BookTubeAThon 2015

I know I said I was taking a break from blogging and I totally am, but I felt honor-bound to tell you about BookTubeAThon 2015.

BookTubeAThon is a week-long reading challenge where participants are encouraged to read as much as they can. In addition to reading at a ferocious pace and engaging the community on YouTube and Twitter, there are seven specific book challenges each year. This year’s challenges are:

1) Read a book with blue on the cover

2) Read a book by an author who shares the same first letter of your last name

3) Read someone else’s favorite book

4) Read the last book you acquired

5) Finish a book without letting go of it

6) Read a book you really want to read

7) Read seven books

As many of you know, I’m already participating in the 2015 Pop Sugar Reading Challenge. Part of what gave me the confidence to attempt the Pop Sugar Challenge and set a 24 book goal for 2015 was knowing I would be participating in BookTubeAThon.

And then life happened.

Unfortunately BookTubeAThon is going to overlap with A Holy Waste of Time, a young adult retreat weekend that I am super stoked about. I still intend to read once I’m there, but I may not be able to complete all seven books if the campfire is calling. In addition to the retreat, my plan of having no meetings at work so I could leave early most days fell through when we hired a new employee. She starts the Monday of BookTubeAThon, and part of my job is to train all new employees.

Life challenges aside, I am still stoked about the book challenges. I’ve already picked my TBR (To Be Read):

BookTubeAThon 20151) Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle (blue on the cover – I’ll be listening to the audiobook)

2) The Wizard of Seattle by Kay Hooper (I share both first and last initials with this author, so it will count towards my Pop Sugar list as well)

3) The Man in the Ceiling by Jules Feiffer (Rob’s favorite book – well, one of them. He had a tough time picking a favorite.)

4) The Go-Giver by Bob Burg and John David Mann (the last book I acquired – a loan from work I got just last Friday)

5) Strangers in Paradise by Terry Moore (a book I’m hoping to finish without putting it down)

6) The Martian by Andy Weir (a book I’ve been wanting to read since I got it last Christmas – I’ve been saving it for BookTubeAThon)

7) Little Murders by Jules Feiffer (my seventh book – also counts toward Pop Sugar because it’s a play)

Looking at my book pile this feels both exciting and impossible. I can’t wait.

Christmas BookTubeAThon 2014

This last summer one of my friends participated in BookTubeAThon, a seven day reading challenge on YouTube. The overall challenge was to read seven books in seven days, along with sub-challenges to determine which books to read (read a classic, finish a series, etc). There were daily video challenges for people to post and Twitter sprints to help you keep going. I thought it sounded terrifying and wonderful, especially as a slow reader. I was hooked from the day I heard about it…which happened to be two days after it started. No BookTubeAThon for me.

Then this last Thursday I saw a few photos pop up on my Facebook wall for Christmas BookTubeAThon (known as #xmasbooktubathon), a shortened version of the regular challenge. I was feeling busy and swamped and overwhelmed and for some reason it seemed like the perfect time to commit to something gigantic.

For #xmasbooktubeathon this year, there were four challenges:

1) Read a book with red and green on the cover

2) Read a book you really wanted to read this year

3) Read a book that was gifted to you

4) Read three books in three days

The book I wanted to read this year was The 4-Hour Workweek, which I started Friday morning and took to work to read on breaks. For the last few weeks I’ve been listening to Tim Ferris’s podcast, which is really interesting despite Tim being a terrible interviewer. He just knows a lot of fantastic people who are all willing to talk with him for hours on end. I’ve known about The 4-Hour Workweek for years, but discounted it because I thought it was all about high-powered executives outsourcing their lives to India in order to dump their 70-hour workweeks in favor of golf in Havana. Not really my scene.

It’s a little strange to read a book at work that says “WARNING: DO NOT READ THIS BOOK UNLESS YOU WANT TO QUIT YOUR JOB” on the back, but I did it anyway. And in the end, some of the best take-aways from the book were ways I could improve efficiency at work and interact better with the staff. While there’s plenty in the book that I disagree with, I found myself recommending it to two different people by the end of the weekend.

2014-12-20 18.01.53Finding a book with red and green on the cover proved surprisingly difficult. I went through every book on my shelf looking for one, even looking to my boyfriend’s bookshelf for a while. Eventually I found Century Girl: A Hundred Years in the Life of Doris Eaton Travis, Last Living Star of the Ziegfield Follies. It’s half biography, half scrapbook. It’s full of images and drawings, which meant it would be an especially fast read. Since this was my first attempt at BookTubeAThon, I thought at least one truly fast read was acceptable. The whole thing took me about two hours, three with breaks.

