardly? inadvisedly?) combine two worlds with a service such as The Printed Blog?

* Now we're at the reigning champ of all these discussions, Clay Shirky's Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable. His key takeaway here:

Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism. For a century, the imperatives to strengthen journalism and to strengthen newspapers have been so tightly wound as to be indistinguishable. That’s been a fine accident to have, but when that accident stops, as it is stopping before our eyes, we’re going to need lots of other ways to strengthen journalism instead.

When we shift our attention from ’save newspapers’ to ’save society’, the imperative changes from ‘preserve the current institutions’ to ‘do whatever works.’ And what works today isn’t the same as what used to work.

* And finally, the end, with a strong summary from Mark Bertils (hat tip to Andrew Savikas at TOC):
Journalism is the act. Newspapers are the artifact. The infrastructure around the artifact is imploding, never to be replaced.

So what should we save? Journalism, of course. Its delivery vehicle is simply a straw man, one that can (and will be forced to) adapt with our Web-driven times. And what that will look like ... well, it doesn't seem anyone knows.

But we do know that our world continues to be tangled, confusing, even dark. Now more than ever, we need skeptics, watchdogs, interrogators, and gumshoes. We need eyes and ears in all the places and situations we fear to tread.

What's more, we need to support our journalists to ensure their essential service to our society continues. And we must hold them accountable to the highest possible standard of reporting and integrity, because in the end, their quality and content will be the only deciding benchmark of who survives the revolution.

Thinking faces on, everybody. There's more to come.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Word on the street: Is Sarah Palin involved in this?

The scene: I write a blog post discussing unfair/unproductive donor solicitation tactics. Three days later, this envelope arrives in my mailbox.

No really, please read it a little closer:

Dear God, I don't know! What can I do? Oh wait, the envelope is guiding me:

What petition? Maybe the back of the envelope can clarify:

Oh. Good to know. But how in the world did they fit a tote bag in a 8.5 by 11" envelope?

The End.*

* Until I actually open the scary envelope, figure out what they're really asking me, and write about it next week.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Some new comments about comments

Everything in moderation. I apply this principle to food, drink, exercise, partying, etc. And now, I will apply it to my blog comments as well.

Why the new approach? Well, I never expected to get more than 1 or 2 comments every once in a awhile at IMS, seeing as I wasn't aiming for a discussion blog. Turns out my aim was a wee bit off -- and that's a very cool and welcome surprise!

Believe me, I love the fact you're all willing to jump in and discuss the topics in my posts. And I beg encourage you to continue! I'll just be exercising my editorial right a little more formally to keep conversations focused and friendly.

So how does this change your IMS experience? It doesn't really. The only difference in your comment process will be a slight delay between when you write the comment and when it appears on the site -- with me checking it out in the interim.

I hope you'll take a minute to read the full comment policy here. It follows standard blog comment policy, and helps explain what we all can do to keep IMS welcoming for everyone.

Ok, enough with wearing this blog moderator hat. It itches. Time to return to what I do best and love most -- writing about a wide array of topics that nourish your soul, mind, and body.

P.S. THANK YOU for being such terrific readers and responders!I know there are a million places you could devote your time and attention to, and I really appreciate you making IMS one of your stops.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Prayer #58: Exhaustion Pipe

Kind of how I feel right now:

Prayer #58: Exhaustion Pipe

Lord, can You hold off on being the rock of salvation for a moment, and be a pillow instead?

A firm pillow, so that my integrity is sound and my moral backbone intact. And yet a soft one, so that my tossing and turning, my questioning and wandering, is invited and accepted.

From the setting sun to the rising dawn, I look to You for peace and comfort. Ease my body and my mind. And as my wildest dreams and darkest nightmares play out with You against my cheek, may I rest assured You lead me toward a waking state.


Friday, March 20, 2009

Why meat and Catholics don't mix

Every Friday in the spring, I am hit with a deep-seated, gnawing, almost violent desire for pepperoni. Or meatballs. Or Porterhouse steak. Or human flesh. Basically, any available meat product or byproduct (I won't judge).

No, I don't have an iron deficiency that kicks in by week's end. It's more of a sacrificial deficiency. Because I'm told I can't have meat, it's then the only thing I want.

