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My Next Right Thing

Washington National Cathedral | Washington, DC

If you feel something calling you to dance or write or paint or sing, please refuse to worry about whether you’re good enough.  -Glennon Doyle Melton

It’s 3:50 am.

I used to think that there were enough female voices out there. I’ve spent years relishing the words of brilliant, beautiful, brave ladies who I looked up to and took strength from. I used to think that I didn’t have anything to add. Somewhere along the line, I started to think that I didn’t have opinions intelligent enough to take on the shrinking spaces between rocks and hard places that close in on us daily. I thought that enough of us were being heard; too many might make a mess.

Today, I’m going to believe a different story.

Years ago, I listened to Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love and one of those female voices I’ve heeded, tell the story of poet Ruth Stone’s creative process:

“She told me that when she was growing up in rural Virginia, she would be out working in the fields, and she said she would feel and hear a poem coming at her from over the landscape. And she said it was like a thunderous train of air. And it would come barreling down at her over the landscape. And she felt it coming, because it would shake the earth under her feet. She knew that she had only one thing to do at that point, and that was to, in her words, ‘run like hell.’ And she would run like hell to the house and she would be getting chased by this poem, and the whole deal was that she had to get to a piece of paper and a pencil fast enough so that when it thundered through her, she could collect it and grab it on the page. And other times she wouldn’t be fast enough, so she’d be running and running, and she wouldn’t get to the house and the poem would barrel through her and she would miss it and she said it would continue on across the landscape, looking, as she put it ‘for another poet.'”

While I haven’t experienced words quite so concretely, Stone’s experience stuck around. I have been lying awake in bed or driving to across town or listening to someone else speak, and I’ve felt words coming together in my head so purposefully, I knew that they must be written down. But I let the opportunity go because it is time to sleep, time to pay attention to the road, or not the time to interrupt. They will be there later, I tell myself.

They never are.

Sometimes, I’m not doing anything important when the thoughts start to come, but I tell myself I’ll deal with them later. Maybe I’ll jot down a few notes in my iPhone and email them to myself. Surely I’ll be able to pick it up from there.

I never can.

Other times I’ve had the opportunity to share verbally, and I’ve felt the words welling up in me, burning in my chest, speeding my heart. Lately, I’ve chosen not to share, weary from all the times that I’ve quickly been moved to tears, shaking, and incoherence. There is no point in sharing if my purpose will be overshadowed – or worse, changed – by their perception of me, I’ve told myself.

And yet.

I used to think that there were enough female voices out there. But now I know I was confusing the fact that each woman’s voice is enough with the fact that there are enough.

It’s time to start believing my voice is enough. And yours, too.

Last month, I basked in the glow of another of my leading ladies, Glennon Doyle Melton. She said that whenever you find yourself lost, just listen for the still small voice that will tell you “the next right thing to do.” It will never tell you the fourth or fifth right thing to do, but will always tell you the next.

This is mine. I’m cheering you on to find yours.

It’s 5:07 am. This is enough for now.

Love, Emma

Taking Control of Your Internet Experience

girl reading newspaper_by Gustavo Moya

A while ago, I came across an article titled “How Technology Disrupted the Truth” by Katharine Viner at The Guardian, which I found to be an important analysis of digital algorithms and their detrimental effects being felt around the world.

Only two years removed from my graduation with a degree in journalism, I can hardly stand to watch any TV news outlet. Print subscriptions bring clutter (and aren’t terribly eco-friendly), and it’s becoming easier and easier to access not only articles, but entire magazines and radio/podcasts online. While a wealth of digital sources may be available to us, it’s easy to be overwhelmed… and when you’re already mindlessly scrolling through Facebook and Twitter, it’s tempting to feel like you’ve read all the opinions you can possibly handle!

The problem with this is that “the version of the world we encounter every day in our own personal stream has been invisibly curated to reinforce our pre-existing beliefs,” Viner says. “Publications curated by editors have in many cases been replaced by a stream of information chosen by friends, contacts and family, processed by secret algorithms.”

Viner’s article is written as an appeal to journalists and their employers, but I believe that some responsibility lies with us! Like it or not, targeted advertising and internet algorithms are here to stay, so it’s important to stay on top of your internet presence. Here are some ways to take control and ensure you have the tools and headspace to form your own opinions at the end of the day:

One word: unsubscribe

One of the most obvious things you can do to ensure you’re able to view content that’s important to you is to remove content that’s not important to you.

