Nagoonberry

This world. This place. This life.


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How I curate UU content

Sometimes we develop our most useful skills without conscious intention.

I’ve always been a reader, and I’ve always been that friend who says, “Hey, I found this thing you should read.”

I never thought that would turn into something I felt called to do—much less that it has a name.

Almost three years ago, UU World magazine invited me to edit The Interdependent Web. My editor gave me freedom, support, and the opportunity to practice curation, week after week.

Here’s a window into my process.

  • Curation begins with love. This is demanding work, and passion sustains it. I care deeply about helping Unitarian Universalist voices find larger audiences. If you’re thinking about becoming a curator, choose something you love, because you’ll spend more hours doing it than you can hope to be paid for—if you’re lucky enough to find a curating gig that pays money; many people are giving away this kind of work.
  • Immersion is essential. A curator cannot expect to occasionally dip her toe into the waters of her subject. I spend hours, not just reading UU blogs, but also participating in UU forums on Facebook. As Unitarian Universalist content becomes more diverse, my daunting task is to follow it wherever it goes. Blogging is the area of UU content where I’m most comfortable; I’m hoping that some of you may begin curating other types of content—video, design, music, etc.
  • Gathering sources never ends. When I began reading UU blogs, Philocrites’ Guide to Unitarian Universalist Blogs was a great resource. Soon I learned about UUpdates, and taught myself how to use Google Reader. Once I began editing The Interdependent Web, my Reader was no longer just a few favorite UU blogs; instead I collected an exhaustive list of every single UU blogger I found. When Google retired Reader, I switched over to Feedly, where my “All UU Bloggers” folder has 391 blogs at last count. And I’m always looking for more. Are you a UU blogger? Do you suspect I don’t know about you? Introduce yourself . . .
  • Scanning and saving are the first steps each week. At this moment, there are seventeen new posts in my “All UU Bloggers” folder. I won’t read all of them. I’m looking for headlines that grab my attention. What grabs my attention? Specificity. Responses to other bloggers’ posts. Humor (including snark). Something that grabs my heart. A clear connection to Unitarian Universalism. Good writing (yes, that matters, even in your post titles). A great track record as a blogger. Anything that catches my attention earns a little green Feedly bookmark, which puts posts into a “Saved for Later” folder.
  • Reading and reducing is where the work gets hard. Eventually, I have to read all those “Saved for Later” posts. Beginning each Wednesday, I review what I’ve saved, and compile the best posts. My goal is around fifteen pieces of content, sometimes more, sometimes less. That means a lot of culling. Some weeks I wish I could send out apology notes to some of the bloggers whose excellent posts just don’t make the cut.
  • Arranging and distilling are the last steps. I could just list the best fifteen posts, images, videos, etc. But good curation is more than that. I look for intentional and coincidental conversations between posts, images and videos. I look for natural categories. Sometimes things get shoehorned together, and other times there are beautiful juxtapositions.  The format of The Interdependent Web—at least for blog posts—is “introduction, pull quote.” I usually arrange, then find the quotes, then write the intros, but not always in that order. It’s a great format, but it’s very blog-centric, as is most of my process. That’s the growing edge for me—tweaking this process so I remember to look for and include images, videos, tweets, Facebook conversations, Pinterest posts, etc.

Since August of last year, when I returned to The Interdependent Web from maternity leave, I have done this work while also adjusting to life as a new parent. Liesl comes home early on Thursday night to watch Willa while I put the finishing touches on the column, but for the most part, curating fits well into the daily schedule of a stay-at-home mom.

Did I answer your questions—or create more?

I’d love to hear from you about how you’re coping with the deluge of content that social media generates. Do you opt out? Are you grateful for your friends who help you choose what to read? Or are you, like me, the friend who says, “Hey, I found this article you should read”?


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Burn your stories

Writers give the world a gift: they name experience.

They find words, string them together, and share them. And when they get just the right combination, their audience says, “Yes! That’s exactly right!”

Naming experience feels good. It scratches the itch in the back of your mind. It brings a fuzzy image into focus. It builds a bookshelf, and organizes your library.

But naming also has a downside.

Once we name an experience, it’s frozen. The name makes its meaning so clear, there’s no room for other explanations.

Last week I told a friend a story from my childhood.

It’s a great story. It makes so many things clear. It helps me understand why I struggle.

And my friend heard it that way. “Oh,” she said, with a shake of her head. “Oh, my.”

But then she said, “You know, you’re almost forty years from when that happened.”

And those few words helped melt the ice trapping me in one perspective. They gave me room to see myself in a new way.

Words are certainly a gift. We need tools to bring the world into focus. We need ways to understand the stream of experience in which we swim.

But the stories we tell ourselves are dangerous, because they are so compelling. We clutch them in our hands, holding on for dear life.

It’s not that we should stop telling stories. But we do need to hold them in open hands, to sweep them from the table like mandala sand.

So tell a story. And burn it. Tell another. And burn it. Again and again.

Don’t worry. What’s true will survive.


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You call that a meltdown?