The body denying my body sweet meat, of course, is the Catholic Church, an institution well-known for gleefully testing human beings' ability to resist pigs in a blanket its theology about fasting and abstinence during Lent.

Being a dutiful little Catholic, my Lenten Fridays typically follow this routine:
1. Wake up. Crave scrapple. Resist temptation.

2. Go out to lunch. Explain to friends how ordering salad sanctifies me. Act very mystical and mysterious. Crave hamburger. Resist temptation.

3. Call my mother. Tell her I just ate hamburger. Listen to her freak out. Don't feel guilty about not resisting that particular temptation.

4. Make dinner. Crave salami. Resist temptation.

5. Say prayers before bed. Ask for forgiveness for tormenting mother. Secretly plan to do it again next Friday. Crave chicken nuggets. Resist temptation. (Maybe. Depends on how late it is.)
After 25 years of this routine, you'd think I'd be used to it. Hell, I don't even eat most of these foods on any regular basis. But then Friday rolls around, and instead of offering up my fast as contemplative Christian penance, I thank God I'm not Jewish, because then I'd NEVER be allowed to eat pork. Ever. At all.

But why, really, is foregoing meat a sacrifice, and how did this tradition evolve? I realized I didn't have good answers for the 8 million questions I field each Friday when I'm eating with non-Catholic friends. So I Googled did a little digging to figure out why exactly meat gets kicked to the curb once a week in the Catholic tradition.

FACT: We're all rich and fat on meat now, but it used to be a luxury, a hallmark of celebration. Throw in the fact that Jesus died on a Friday, which puts us in a more penitential mood, and voila! we honor the day by abstaining from meat. It's about giving up something special; so as my campus minister Eileen used to say, "If your only food choices on Friday are filet mignon and baloney, go with baloney, because it is the lesser meat."

FACT: Fridays are also a day of fasting. I say "also" because fasting and abstinence are not synonymous. As About.com puts it, "In general, fasting refers to restrictions on the quantity of the food we eat and on when we consume it, while abstinence refers to the avoidance of particular foods." (BONUS FACT: All the goody two shoes extra-pious fast every Friday throughout the year. Hence all the fish specials in restaurants on Fridays.)

FACT: You better have a damn good reason not to follow this rule. Being pregnant or crazy are both acceptable excuses.

FACT: Simplicity is key. So cooking an incredible edible fish dish is not in keeping with the spirit of Lent. (Sorry Mom.) Instead, we're asked to use that energy to "clarify our thinking and our feeling." Which is terrific, unless you're thinking about hot dogs.

FACT: Speaking of hot dogs ... read this article's tagline. Hi-larious.

In conclusion, I have learned that answering "Because God will smite me" is not only melodramatic, but incorrect. My apologies to all friends who received this info from me previously. Please refer here for sounder theological responses. And here for meat.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Kiss or cuss? Two ways to beat recession stress

I've got the recession blues -- that dejected state of waning hope fueled by the steady drumbeat of bad news. But thanks to my big mouth, I now have two ways to combat the stress, according to MSNBC.

For my more touchy-feely days, I can lay a smacker on my loved ones to lower my cortisol. Holding hands can also help, though with less pronounced effect (and less fun).

And for days I'm not feeling so ooey-gooey, I can say "phooey!" -- or something a wee bit stronger -- to get a much-needed catharsis. Good news for the Puritans among us: You need not say the 7 dirty words to reap the health benefits of explosive exclamations. Any burst will do.

So what will it be, my friends in stress management? Pucker or f*@$ 'er? Either way, we can look forward to a brighter, happier future!

Photo by programwitch

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Swag in the name of service

Yes, ServiceNation, I can be bought for the price of a T-shirt and some well-designed press materials. Behold, the first blogger swag I have ever received via mail!

Of course, any semi-regular IMS reader knows I have been a tag-along blogger for ServiceNation since its kickoff last September. So while the fun package of free goodies didn't buy any more of my loyalty, it did remind me to update you on where the movement stands.

