A trip to heaven. A trip to hell. Or possibly just some tips on writing a good bio.

Lately, I’ve been contributing to anthologies. I know. Fancy. This has come in the form of “guest posts,” speaking engagements and conferences. Ok, so maybe those are not technically anthologies, but they are collections of people and works that must be distinguished from each other, which sounds almost as fancy, doesn’t it?

And they all have one thing in common: They require a bio.

Writing is hard. But writing bios is harder.

Until about a month ago, I viewed writing a bio as a chore. A burden. A necessary evil that would ride alongside a mildly disappointing picture of my head located at the bottom of my pièce de résistance or on the About Us page. My bio would tell people, in an entertaining and memorable way and in less than 100 words, what I do with this god-forsaken life.

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The perfect bio would be the epitome of the humble brag without appearing too humble, because that’s sexist, or too boastful, because that’s tedious. It would have enough detail to assure people that I wasn’t a corpse, but enough generalities so that I wouldn’t sound like a person who waits around for my dog to sneeze so I can snap a picture with my camera phone.

After months of trying to ignore the importance of writing a good bio, I noticed how much people’s bios influenced my opinion of them. On Twitter it has become the single factor determining whether I will follow someone. It makes the difference between just skimming a blog and actually reading it. It has become my version of the pre-crime unit, except it’s the pre-friend unit.

It’s even had some unintended emotional consequences. If your bio has a cliché, I dislike you. If you are someone who has social clout and a cliché in your bio, this could incite rage. If your bio makes me laugh, I adore you. And I probably lay awake part of that night trying to come up with a good reason to write you a love letter that is subtle, yet expressive. Yes, the internet is creepy. Or possibly, I should be on medication.

The bio has now become my Rome to conquer, my dragon to slay, my last frontier. You get my point. I’m working on it. And for the most part, I’ve stuck with the traditional approach, like this (my profile for VillageQ — an online community for gay parents):

Sarah is a recovering newspaper reporter, who writes with sarcasm about science, gender, feminism and fertility issues on her blog sevenlittlemexicans.com. When she’s not dreaming about being a “real writer,” she works with 50 psychologists at her “real job.” Sarah lives in Denver with her soon-to-be-wife, two daughters and an ungrateful dog. She is working on memoir about becoming a parent. If she had more free time she would spend it lobbying the state government to make down vests and flip-flops the official uniform of Colorado. You can talk to her on Twitter @7littlemexicans.

But I’ve also tried a narrative, story-telling approach (One of my Twitter profiles @7littlemexicans):

Gets born. Turns out gay. Wants kids. Goes to hell. Births babies. Finds bliss. Writes book, ironically. A family story. @HuffPost @VillageQ #Blogher14 #LTYM

One of the best and the worst attributes of Twitter is the character limit, of course. Packing in emotional impact without sounding just like everyone else is really hard to do with a Twitter profile. And I’m still trying. The other day I found a Twitter mom, whose profile said: “Using my words.”

Short. Brilliant. I was immediately flooded with feelings of jealousy. And I followed her, of course.

You can friend me on Facebook 

Or talk to me on Twitter @sarahanngilbert

It’s like being a gas station attendant in a foreign country

Once upon a time, I was a newspaper reporter. This is not really something to brag about. There were a lot of us. And some of us were good, some were great and some were terrible. I was probably somewhere in the middle.

It was a competitive job. Lots of people wanted to be journalists. And you could tell if a person had romantic ideas about the craft, because they called it journalism. The rest of us called it reporting, because not everything that wound up in the newspaper or on the radio or TV could be considered journalism.

The short story is the media industry, at least the part where the people who got paid to write stuff and take pictures, got disinter-mediated by the internet. And it’s being torn down, literally. The newspaper building where I used to work will be demolished in May.

And everyone knows this about the media industry.

1973 BOULDER DAILY CAMERA HISTORIC BUILDING PHOTOS

And lots people have written about this in much more fluid and meaningful prose using facts and stuff than I am not doing right now.  Because everyone is a journalist. Or at least everyone can be.

There is a part of me that really likes that idea. I can appreciate equal opportunity for all. This is America. And don’t get me wrong about the internet. I lurv it. I just used it to make sure that I was spelling disintermediated correctly.

But here is the part that I don’t like. Being lost.

I’ve been trying to break back into publishing, which is easy if you’re willing to set up your own blog. Done. And done. Write, draw or photograph compelling ideas and give them away for free to people who will gladly accept them. And before I start to sound bitter let me just say that I am, a little. But it’s more accurate to say I feel like a refugee.

I’m in a new country with new social norms, class systems and rules. I am a former professional from a from a war-torn nation. And I can see that there is opportunity in this new country, but I’m working at a gas station, where sometimes people say “thanks” when I hand them some Bubblicious.

