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Another #tober!

#Preptober is the October practice of daily preparation for National Novel Writing Month.

Merchandise poster from the Nanowrimo.org site

It’s Oct. 22, so I don’t think I’ll be taking on another daily task. I’ve been steadily blogging and drawing along with #blogtober and #inktober respectively, and have dipped my toe in the #flashtober waters. #Preptober is seemingly well-established thing, but this is the first I’m hearing of it.

National Novel Writing Month, or NanoWriMo, is a phenomenon in itself. It’s an online writing community that gathers in November every year to support each other while each member individually writes 50,000 words in one month. It started out as a small group online and has grown into a worldwide thing. Local groups meet in person. There’s forums online. Merch. (I buy t-shirts frequently). Hardly any traditionally published books begin at NanoWriMo. The point is learning how to silence the “inner editor” and just brute force your muse into producing. There is use to this. But for me the 1776/7 words a day just doesn’t hold the appeal it once did. I know I can do it, because I did it one year. I don’t want to write that way again. I’d rather work on plotting and deliberate, polished editing and rewriting now.

One thing I’m learning from #inktober is this: drawing and drawing and drawing only gets you so far. Your skills won’t improve (or will improve at a snail’s pace) without some sort of instruction. You need feedback from quality teachers, and most of all, guided practice. I’m out here on my own drawing and nothing is improving. Writing and writing on one’s own is very similar. I’m not improving. I probably need what’s called a “developmental editor” but those services cost thousands. The other way to learn is to go grass roots. If I wanted to improve my drawing skills, I could search out one-off lessons I can afford, or ask a talented friend to teach me. I could pick up instructional books and watch good videos online. Eventually, though, I will have to get feedback from others.

I’m not sure yet how I’ll do this with my writing. I have plenty of writing books. There are plenty of courses online. None seem to fit my specific need. Right now I need plot instructions, not writing help.

Anyway. #preptober. It’s a great idea. I do love having daily assignments, and maybe preparing a list of them isn’t such a bad idea. … I may try it. Stay tuned.


Sleep hygiene is a thing

and you may want to get on board this train

pic of a white tiger sleeping on a wood plank, set against a black background

A conversation with a friend this morning reminded me of my “sleep makeover” I conducted a few years ago. Since then, I’m more rested, my weight got to a better level, and I’m getting more stuff done.

You can start your own research here. I didn’t have that resource at the time I started looking into why I was having sleep issues, but it is a very informative website that may put you in the right direction.

Personally, I found a few areas of significance that related to my sleep habits:
media consumption
environmental/physical issues

I examined each of these areas one at a time so I could determine which strategies were helpful and which weren’t.

Diet: No caffeine. Yup, kids. I had to eliminate caffeinated coffee and tea from my diet. An occasional cup is OK but I must be prepared for the sleep disturbance it will cause. It’s difficult to break the caffeine loop when you’re not sleeping well, but the caffeine is a big contributor to the lack of sleep.

Exercise: I noticed on days of high physical expenditures, I slept the whole night through. Daily exhaustion is not OK but a bit more walking and hiking with the dog is.

Media consumption: I dropped all TV news after 9/11/2001. That coverage made me realize it is sensationalist trash. So TV news was not a contributor to my sleeplessness. Online news, on the other hand, was. Twitter, mostly. Now I avoid the news cycle and rage-roid threads, ESPECIALLY before bed.

Anxiety: This was the major factor in sleep issues. Attacking this took therapy and a lot of hard work. I’m still not 100% rid of anxiety and/or self-esteem challenges, but I’ve made amazing strides in this area. Me now vs. me 10 years ago are two different people.

All this being said, let’s not blame our inner selves or personalities too much for sleep issues. MANY are environmental. My husband’s snoring was mitigated greatly by surgery (thanks, Honey for doing that). A sleep mask and earplugs aid in my quality of sleep, because the tiniest amounts of light and sound disturb me. Also: I’m getting older – I’ve read women my age often times experience disturbed sleep.

Before you blame yourself, look hard at your environment. A TV in the bedroom, for example, has been shown to be not such a great idea. Phones before or in bed: Bad. Also ask: who do you live with? Are their habits helpful or harmful to your sleep routine? I’m a night owl naturally but my husband goes to bed early and gets up SUPER early. I had to align my sleep with his to optimize things. Sure, it isn’t an ideal solution but it is a solution. Sometimes hard compromises have to be met.

Good rest is the key to everything. If you feel like you aren’t where you want to be in life, if bad habits are killing you, if your relationships are on the outs, work is unfulfilling, etc. etc. maybe you should look at how much quality sleep you’re actually getting. Your brain can’t function well on a sleep deficit. Consider starting a sleep hygiene quest. You won’t regret it.

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Funny happenstances make great tweets but there’s a dark side

preteen white girl with freckles seems to be levitating 7 glass orbs in the air, each with a different scene in them.
random words aren’t random

Today on Twitter I came across another predictive text game where users were given a phrase to type into their text window (or other typed field) and then instructed to use the predictive text to finish the sentence. The phrase was originally written by the now-deleted account, @homohex. It was “I am [sexual orientation] and that’s why I [predictive text].” The user is meant to fill-in-the-blank with their sexual orientation and then use predictive text to complete the sentence. I saw the tweet from the account, @swheatpodcasts.

a screenshot of @swheatpodcasts tweet. It contains a retweet of @homohex's tweet. It contains the words "I am asexual and that's why I have a hard time."
“I am asexual and that’s why I have a hard time.”

Indeed, quite a few responses seemed germane and poignant, especially to the people who posted them. Some examples below.