* President Obama renewed the call for service at his inauguration:
“And to encourage a renewed spirit of national service for this and future generations, I ask this Congress to send me the bipartisan legislation that bears the name of Senator Orrin Hatch as well as an American who has never stopped asking what he can do for his country – Senator Edward Kennedy.”

* The GIVE Act and Serve America Act are in the House and Senate respectively, and moving toward final passage. Get involved by calling your representative, becoming a co-sponsor, and/or signing the Facebook petition.

* Track the Kennedy-Hatch Act at OpenCongress.org. You can even make a bill status widget! (Because nothing says "hey, my blog is sexy!" quite like that does.)

And as always, if you have any stories, kudos, critiques, or other thoughts related to national service, please share them here!

P.S. to ServiceNation ... next time could you send handbags, perfume, and other accessories? I promise to give none of some of ok fine ALL of it away to needy children. And if that won't work, then a different T-shirt (size small) would work. Or some link love. Or a cookie. Whatever works.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

It's 6 pm -- do you know who your audience is?

Dear writers, marketers, and organizations:

Want to waste your time? Take a bullhorn, stand on top of a skyscraper, and say the Very Important Messages you're dying to say. No one will hear you, but who cares? You can at least cross something off your To-Do list.


I never want to mail this letter to you. Yet I fear I may have to if you continue to NOT define your audience before you begin writing/messaging/making pretty press handouts. Because really, let's be serious: If you don’t know WHO you’re trying to reach, HOW are you going to reach them?

Defining your audience is an essential first step in any communication. campaign media planning. It helps you clarify your external/public-facing goals, outline the objectives, and plot out the appropriate tactics for achieving them.

The more specific your audience, the better. You can have multiple audiences, with messages and media targeted directly to their unique attributes.

Example: “Everyone with a pulse” is NOT a viable audience. “Middle-class women in their 30s-40s with discretionary income and a history of cause donation” IS a viable audience.

How You Can Define/Segment Your Audience

Your audience definitions will vary depending on your broader communication goals. I want to increase donation conversions by X%, I want to build my email list by 200 people, etc.

Here are some examples of questions to help you determine and then segment your audiences. I've compiled them from the great list of resources at the end of this post:
  • What does your typical donor/customer/email recipient look like?
  • What does your ideal donor/customer/email recipient look like?
  • What do many of your donor/customer/email recipients have in common?
  • What is the age range of this group?
  • How much education does this group have? What type of education?
  • How much computer and Internet experience do they have?
  • Is this group comfortable with technology?
  • Where and how does your audience get their information?
  • Do they need your product/information?
  • Do they want your product/information?
  • When do they open the emails?
  • Which links do they click on?
  • What offers or calls to action do they respond to?
  • What are they looking at on your sites/profiles/newsletters?
  • What do you want them to know, believe, or feel after they read your email/click your widget/watch your video?
  • When and where will they read/click/watch it?
  • Why will they read/click/watch it?

Next Steps in Expanding Your Audience

These will all be built out in future posts, but here's the thumbnail sketch to get you started:

1. Survey your audience for any info you haven’t already captured.

2. Identify your key metrics (will vary with each plan or campaign).

3. Get a baseline on those key metrics, and then set monthly, quarterly, and/or annual growth goals.

4. Run A/B tests on keywords, image placement, calls to action, etc. Evaluate results.

5. Continue what works, refine what doesn’t, and keep experimenting!

And step #6 ... let me know how it goes. ;)

More articles and worksheets for you happy learning types:

Conversion: Define Your Audience

Define Your Audience (questions to ask)

SME Toolkit
Segment Your Audience
Define Your Audience

Email Marketing: Define Your Audience (inferences from open rates and clicks)

Web Analytics: Understand, Then Segment Your Audience (more ideas for segmenting)

How to Segment Your E-mail Marketing

Segment Your Audience for Marketing Relevance: Goodwill Splits Its Base 25 Ways (case study)

Chris Brogan: What Does Your Audience Need?

Photo by This Is A Wake Up Call

Monday, March 16, 2009

Prayer #57: Pray With Your Food

You know your family is Italian when your grandparents come to see you in your play, and instead of giving you flowers, your grandmother surprises you with hard provolone and pepperoni from her local deli.

True story. Check the fridge if you don't believe me.