I am coping with this by treating my former profession as a hobby, which feels like insulting myself, except that every artist, musician, painter, inventor, entrepreneur and innovator had to toil, unpaid, for months or years before they became a so-called professional. And some of them probably have a master’s degree in their pastime, too.

So, that feels better. If someone wants to call me an artist, I’ll take it. Because that’s a great compliment, even if my art is selling Bubblicious at a gas station.

Talk to me on Twitter @sarahanngilbert

© Sarah Ann Gilbert, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sarah Ann Gilbert with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Does 1001 sound bites make a news story?

I’ve been sitting here for 30 minutes debating with myself about whether or not to say anything about the Boston Marathon bombing news coverage. But there. I just did it, so it’s too late. Let’s just continue, but not without mentioning why I didn’t want to say anything in the first place. 1) I didn’t watch THAT much of the coverage, at least not intentionally. But that alone, might be worth mentioning. 2) It’s already gotten plenty of coverage, and I’m not sure it needs more. And 3) what could I say that hasn’t already been said?

Well, I could tell you about my personal experience of the story, which no one has told. And it’s very likely that no one is actually interested in that angle, but I supposed that’s an inherent risk of blogging in the first place. So just like every other day, feel free to stop reading at any time. You’re not paying for this stuff.

When the bombing took place, I just happened to be doing some yoga in our company’s gym, which is one of the few places in all the continental United States that does not have a television in it. Come to think of it, it does have a television in it, it just wasn’t on. So I didn’t find out the bombing had happened until about three hours later, when I looked at the TV in my office. (Yes. There is a TV right there, mounted in the corner. MSNBC is on all day, every day.) Unlike my television-deprived childhood, I can now find a television even when I’m not looking for one. And as 1,456,329 other media sources have noted, we now have a 24-hour “news” cycle.

But this is akin to trying to determine how the stock market is performing by watching a piece of ticker tape roll by. You get a lot of information, but you don’t get much of the whole picture. So it doesn’t take long before I decided to “wait until later to get the full story” and try to prevent  the minute-by-minute assaults of the tiny news tidbits. But they continue unabated, because I am usually surrounded by TVs and smart people who watch the news (and I’m thankful for that last part, actually).

My next personal observation is the grossness factor. A “friend” on Facebook posted a picture this weekend that definitely would not have passed “the breakfast test” as we called it in the news business.  Jeff Bauman, who has already earned the proverbial hero title (because every tragedy deserves a hero — another Achilles heal of the news media), awoke from a drug-induced stupor in the hospital after losing both his legs and identified one of the bombers. This is a great thing. No doubt. And he was helped along and possibly had his life saved by other heroes. But here’s the part that wasn’t so great. My Facebook friend did a lousy job of cropping the photo, and I got to see most of Jeff’s exploded legs right there in my Newsfeed. Now we can have a debate about having real knowledge of the casualties of war, and there might be a case for this. But I don’t need to see someone’s dangling veins and arteries to know the profound affect that this event will have on Jeff and the rest of us.

So last but certainly not least, all of this open access to news and information through a growing number of channels, but with a shrinking number of people actually trained in gathering news, causes me to wonder, yet again, what the affect on our collective psychology is and will be when an event like this dominates our consciousness? We already know that the words “Boston Marathon” have a new meaning. Just like “September 11th.” And there will be lots of other memes that have already developed and will continue to develop in the coming weeks. But what I am wondering is how does this change who I think I am and how does this change who we think we are? More violent? More caring? Or becoming more indifferent? Possibly all of those things only rolled into one 5-second sound bite or a sentence fragment in the ticker at the bottom of the TV screen.

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Talk to me on Twitter @sarahanngilbert

© Sarah Ann Gilbert, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sarah Ann Gilbert with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Whatever you are doing right now is practice, so make it something you want to get good at

When I was growing up, I learned how to play the violin. I know what you’re thinking. She’s grown up? Yes. I am. Stay with me, here. I played the violin for 15 years, and during that time, I learned the value of practice, which simply put is doing the same activity over and over again. Sometimes I learned the value of practicing the violin for four or five hours a day. And when I was at music camp, I learned that value 10 hours a day for a week.

And that brings me to my actual point, which is a question. What are you practicing? For a while, I felt like I was practicing “going to meetings.” And I got really good at this, by the way. But I was also pretty sure that I didn’t want to get good at it. So what did I want to get good at?

Writing. Trying new things. Being creative. Building new relationships. This is to name just a few. So if I wanted to get really good at those things, I needed to start practicing them. So now, I make time in my day to do more of each of those things. For practice. And I’m getting better at them. Because everything that you do is a form of practice. Think about that next time you flip someone off in traffic or spend a day watching reality TV. Is it something you want to get good at?

What are you practicing?