A tweet that says "I am asexual and that's why I am so scared of how it feels to be a better person."
From @WayfarerAsh
A screenshot of a tweet. The tweet says "I am bisexual and that's why I have a good time. There it is. The perfect tweet."
From @WildlyLiberal
From @rubbcheetah

Predictive text can be revealing. No, your phone isn’t psychic, but it is learning your behavior. There are a few different ways predictive text works, but one of the more robust programs actually learns what words you personally use the most often. This means that sharing your predictive text result also shows the world what words you’ve been typing more often than others.

In the grand scheme of things (*waves at the world*) this little phenomenon isn’t all that revealing or dangerous. But I’m sensing users don’t get that their predictive text is not going to be the same as another person’s. These algorithms aren’t random word generators. And as we get more advanced tech, they will get quite personal.

I like to look at predictive word generators as being as revealing as a Freudian Slip, an accidental yet significant-to-the-subcontext spoken error. It is something said by mistake but lets what you’re really (or subconsciously) thinking “slip” out. Freudian slips can be embarrassing. Of course, most of the time mature adults ignore them, but one can step deep into some doo-doo if something slips out at the wrong time.

The real problem I see coming, if people keep up their magical “look how funny this is!” thinking about predictive text, is predatory marketing. These specific word tree algorithms will have a significant amount of personality data on each user. And any data that can be collected and sold will be, much to our detriment. This culture of treating predictive text like it is some kind of woo-woo prognostication device will only help the ignorance surrounding how very real and potentially exploitative data is being generated and primed for selling.

Image by Thomas B. from Pixabay

Sad to miss tech cons

A moratorium on meetings makes me mopey

a screenshot of the Barcamp Philly logo, a digitized flame in red with "BARCAMP PHILLY" written in all caps digital font

Today at a nearby university a bunch of my good Philly friends in the tech and marketing (i.e. social media) industries gathered for a conference. I didn’t go.

There are quite a few yearly conferences and “unconferences” to choose from in Philly (our scene is on fire). I loved going to these meetings. I enjoyed seeing friends, hearing interesting lectures about the state of tech and taking in presentations on what the movers and shakers in the Philly scene were up to.

Eventually I realized, though, that I was splitting myself in two. I can’t keep my finger on the pulse of the tech industry AND learn fiction writing and publishing as well as I want to. While keeping tabs on social media is a good idea for my content creation work, I don’t need to stay abreast of *all* the new apps and happenings. I made the choice to drop all the tech conferences for a while.

I can’t seem to rid myself of all of it, though. I still have a GitHub account. I follow the r/sysadmin subreddit. I have all sorts of obscure techie-only type apps on my phone. I regularly read the tech websites and chat with techies online. Seeing myself as a “techie” is something I’ve done for 20 years.

It’s gotta go, though. Everything I’m learning about habits, distraction, focus, and productivity point to one key factor: how one sees oneself. Your self view, how you fill in this blank “I’m a _____________,” determines how your path winds through life. I miss the social aspect of the tech conferences and the bigger tech world, especially now that women are succeeding in their fight for inclusivity. And personally, I have a secret disgust? fear? dislike? of filling that blank with “fiction writer” or (if I’m lucky?) “novelist.” Seems like such a lame thing. Artists face a real bias, most importantly from themselves.

I hope everyone had fun at #BCPhilly today, and I hope you all are having an easier time filling in that blank than I am.


Why we scroll

From “depressive anhedonia” to “pain management,” some helpful theories exist

torso of a man in a business suit, close up on his hands holding a phone in an action that looks like scrolling

When writing his book, Filling the Void: Emotion, Capitalism & Social Media, British professor Marcus Gilroy-Ware realized he had collected a lot of examples of people meeting death or injury while taking selfies. So many, in fact, that he stopped collecting them. He’d realized there was nothing special about them, and that there was no longer any separation between online and offline life.

Gilroy-Ware’s book is worthy of an in-depth review, but for time’s sake let’s turn to his theory about why we find ourselves spending hours scrolling through social media feeds, looking for nothing in particular and having no set point of when to stop. “Depressive hedonia” is the term he used to explain the phenomenon. “Anhedonia” means the inability to feel pleasure. “Hedonia” is feeling good and is the basis of the word “hedonism” (“an ethical doctrine taught by the ancient Epicureans and Cyrenaics and by the modern utilitarians that asserts that pleasure or happiness is the sole or chief good in life” -Merriam-Webster Unabridged).

Depressive hedonia would be the inability to pursue anything but pleasure. This describes the hours spent on Reddit’s meme boards, or the rage-addiction of engaging with American extremists on Facebook (yes, rage can be quite an endorphin hit).

I’ll go into Filling the Void in more detail at another time. I bring it up now because a new book is out that holds similar theories of “distraction.” Indistractible: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life by Nir Eyal is a self-help-for-c-suiters type of book that presents data and info on why we scroll. One of Eyal’s major theories: “Time management is pain management.” Like Gilroy-Ware, Eyal proposes that we are turning to the social media feed (or our phones in general) in an effort to manage feelings of discomfort inside us.

I’ll also go into Indistractible in more detail later. For now I want to leave you with the thought that our, *your*, habit of scrolling, falling down the internet rabbit hole, swiping and swiping, and any other of our daily, hourly, minute-ly habits, are attempts at managing discomfort by a constant drive to find small tidbits of comfort in tiny sparks of curiosity, humor, sense of purpose, moral righteousness and so on. We’re seeking to rid ourselves of discomfort by seeking comfort – constantly.

How to break the cycle? Therapists would say this: Lean into the pain. The endless scrolling can’t bandage a damaged self. Address the discomfort first (both books offer advice here but Eyal’s book offers workbook exercises). Once the discomfort is managed, the scrolling will fade away.

Image by rawpixel from Pixabay