Opening an email, scrolling to the bottom and clicking “unsubscribe” is really not that difficult, but for some reason, I just keep on deleting the recurring sales emails over and over again. Treat yourself like the important person you are, and save yourself that valuable time! Start by being honest with yourself about what’s important enough to be coming into your inbox each day. Personally, I limit myself to about 5 brands and 3 newsletters. Does your favorite blog have a newsletter but it’s the same content you’re already reading via their RSS feed? Unsubscribe. Do you love a store but their discount emails aren’t ever enough to make you want to click through? Unsubscribe. Remember: you can always subscribe again if you really start to miss their emails. But, trust me, you won’t!

woman on facebook

Curate, curate & curate again

Have you ever looked at your Twitter feed and realized that none of the tweets you’re reading feel particularly compelling? It’s so easy to go overboard with follows on social networks, so be sure to regularly sift through your lists to keep things relevant to you. Like with emails, treat your time as the scarce resource it is and be honest with yourself about what is worth your attention. If a blogger is merely sharing posts that you’re already reading, unfollow! If you love a brand, but their tweets aren’t engaging or feel overly sales-focused, it’s ok to let them go. Or, if someone is being repeatedly negative or catty, it’s ok to prioritize your own well-being and clear that out of your feed.

This also applies to Facebook, which has evolved drastically from the time that many of us began using it. I just went through my liked pages today and found 50+ pages that I had (embarrassingly) liked in high school but are not interesting to me at all now. All of these likes have a bearing on the kind of content that Facebook selects for me. They way I look at it, if I’m going to have to endure targeted ads, they might as well be interesting! Luckily, Facebook has a tool that makes “unliking” pages simple. Click here to go to your pages (you must be logged in) and select “Review Liked Pages” in the upper right tile.

To avoid the “filter bubble” that Viner discusses in her article, try to make sure that you also follow users that you don’t always agree with, or who you can tell aren’t just writing for clicks. Dan Rather has a great Facebook presence, and I’ve always enjoyed conservative writer Kathleen Parker. Finding people to follow who you respect but can also disagree with is an art form, and I’m still working on it! I’ve found that seeking people outside of your particular location or cultural group is a good place to start. Or try following a news source from someplace you’ve travelled (or want to travel to) internationally!

Be sure to go through this process every few months or so, just to recheck in with your interests and new follows.

woman on phone

Now, broaden your horizons and find stuff that is engaging!

Whenever I view content on the web, I’m always taking mental notes about how well-written or produced it is. If I come across something particularly engaging, I might check out the author’s Twitter. If their first few tweets have enough variety and interest, I’ll give them a follow, but (and this is a good thing!) often I will pass.

Something I love is finding a really good newsletter. I’m sure you’ve heard of it by now, but theSkimm is great for a quick, light-hearted morning digest of the latest events. My current favorite is the Quartz Daily Brief. They also cover major news events, but include more economic implications than I’ve found elsewhere. They also include some offbeat and fun news at the end, so this one is a must-read for me! One that’s new to me (via Lexi Mainland at A Cup of Jo) is the Next Draft newsletter by Dave Pell.

As I mentioned before, I limit myself to about 3 daily newsletters. If one looks interesting or is recommended to me, I’ll try it out for a few weeks, but then unsubscribe if it doesn’t offer more valuable content than what I’ve already been reading.

I whole-heartedly agree with Viner here: “My belief is that what distinguishes good journalism from poor journalism is labour: the journalism that people value the most is that for which they can tell someone has put in a lot of work – where they can feel the effort that has been expended on their behalf, over tasks big or small, important or entertaining.”

No matter how many hours you “work” per week, there’s no doubt that most of us wish there were more hours in the day. These are some ways that I’ve been able to spend less time in my inbox and have more say in the kind of content I want to encounter on the internet, but I’m always open to new ideas! What newsletters are you loving? Who are your favorite accounts to follow? Let me know!

Top photo by Gustavo Moya. Others by Pexels.

Walking the Neighborhood

bag-of-booksI took Henry (our dog) for a walk this evening and came back with a bag full of mystery novels from our down-the-street neighbor, Gail. I’d seen Gail out on her front stoop a few times while I was driving home, but it’s difficult to meet someone from inside your car. She lost her dog recently (a Boxer) and was so excited to see Henry. She told me she sits outside often, always reading book after book, which is what lead her to rush back into her building to grab me a few she was finished with. She told me to pass them along when I was done; “Or!” she proclaimed, “You could take them to the library. They keep a room of used books for sale.” During the course of our conversation, I also met two of her neighbors. She left me—this woman I had just met—with a hug.

Truthfully, parts of our downtown neighborhood here in York are not places many would feel comfortable walking alone at night. That said, I’ve been amazed at the love I’ve felt and connections I’ve been able to make just by being there, keeping my head up, and smiling. This strategy has never failed me, from York to DC to Durban. After six years in Washington, I know that finding a close, tangible community can be a rare thing in the age of workaholics, social media and smartphones, and I cherish it wherever I can find it. 

Last night, during the debate, a friend posted: “When we act in love, we act in prudence, patience, and kindness; we make mistakes and offer grace; we persevere, doing better after failures. The President has a very important role, but our roles as members of a community are VITAL.” Never have I believed this more.

Walk your neighborhood and never be afraid to look a stranger in the eye and smile. Even if you’re a textbook introvert like me – it really works!

P.S. I love this list of 101 small ways you can improve your city over at Curbed, especially the t-shirts in #17. How creative!