Prayer #57: Pray With Your Food

Bless us, O Lord, and these Thy gifts, which we are about to receive ...

But not before thanking you for the soil, air, and water that nurtures our ingredients.

For full supermarket aisles and the money to grocery shop.

For cooking utensils and pans with lids.

For culinary imaginations, experiments, and inventions.

For kitchen tables, the altar for everyday rituals.

For fast food, slow-cookers, bite-size snacks, and day-long feasts.

And for the fuel that powers our daily journeys.

May we see the metaphysical in the metabolic, and remember this is all ... from Thy bounty, through Christ our Lord.


Friday, March 13, 2009

Do you have to be dumb to get a date?

Since my American man post drew such a - ahem - vocal response, I thought it best to put gender/relationship discussions on the back burner for a bit.

But then along came Dr. Alex Benzer (author of The Tao of Dating) with the firm pronouncement that smart people have the toughest time dating.

Why? Because their superior intelligence interrupts natural relationship behavior. His five main points:
1. Smart people spent more time on achievements than on relationships when growing up.

2. Smart people feel that they're entitled to love because of their achievements.

3. You don't feel like a fully-realized sexual being, and therefore don't act like one.

4. You're exceptionally talented at getting in the way of your own romantic success.

5. By virtue (or vice) of being smart, you eliminate most of the planet's inhabitants as a dating prospect.

I leave it to you to read his full points in the original article, but I thought a brief rebuttal was in order. And in the interest of full disclosure, I am operating under my personal belief that I am a "smart" person which, if you don't agree with, obviously shows that you are stupid and I am at least smarter than you.

Let the counterpoints begin ...

1. Truly smart people recognize that healthy, positive relationships are achievements too. Not all lessons or skill building take place in a vaccuum. In fact, most don't. So you can be a well-rounded individual in both active AND social skills simply by choosing at least one activity or two where interaction is involved. Examples: volunteering, intramural sports, worship services, community theater, etc.

2. Everyone is entitled to love. Love is blind, right? So just as someone who loves you for who you are doesn't see your weight gain, weird parents, or annoying habit of picking your teeth after dinner, he/she won't be judging you on your IQ. Here, I think Dr. Benzer nutshells it perfectly: "Your romantic success has nothing to do with your mental jewelry and everything to do with how you make the other person feel."

3. The right partner for you will think smart = sexy ... but only if you believe it first. Intelligence and sexuality are far from mutually exclusive. Truly smart people get this, which translates into self-awareness and confidence -- very sexy (not to mention enduring) qualities. This is a great help in relationships, because for folks destined to be your kindred spirits (friends and lovers alike), your ability to recognize and celebrate all aspects of your makeup will be a major draw.

4. EVERYONE is exceptionally talented at getting in the way of our own romantic success. Again, IQs have nothing to do with it. Somewhere along the way, we all started overanalyzing, overworrying, overcomplicating what used to be a natural, straightforward process. I don't care if you're Anna Karenina or Bridget Jones; everyone screws this up at some point or another, in all manners and by all means, so our intellectual elite shouldn't be counting themselves special in any way.

5. Define "smart" before you define your partner. Intelligence and compatibility comes in many ways and forms. So if "smart" people are discounting folks on one factor alone, are they really all that smart? I'm not advocating finding someone you can't talk to, or who doesn't "get" you. I'm simply saying that those essential fundamentals -- communication and understanding -- can come without a Mensa card attached.

Again, Dr. Benzer makes a good point: "The purpose of relationship (and perhaps all of life) is to practice the loving. No partner is going to be 100% perfect anyway, so learn to appreciate people for what they have to offer, not what they don't. And love them for that. That's what real loving is."

And that's exactly what the right person will do for you. Even if you're a big smarty pants.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Eleanor Holmes Norton saw my castmate naked

Ah, DC -- the only place on earth where you perform for the very politicians you're skewering.

That's what happened yesterday at Hexagon's annual Congress Night performance, with special guests Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) and Joe Wilson (R-SC) as our Newsbreak announcers.

Some points of interest:

* Eleanor is the only Newsbreak reader to select and edit her material.

* Joe came with his aide, who looked about 12 and said three words.