Reactions from my friends on Facebook to yesterday’s post were variations on a single theme: “You call that a meltdown?”

My favorite comment came from a friend I’ve known since childhood; after a hearty laugh, she said, “I can hear you saying ‘Chill out’ in that snooty tone that means you’re annoyed. If you ever do have an epic tantrum I want it on video and a blow-by-blow description.”

Later on in the thread she said, “Stop envying the front seat. We are the ones with bugs in our teeth when the ride ends!”

Don’t you love having friends like that? Friends who know all your quirks—and still love you? Friends who can laugh at themselves, too?

Yesterday’s post, and the comment thread on Facebook, felt like light on a shadowy part of my soul.

Here’s some of what I said on Facebook:

This is why I write: to expose the critical, controlling, shaming voice to the light, to pry open a window so fresh air can rush into a stuffy room, to let friendly laughter lighten the burden of judgment.

In that moment, in that tiny moment when I lost control, I felt shame way out of proportion to what I’d actually done. And when you live with such a tight rein on yourself, it’s hard to accomplish much that’s worthwhile. There’s a lot of truth in the saying, “well-behaved women rarely make history.And then there’s our scathing, but largely unvoiced judgment of others.

I’m so glad for all my freer, first-car friends. I figure by the time I’m about 80, you all will have helped me loosen up. And I suspect Willa is first-car, all the way. 

I may not often live with bugs in my teeth, but I hope to spend more time in the relaxed and friendly second car, and less in the uptight, self-and-other-judging third.

glasses


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Finding courage

Yesterday’s Zero to Hero assignment was to comment on three blogs; today’s assignment is to write a blog post based on one of those comments.

I’m still thinking about “Michael Sam’s Necessary Moment,” written by Holly Anderson on Grantland.  I keep thinking about this:

“Telling the world I’m gay is nothing,” Sam said, . . . comparing coming out to harrowing moments he experienced growing up—more moments of heartbreak than any one human being should have to shoulder.

I commented, “So often people find courage to do something daunting by having faced far worse.”

Since then I’ve been thinking about the hard things I’ve done that give me courage—and strength—to continue to make difficult but necessary choices.

Here are the highlights of my list:

  • Coming out to myself, and to my family
  • Becoming a minister—when I was raised to believe clergy were wrong, as were women in church leadership
  • Making the long journey from my childhood faith to life as a non-theist Unitarian Universalist
  • Moving to Alaska, and living here for almost nine years (and counting)
  • Choosing to recommit to ministry, and completing the long process of transferring from the Presbyterian Church (USA) to the UUA
  • Giving birth to my first child, at age 42, without pain meds

Liesl and I have hard choices to make. Where do we want to live? What kind of work are we looking for? Does Liesl want to stay in aviation? What kind of ministry do I feel called to? And how do we factor Willa’s wellbeing into where we live and what we do for work?

It’s daunting to think about pulling up stakes and starting over. But it helps to remember what we’ve already done.


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Pens and notebooks

I have a recurring pattern: when I recommit to the writing life, I buy new pens and notebooks.

I tell myself that to be a writer, I need the right tools. That without the right tools I cannot write. That I cannot write until I have the right tools. 

I’m in a pens and notebooks phase right now—the blogging version. The Zero to Hero project has focused my attention on widgets and themes and Facebook Pages—all good, all part of gathering an audience.

But without writing, why bother gathering an audience?

Today’s Zero to Hero assignment is to leave three comments on blogs I enjoy. And I’ll do that later, while Willa’s napping. But now, while I’m finishing my breakfast, and Willa’s watching Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, it feels good to write.


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We’re in a stretch with Zero to Hero where the tasks don’t generate posts. If you look closely, you’ll see a few changes here—a shorter “About” page (with more coming), links moved to their own page, new widgets, the new Yoko theme, etc. Lots of growing and learning growing happening behind the scenes!

Again, many thanks to Christine Slocum for her leadership.


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Zero to Hero, Day Two: What’s in a name?

Today’s assignment was to name my blog, edit my tagline, and create a text widget to briefly explain the purpose of my blog.

I named my blog “Nagoonberry” for two reasons. First, I liked the sound of the word. It was quirky, distinctive. I first heard the word “Nagoonberry” at the Anchorage Wildflower Garden Club annual plant sale. The second reason for choosing “Nagoonberry” was that naming my blog after the “Arctic raspberry” made a certain amount of sense for a blog that’s about paying attention to life in a particular location.

My current tagline is relatively recent, reflecting the greater clarity I have about the blog’s purpose: this world, this place, this life. Hidden there is a hint about the religious ghosts of my fundamentalist childhood. I was raised to believe we were in the world but not of it, citizens of heaven who didn’t participate in this-worldly politics, living this life with our eyes on heaven, not earth. By temperament and training, I look toward the future; “this world, this place, this life,” is a conscious attempt to counter that tendency.

The new-today widget says who I am: “A free-range Unitarian Universalist minister making meaning of daily life in Girdwood, Alaska.”

Thanks for following along! Two days in, and each day I’ve learned something. See you tomorrow!