Thursday, September 24, 2009

Sticky Notes, the Em Dash, and Mom

I have always been surrounded by enthusiastic punctuators presenting a myriad of punctuation-related quirks:

  • Grandma used commas in a way that mystified me (but I always felt important when she sent me real mail).
  • An in-law follows each salutation with a semicolon (but always remembers my birthday).
  • An aunt surrounds her signature in quotation marks (but always knows the right thing to say).
  • Others perplexingly pepper quotation marks on random phrases throughout their writings (which keeps me laughing—in a good way).
  • Many overuse commas and exclamation points as if every moment in life is high-action adventure with unexpected and illogical pauses for breath. (Perhaps this is the right way to live.)

The list could continue for pages.

No doubt, this barrage of unusual usage has formed my views on punctuation. I hold each of these punctuation marks—and the punctuators—dearly in my heart. Yet, despite my overexposure to quotation marks, semicolons, commas, and exclamation points, my ultimate preference in punctuation was born of more than 40 years of life orchestration via sticky notes, all neatly arranged and regularly rotated on my parents’ refrigerator. It is born of the discipline of daily checks for new information and directives as conveyed upon quality-controlled, precision-cut squares mirroring my mother’s unrelenting sense of order. It is born of the triumph of my Sicilian mother overcoming her genetic predisposition to illustrate effusive thought with animated hand gestures by redirecting her communicative energy to a more subdued, adhesive-backed outlet. Here, on my mother’s sticky notes, on nearly every appointment reminder and to-do task throughout a lifetime of refrigerator news, is the em dash.

My mother’s em dashes signify thoughts that stretch beyond the limits of 3x3 sheets covered with precise, perfectly-spaced handwriting that only could be produced by a former first grade teacher who drilled thousands of Catholic school children in penmanship. When I was little, the em dash suggested items to bring to school that were obvious extensions of a list that didn’t quite fit on the note. There were em dashes ending the endless reminders of school and sports events, birthday parties, pediatrics appointments, bowling banquets, and parents’ club meetings. As I grew, it sometimes represented information to be privately understood between my parents as they struggled to communicate amidst our large family’s hectic, tangled schedules. When I was a teenager, the em dash signified undetermined babysitting times, reminders about part-time work schedules, or an admonishing reminder of Mom’s omniscience about her teenagers’ behavior. When I was a young adult, the em dash took the place of surnames of college friends and coworkers my parents had not met. In my young married days, em dashes showed my mother’s unspoken emotion following the jotted birth weight and name of a new grandchild or details about an upcoming celebration of a family member’s latest achievement. Now that we are older, the sticky notes no longer act as the nerve center of a once bustling, overcrowded household, but as joyful proclamations of the results of a life of loving industry—reminders of family picnics, birthdays, weddings, graduations, vacations, visits, and birth weights and names of great-grandchildren for a family that grew far beyond imagining. There is comfort in knowing that the sticky notes of our family life are as reliably on the surface of the fridge as meatballs are inside. And, on each one, there is a heartfelt em dash, indicating a depth of emotion and richness of experience that cannot be expressed in mere words.

The em dash, for me, is beloved because it represents a life’s worth of thoughts and feelings my mother left unwritten—but not uncommunicated—on the perfectly square, pastel yellow pages of her ongoing refrigerator memoirs. My em dash impressions are swaddled in a lifetime of loving and firm guidance and support, encouragement and maternal pride, offered by my mother to our family. Em dash, my love for you—and Mom—is forever—

Written in honor of National Punctuation Day and Mom's 80th birthday. Happy birthday, Mom!

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Twitterization of Facebook -- and Me

Jay Baer, a social media consultant, wrote an interesting article, “Imitation and Obsolescence – Facebook Guns for Twitter” in which he asks if Facebook’s recent moves to incorporate Twitter-like features is the beginning of the end for Twitter. (I love how Jay always tries to stir up conversation.) In reference to the new Facebook feature that mimics @replies (a way to flag particular Twitter users) on Twitter, Jay wrote, “… this will break down one of the last cultural differences between Twitter and Facebook in that people ‘follow’ many people…on Twitter whom they don’t really know at all, but most folks restrict Facebook friends to people they actually know…That’s going to change…”

Well, maybe.

Name drops won’t change the way I use Facebook. Facebook only allows a user to have one account/ID. If I were able to have a professional Facebook account AND a personal Facebook account, I’d be golden. But since I have to choose, my Facebook friends are only people I know and trust in meat space. Privacy controls help me feel reasonably comfortable posting details about my family and musings I’d disclose over a latte with buddies at the neighborhood coffee shop, but would never announce over institutional coffee with associates at the conference table. Facebook gives me a way to maintain closer relationships with a greater number of friends and family than I previously could within the time and space limitations of our busy lives. I’m genuinely interested in 90% of my news stream, read it voraciously, and often comment (the other 10% is Farmville and Mafia Wars) because I genuinely care about these people. I’m not trying to widely expand or diversify this network, but simply strengthen or renew bonds that already exist. I suspect that I am not alone in this approach.

But, on Twitter, I don’t know who’s reading, so I post only what I am comfortable disclosing openly. It is a place for social and informational risk-taking---following someone just because they said something interesting, I admire their work, or they are a friend of a friend. The benefit I find in Twitter is expanding my network to include people I don’t (and probably won’t) know in meat space. We have common ground but don’t operate in the same circles, so our perspectives arose differently. This influx of fresh perspective and pointers to sources of information I may not have found otherwise refines, tests, and pushes my thinking---huge value. But, as the net is cast much wider, I have true interest in less than half of the posts in my news stream and only read, comment, or retweet (i.e., re-post as a quote) the stand-outs. The members of my Twitter network aren’t emotionally invested in each other, which is why we’ll sustain the associated social risks. I lose a follower on Twitter and I sigh, but I lose a friend on FB and my heart aches.

I continuously “meet” insanely interesting new people on Twitter, which gives my network breadth. Over time---and if we meet face-to-face---some of the people in my Twitter network may become my friends. But, on Facebook, I continuously learn more about how insanely interesting the friends I already have are, which gives depth to my Facebook network. For me, these are entirely different types of networks.

So, I for one, will be continuing to use both Facebook (minus Farmville and Mafia Wars) and Twitter for the foreseeable future.

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