I wasn’t sure how much I’d like Century Girl, but Doris led a truly fascinating life. From lying about her age to get into vaudeville, to staring in silent movies, to doing ten-cent taxi dances to make it through the depression, to being on the ground floor of the Arthur Murray empire, owning a horse ranch, going to college at 77, and eventually performing at 100 years old on the same stage she started on, Doris was a pretty outstanding lady. Not to mention she was physically and mentally sharp after 100 years having never taken a single pill (she was a Christian Scientist).

Sunday morning I opened The Partly Cloudy Patriot, my choice for a book that was given to me. It was small enough that it didn’t terrify me to read it in a day, and large enough that it counted as a real book. It’s a series of essays about Sarah Vowell’s travels through America. You know, exactly the kind of thing I write. While it was generally good, a few of the essays were a bit dated and not all of them moved as quickly as I’d hoped. I like Sarah’s work on This American Life, so maybe I just don’t like hearing her through my voice.2014-12-18 19.10.19-2

I closed the final page at around 10:30PM on Sunday night, proud of my accomplishment and surprised it was so easy. Sure I didn’t pick anything especially long or dense (the longest was 300 pages), but it was still three books, start to finish, in three pages. Monday morning I was talking to a co-worker about the challenge. “I wish I had time to read three books in three days,” he lamented.

“I didn’t have time,” I replied, “but I did it.”

I recently overheard some people talking about how there’s no good time to have a baby, which is why there’s no use in couples waiting for the timing to be right. It’s true. There’s no good time for a baby, no good time to write a novel, no good time to drive around the country. There’s no good time for almost anything worth doing, and yet somehow it manages to get done.

If reading seven books in seven days sounds like something worth doing, I suggest you mark your calendar for July 2015, the next BookTubeAThon. I know I’ll be there.

My Bookmarked Life

I realized recently that on the right side of my browser, next to the bookmarks I actually use, there lived an endless string of forgotten links. They just sort of ran off the edge of the bookmarks bar into oblivion. In theory they’re not causing any harm. They don’t take up space. But they are visual clutter – a constant reminder of yet another part of my life I don’t have a complete grasp on. Since there’s no reason to have useless buttons in front of me, I set to sorting and deleting.

BookmarksThe first few were easy. Some bookmarks were no longer useful, others had to be categorized. I had a link to an online food journal for those times when I need to be intentional about my calorie count. But I don’t usually need it, so I moved it to a Food Reference folder.

I kept clicking and deleting, and before long I found myself falling down a rabbit hole of people I once thought I would be. I found hackaday.com, which is full of useful suggestions like adding bluetooth to your bathroom scale, or building a Wimshurst Machine from plastic bottles. At some point in my life, I envisioned being the sort of person that would “hack” everything. I would make everything myself, adjust everything myself, be the master of my surroundings and everything in them. But from the point of view of the person I am now, I look at this as so much useless junk. I don’t need to add bluetooth to my bathroom scale because I don’t even have a bathroom scale. While I love science, the at-home tinkering aspects just never appealed to me. I was always a bigger fan of the theoretical and astronomical over the practical and mechanical. Making a lightbulb potato is nice, but I’d rather learn how stars are born.

In my Culture section I deleted a lot of links to OpenCulture. Not because they aren’t useful pages, but because I don’t need the link. I know that if I need a list of free eBooks or free university courses or free classic movies that OpenCulture is the place to go. When people talk about the benefits of the internet, they are talking about sites like that. Knowledge, art, history, education – free for all and available at our whim.

There were recipes left over from before I was tracking them in Evernote. There was a link for thefreshloaf.com, apparently from a time when I was going to be an amateur artisan bread maker (I only recently got my bread machine to produce something I actually want to eat).

There was a link to Mac keyboard shortcuts from a time when they weren’t second nature to me. I found an article on making a Get Home Bag from a time before I started keeping in-case-of-volcano shoes and a full first aid kit in my car.

There was a Name That Color website for identifying the code definitions of colors from before I realized such sites are easy to find via Google at any time. Same with the sites full of guitar chords.

Some bookmarks were so old they no longer worked, like an article about Star Wars Burlesque I was saving for the photos of the awesome costumes. However it should come as no surprise that a Google Image Search of “Star Wars Burlesque” accomplishes the same thing ten-fold.