* Good public speakers do not always good comedians make, but A+ for being game! It helps they had an appreciative audience.

* Eleanor and Joe hung out in the dressing room a good bit before the show and during intermission. Which led my castmate Stuart to realize, "I can now say my Congresswoman has seen me naked."

And there you have it -- my slightly surreal life.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Is all solicitation fair in love and charity?

Alright, so maybe my copy of Reality Check is overdue at the library. I'm keeping it longer anyway, though, because it's helpful and direct and thought-provoking, especially when Guy Kawasaki interviews Dr. Robert Cialdini about influence.

You can read the full post here (and I recommend you do). One point that stuck with me, however, was the story about the Hare Krishnas as an example of what NOT to do when soliciting donations:
I did some research in the airports of our country to see how one particular organization, the Hare Krishnas, use this principle to get people to give them money when they don't know anything about this organization-and don't especially like this organization. They had hit upon a strategy that worked remarkably well. Before they ask you for a contribution, they give you something. It can be a book; it can be a flower. In the most cost-effective version, they walk up and they hand you a flower or they pin a flower on your lapel, and you say, I didn't ask for that. Here, take this flower back. And they say, Oh no, no, no. That's our gift to you. However, if you'd like to give a few dollars for the good works of this society, that would be greatly appreciated.

I saw them work for an entire day in the O'Hare Airport. And what I saw was a remarkable testimony to the power of this rule that people feel that if they have received, they can't just walk away without giving something in return. It goes against all our upbringing. Remember our teachers told us, our parents told us, “You must not take without giving in return.” We have very nasty names for people who take without giving in return. We call them moochers or takers, or, as somebody at a conference where I was speaking said, teenagers. Nobody wants to be thought of as immature or a moocher or a taker. What the Krishnas learned was that if they could get somebody to accept something, then that person would feel an obligation to give something back.

What the Krishnas are doing is giving people something that they don't want, it has no value for them, in exchange for something that does have value: their money. And that has created an immediate success for the Krishnas and a long-term disaster. Did you know that they declared bankruptcy in the United States?

Question: Why?
Answer: Because once people have encountered this kind of ploy-this exploitation of the influence principles, they don't want to deal with this person again. If people believed that they received something of value, then they feel that you're entitled to get something in return. You've established a relationship with them. A relationship that leads to referrals, leads to repeat business, good word-of-mouth advertising and so on. And that relationship is a very positive lever for future profit.

I see a powerful nonprofit/charity tie-in here. As the story illustrates, it is easy to prey on people's ingrained fairness. Charities give a gift, you feel obligated to return the favor.

But is this fair of them to do? I'm thinking of the multiple organizations that mail me decorative return address labels, greeting cards, and calendars. I groan whenever I receive this gifts. Not because I don't support the missions, but because I usually haven't budgeted any donations for them and can't afford to make an ad hoc gift.

Worse, I feel guilty using the goods, but I use them anyway. And then I rationalize my guilt away by saying "Ah well, they shouldn't have sent me something for nothing."

This internal response upsets me for two reasons:

1. Apparently I've managed to circumvent my fundamental principles of fairness and charity and reciprocation, all for want of an envelope label.

2. I'm coming to associate these groups with negative feelings. I'm re-annoyed every time I mail a letter and use a label. So I eventually don't want to help them, just out of something dangerously close to spite.

That means that they're losing me as a donor now and forever -- hardly a sustainable strategy. And it means that any money they spent producing the gifts and sending out the mailing is NOT going toward the charity and is NOT being recouped.

So I ask you, dear readers: Following the principles of influence, how can charities and nonprofits who rely on donors better form a relationship with me to ensure I always give and don't come to resent them? I'll post thoughts, ideas, and feedback in a follow-up post next week.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Why women should wait before asking about weight

Oh, ye of the feminine sex, how you distress me. Where along the evolutionary chain did we women develop a penchant for commenting on and discussing each others' weight? And why do we insist on using other bodies as benchmarks for our own?

Exhibit A => this conversation that happened last week:
Woman: Julia, how do you stay so skinny?

Me: Umm ... I eat a lot of vegetables. Lots and lots of vegetables.

Woman: Wow! I love that you gave me an actual answer and just didn't say "Uh, I dunno." You're like, "No, I work hard on this and it doesn't come naturally!" Awesome. Whereas I just ordered an Oreo milkshake for dinner ...

On the face of it, the conversation seems harmless, even flattering. But deep down, several elements of it bothered me.

FIRST, I abhor the word "skinny." To me, it connotes malnourishment, no softness, no energy. Even its letters have pointy knees and elbows. I never want to be skinny; I want to be barefoot and big-chested in the Mediterranean strong, soft, flexible, etc. Nor do I think "skinny" should be women's dream weight goal. The exception: women who are naturally thin and equally deserve to celebrate their God-given shapes without shame.

SECOND, why are people always so surprised to hear me cite diet, exercise, and moderation as the keys to my current weight? This is not new medical information. Any successful long-term diet program is founded on these principles, and they've been linked to numerous health benefits, such as reduced cancer risk, longevity, and better sex.

I'm starting to think it's not the information, but rather the idea that someone is working really hard to keep that discipline in her life, that surprises others. Because no, it's NOT easy. Especially when the Breyers half-gallon in the freezer and the bottle of Chianti on the shelf call my name each night. But it's a helluva lot more satisfying to fit into my pants year after year than indulge in my two favorite things every day.

THIRD, to the interrogators: Asking about weight makes you teeter on the edge of a slippery slope. Nine times out of 10, you do not know a person's health history, lifestyle choices, or genetic makeup. A thousand factors are combining to give a particular woman a wide frame or a small waist -- some of which are planned and others just chance. So even the best-of-intentions questions run the risk of embarrassing or offending the person you're asking.

And FINALLY, to the interrogated: Why are women embarrassed to admit they take care of themselves? Maintaining your health and energy to the best of your ability is a badge of honor in my eyes. It signals to the world you love and respect yourself enough to keep your body in proper order. By the way, proper order does not necessarily mean slender and toned. It means having the right BMI for your height and age, minimizing your weight-related health risks, and feeling positive and confident about your appearance.

From one woman to all my sisters ... please, claim your weight, for better or for worse. We owe it to ourselves to nurture these fragile shells that are keeping us alive and upright in a buffeting world. How else how we going to have strength to protect everyone else in return?

To paraphrase Her Bad Mother's post on What Does A Body Good, we are stuck between wanting to love our bodies as they are, and wanting to change them. I hope we can find a happy medium -- one of acceptance, discipline, and continuous improvement and enjoyment.

Photo by carloalberto

Monday, March 09, 2009

Prayer #56: Unconquerable

Let unconquerable gladness dwell.
{motto hanging in Franklin D. Roosevelt's office}

Prayer #56: Unconquerable

May we draw strength from quiet victories in our routine days.
May we relish the unexpected joys that shape our more satisfying moments.
May we celebrate achieving our potential -- and then set a new benchmark.
May we listen with intent to understand, and with understanding, to act.
May we take the right kind of pride in doing right by You and by ourselves.
May we underpin our power with humility and gratitude.
And may our unconquerable destinies always be wrapped up in You.


Sunday, March 08, 2009

Looking for new ways to expand your mind?

No, I am not referring to anything - ahem - pharmaceutical in nature. This is strictly about new online reading material. Minds out of gutters, people.

Of course, I'm making the HUGE assumption here that you have enough time to read all the books/track all the sites/follow all the feeds you've already committed yourself to. And though I'm pretty sure you don't, I'm going to point out some fun additions to my blogroll anyway that you might want to check out in a rare spare moment.

And at the very least, you'll have a little more insight into this blog's author!

Beth's Blog: How Nonprofits Can Use Social Media. Beth Kanter is reigning queen of social media in the nonprofit world. Few lessons are learned, and fewer trends succeed, without going through Beth. Check her out on Twitter too (@kanter) for how to achieve the most digital good.

TED Blog. It stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. Because we all need regular reminders that a) Earth hosts some very brilliant people, b) we are probably not among them, and c) those folks are saving us from ourselves. The video lectures have amazing production quality, and the topics are wide-ranging. Trust me, the content will blow your mind.