It’s funny how things like this creep up on you. I wouldn’t have thought of myself as having a lot of bookmark clutter, but I did. I’ve always been the kind of person who wants to keep things “just in case,” and that’s the dangerous path bookmarking takes you down. I better keep track of this site, just in case. I might need this information someday. Someday when I’ll act on it. Someday when it interests me enough to pursue. Someday when I care enough to do more than file it away.

Facebook’s Real Name Policy and the Futile Search for Safe Authenticity

I am proud to count a few drag queens and burlesque dancers among my Facebook friends. They are where I first heard the news: Facebook was cracking down on performers who have profiles under their stage names instead of their birth names. Hundreds of people have found themselves locked out of their accounts and unable to tell their friends what has happened. Many don’t even know who their friends are, since performers often know each other by performance names only. The official word from Facebook was that this policy has always been in place, and that it’s there to ensure a safe and authentic community. And that’s a great idea. Or at least it would be if the names on birth certificates were universally safe and authentic.

Celine DionOutside of the drag queens and burlesque dancers, I have a lot of other friends on Facebook who don’t use the name that’s printed on their driver’s license. Some have been using a fake name for years. So this week I asked several of them why they do it.

Some are dancers and musicians who have dived head-first into their stage personas. Their stage names are the names they go by in real life these days, with only family members and their oldest friends still calling them by their birth names. The stage name is not a lie, it’s not a fake. It’s the person they grew up to become. It’s who they are. They just don’t feel the need to have it legally changed.

Others have been the targets of abuse and stalking. Having a fake name is a way to put a layer of security between them and the men/women who would do them harm.

I have one friend who works as a teacher. “I’m sure this sounds really harsh,” she told me, “because most parents are wonderful, and their motives are generally good even when their actions seem questionable.” She’s seen stories of teachers who lost their jobs because of parents digging up things from Facebook that they found problematic. “There are always going to be parents who don’t trust their kids’ teachers enough to let them be who they are.”

One guy I know does it so he can joke around with his friends without worrying that every potential employer might one day read his comments. “I compartmentalize my life basically,” he said. He told me he doesn’t want to be accountable to strangers when joking around with his friends. He’s a funny guy, and any comedian will tell you that you have to know your audience.

As I read the responses from my own friends, as well as the articles online, I realized that safety and authenticity are the reasons almost everyone uses a fake name. If singing on stage means more to you than anything in the world, then the name you give to your singing voice is your authentic self. If allowing personal information to be openly associated with your birth name puts you at risk for threats and violence, then hiding your name is being safe. And if managers and parents aren’t willing to let employees decide how to behave outside of the job, then a fake name may be the only way you’re able to be authentic with friends while remaining safe at work.

Red Cup of WaterAuthenticity doesn’t have a single face. People are multi-faceted, and such complexity can be dangerously misinterpreted. I was one of the earliest adopters of Facebook, a fact that will come back to haunt me one day. I was a college freshman, and back then the things posted on Facebook could only be seen by a select few. This made for a relatively safe and authentic community. It didn’t matter if a friend posted a photo of me holding a red solo cup at a party, because the only people who saw the photo were also at the party. And they all knew I hated alcohol, and that the cup was full of water. My authentic self attended a party, but the photo shows someone else. If I decide that my boss or my mother or my church shouldn’t see that photo, it’s not because I’m hiding myself from them. It’s because I’m trying to tell the truth. I am trying to ensure that my authentic self is the one that gets seen, not the lie that the photo tells.

While creating a community that is both safe and authentic is a laudable goal, it is ultimately impossible for a behemoth like Facebook. It is too vast and too interconnected. No one can stay both authentic and safe when they don’t know who might be looking.

I am not the condensed version of myself I post online. None of us are. And some of us have led lives that are so interesting and painful and complex and dangerous that even our names can lead people astray. They can tell a false story or lead us into danger. None of us knew back in those early years that one day our Facebook profiles would be used to define who we are, just like these performers didn’t know they’d eventually have to out themselves in order to keep in touch with their friends. If any of us had known, we wouldn’t have posted those photos and we wouldn’t have made those jokes. When pulled from their original setting, such things don’t reflect the people we really are. Such things, when attached to a name but not a time or place, are no longer safe or authentic. That’s the terrifying truth of Facebook: had we known that this was what it was going to become, we never would have joined.

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If you’d like to share your support for the campaign to end Facebook’s Real Name policy, use the hashtag #MyNameIs.