This I Believe. I've linked to this so many times in the past few months, I figured I might as well stick it on the blogroll. I have a crush on ordinary people sharing their stories. Share the love.

Thoughts and Reflections On and About Rural Life. Blogger/minister Jim Kane (@jjkane) has been a wonderful supporter of mine over the last few months, so I honor him here with a blogroll spot for his unique POV into rural life and leadership. You can also check out his religious writing at Small Town Sermons and Thoughts.

Young Adult Catholics. Because I'm a young adult Catholic myself. And because I love the fact they have a team of smart bloggers and a progressive mindset and the refreshing understanding that spirituality is everywhere. I'll be following with interest -- perhaps you'll join?

Now stop reading this list and read the blogs themselves. Go. GO!

Photo by moriza

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Word on the street: You give me fevers

The scene: The spa, where I have gone to get a deep tissue massage as a reward for finding employment. A young woman about a foot shorter and 20 pounds lighter than I am is my masseuse. Her name is MJ. She has a stock Slavic accent, the kind you hear in Cold War movies or Rocky & Bullwinkle cartoons. She begins working on the enormous knots in my back.

The scene, continued: And by "working on," I mean she crushes me with strength that seems incongruous with her petite frame. I endure in silence until it becomes necessary to distract myself from the blinding pain.

Julia: So, what are knots, exactly?

MJ: Well, they are the muscles. But sometimes they are the tendons, and sometimes they are the nerves.

Julia: Ok ... so what causes knots?

MJ: Well, the muscles, they get strained. Or they are all bundled up, you know, with the fevers.

Julia: Fevers?

MJ: Yes, the fevers, the fevers ... oh, maybe that is the wrong word? The fivers? Fivers, maybe?

Julia: Oh, do you mean "fibers"?

MJ: Yes! Fibers! The fibers, they get tangled. Unless they are the nerves. And that's why it hurts.

Julia: Ok, good to know. (Inner monologue: By which I mean, I still have no idea what knots are and what causes them.)

MJ: (pounding my back) You should come back more often. So much tension, not good ... (pounds my back again)

Julia: Yeah, that sounds like a smart idea. (Inner monologue: Were you trained by the Gulag?)

The End.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Funny Baby Pictures: Snow is SUCH a bear

For the Northeast, March came in not like a lion, not like a lamb, but rather, more like a polar bear.

In honor of that wintry surprise, I dedicate today's Funny Baby Pictures to all children who didn't let eight layers of restrictive snow gear hold them back from giving power to the powder.

Before ...

And after.

Have a marvelous weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

How to quell your inner diva

I didn't always have a diva.

I prided myself on being the calm one in shows. The one who followed instructions, knew her entrances, learned her lines early on. I was the one who rolled with the punches, leaned on the expertise of the music and tech crews, and all-around didn't fuss.

But then I joined Hexagon, at a time in my life when I had many other unusual stresses buffeting my ordered world. And amid the chaos, my inner diva made herself known.

I don't know if my castmates see her. I hope they don't; I'm trying to rein her in. But I know she's there. I feel her itching beneath the dance tights and clawing through my makeup, clamoring for attention.

The thing is, I can't -- won't -- indulge her. She doesn't seem to understand that this is a transition year for the theater troupe. The space, logistics, and schedules are new to everyone, even the diehard Hexagon vets. We're all feeling/singing/dancing our way through this strange new world. It is no time or place for divas.

I keep telling her this. Because I know that restraints can foster innovation, and we can get the same or better result if we accept our new parameters, stay flexible, and simply deal. Exhibits A, B, and C: the cool modular set design, portable dressing rooms, and base costumes.

I do recognize we can't replace certain elements, like having an orchestra pit, fly space, or permanent storage facilities. But though it's a shame not to have them this year, I say to her, look at all the cool ways we're solving the problems. Look how many people are putting extra time and effort into making this a success. What a testament to our organization's commitment!

She doesn't like that. She wants more dressing room space. Nor is she terribly fond of prancing around in skin-tight leotards for three big scenes, with thighs, rear, and other jiggly bits on display for 200 patrons every night for 23 shows.

Well, that's tough, inner diva. You were cast in these roles and others because the director believed you could sell it. For once in your life, you were considered cute enough -- dare I say, sexy enough -- to be a believable Kate Moss or Playboy Bunny. Suck it in up, and enjoy the exhibitionist ride!

Besides, all the acting, singing, dancing, and even handling some stage crew duties gives me a great appreciation for people who do any one of those really, really well. You've learned so much about what you can handle. After all, you've never been in a show where 17 cast members achieved a full-out, original musical. Look around you, I say to my diva -- this is creativity at its purest and finest!

I choose to regard her petulant silence as tacit agreement.

Because let's be honest. I don't care what she thinks. We're one night away from opening, and my excitement is through the roof. Soon we'll have an audience laughing at the jokes, absorbing the lyrics, appreciating all the hard work and time and energy our entire organization has poured into this production.

THIS is the right way to feed an ego, I tell my diva. It's not about dressing rooms or personal costuming. It's about sharing your talents with the world and bringing a little more laughter to these bleak days.

Hmm. The itching has gone down. Perhaps she was listening more closely than I thought. Good timing -- I have a show to do!

Photo by Kristi Lady

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

UPDATE: "Love Comes Cropped 3x5" now on ThisIBelieve.org!

Ok, so I wasn't chosen for broadcast, but I still feel like I staked a claim to another infinitesimal corner of the Web today when ThisIBelieve.org informed me my submitted essay is now archived on their site.

Even better, I got an email from them. And though it's a form email, I still feel touched by greatness, much like when Guy Kawasaki followed me on most addictive site ever, just see my sidebar Twitter. Here it is to wit, with my comments in bold brackets:
Dear Julia Rocchi:

Thank you for submitting an essay to This I Believe. [You're welcome! I do what I can.] Your essay has now completed our review process. Though your essay was not chosen for broadcast on NPR [:(], the larger goal of our project is to open a community conversation about belief -- one essay at a time. To that end, we have placed your essay in the This I Believe online database. [This is the Web equivalent of putting "really special" gifts in the closet for safekeeping.][...]

Please don’t consider this in any way a "rejection." [Well, it is, but I'm cool with it. No worries!] Our criteria for broadcast consider many factors beyond subjective notions of quality. We air only a fraction of one percent of those submitted, and we must balance our few selections across themes, perspectives, diversity of sources, and so on. [What?!?! Really?? I'm shocked you don't consider a white middle-class woman's perspective diverse. SHOCKED.]

Though your essay has not been selected for NPR, we are working to find other venues to publish some of the many thousands of essays we have received, including newspapers, podcasts, and local public radio stations. [I love public speaking! Pick me!] Should we find a venue to print or broadcast your essay, one of our staff will be in touch with you. [I won't eat until then. I don't want my mouth to be full when you call.]

We are honored by your having shared your most closely held convictions with us. Thank you, sincerely, for participating in our project. [You're welcome, sincerely. This was a fun exercise to be repeated soon.]

-- The staff of This I Believe [If I cook you dinner, will you change your mind?]
So what have we learned from this little exercise?

1. The folks at This I Believe are predictably gentle and kind.

2. It's worth submitting more, if only to add voice and momentum to the tens of thousands other essays, and to be part of such a deeply felt sociological/anthropological endeavor.

3. Take some time to browse the site. There are some really remarkable pieces up there, like 50 Things I Believe from 6-yo Tarak McLain or Finding the Flexibility to Survive by high schooler Brighton Earley.

4. At this rate, I'll take over the Internets by 3072!!

Image from Podbean.com

Monday, March 02, 2009

Prayer #55: Frame the Focus

Is writing multiple To-Do lists and then simultaneously ignoring them considered multi-tasking?

Prayer #55: Frame the Focus

Lord, help me focus on focusing. May I read the library book I keep renewing. May I finish writing a letter before I check e-mail. May I prepare my lunch before I make dinner plans.

Help me remember that it's a physical and temporal impossibility to always be planning for the future, because then I'll never experience the present I so carefully managed.

So keep me in this moment with You -- a moment of known past and undetermined future, where calendars reduce to planetary motion and time is but a machination.

For what we share is eternal, and You deserve -- demand -- my undivided attention.