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© Sarah Ann Gilbert, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sarah Ann Gilbert with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

My iPhone made me do it

I’ve been doing a little more thinking and a little more research about our chit-chat last week regarding the use of the seventh lobe of my brain, otherwise known as my iPhone. And here is what I’m wondering: Would I want to get my iPhone implanted in my brain if I could? I know. Some people spend their weekends skiing, watching movies or enjoying time with their families. I spent mine wondering if I should get a brain prosthetic. So please, if you’re not already bored or frightened, allow me to share my thoughts.

My first consideration as a woman, of course, would be whether it would look cute or ruin my hair. And given the current size of the iPhone, I’m guessing the answer would be “yes” so I’m going to wait at least a few years while they make them a lot smaller and in some more fashionable colors before I try this.

Then, I started wondering if anyone has tried this. And yes, they have. Not implanting an iPhone but creating a brain prosthetic of some sort. In 2003, scientists (those guys again?) implanted a prosthetic hippocampus in rats. I’m guessing it didn’t go so well, because there isn’t a follow-up story on Google about all the rats that lined up in 2004 to have their hippocampus replaced. But this is kind of a big deal, because they were actually trying to replace part of a functioning brain, and not just augment it in the way that antidepressants, cochlear implants and even eyeglasses do.

And as it turns out, there is a whole field of research on this topic called Brain-Computer Interface (BCI). I agree, it could use some better branding, like the study of Bionic Minds or Genius Lab. But whatever, I like literal also. And as you would also expect, this field has unleashed some commercialization of BCI products, such as Mindball, which I chose to highlight because the branding is pretty great. The game, however, leaves a little bit to be desired. To play, two people get together and use their brain waves to control the movement of a ball across a table. Most people can do that with a couple of whiskeys neat and a pool cue, but I digress.

And also as one would expect, BCI research unleashes a whole host of ethical issues of which I will just mention two of my favorites. The first: What constitutes a brain-computer interface? Thank you. My question, exactly. And the other favorite: Who is responsible for the erroneous actions of the neuroprosthesis? I suppose this is the neurological equivalent of butt-dialing someone.

And finally, and just for the record, this whole idea of getting something implanted in my brain makes me quite uneasy, and not just because it wouldn’t look very cute. I feel like I’ve got most of what I need in my cranial cavity, and I would rather not screw it up. (This is also my main argument for wearing a bike helmet.) But if I was going to have something added, it would need to be something really good. Maybe the iPhone 6, for example.

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© Sarah Ann Gilbert, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sarah Ann Gilbert with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Table for two: Me and my iPhone

Last Friday, we (me/spouse) went to dinner with a couple of friends (friend/spouse) at Mizuna. It was a special occasion. We got babysitters. I wore lipstick. These are the signs of an important and rare event. When we got there, it was hugs all around and then we were seated.

I plunked my iPhone down just to left of my salad fork, and my friend inquired about whether I was expecting a call. No, I said, that device is part of my brain, and I didn’t think you would mind if my entire consciousness joins us for this lovely meal. Then, she promptly got out her phone and set it next to knife. Perfect.

As dinner progressed, the phones were employed. First to take a picture of the special outing. Next to look something up on my calendar. Then, to order a book off Amazon that I started talking about during the main course and wanted to buy for her. And then a really weird thing happened. She got a call on her iPhone. Oh well. It happens.

When I was in college, in a cognitive psychology class, my professor Merlin Donald warned me about this. Actually, he was lecturing, and I am being melodramatic. But I was lucky enough to be in that class to hear the news. Here is what he said: That as a culture we would make a “third transition” into an “external symbolic storage and theoretic culture.” (This is academia, remember.) Translated into English that means that our culture and our minds would evolve to adapt and incorporate external memory devices — eg. the iPhone. We’ve arrived. It’s the Third Transition.

We don’t memorize people’s phone numbers or addresses anymore. We look them up on our phones, when we need them. I never bother to remember the name of a book or an author. Isn’t that what Google is for? And spelling? LOL on that.

So, the next time you invite me to lunch just remember, I’m not being rude when I use my phone; I’m technically just remembering something.

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Talk to me on Twitter @sarahanngilbert

© Sarah Ann Gilbert, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sarah Ann Gilbert with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Twitter is good for something, at least four things

I have been trying to figure out what Twitter is good for. I created an account late last year* and sent my first tweet December 12. How cute. I only had one tooth. I also started following a few people (mostly real-world friends) and companies that I thought were interesting. And then I stopped following a few of them, because they were twittering like birds at 5 a.m. in the summer when I’m trying to sleep. In other words, things were getting a little noisy.

But now I have some answers. Four of them.

1. Twitter is helping me get better at writing headlines and brief status updates. This would not be the first thing on most peoples’ list but I am a writing nerd, so I noticed this right away.

2. Twitter lets me follow niche news topics really easily. I am following a number of people who write or tweet about social media, business intelligence, feminism and information design — all topics that I’m interested in but that are not usually covered by traditional media outlets.

3. I have met new people. Early on I started following a guy named Steve Farnsworth at Twitter’s recommendation. And he runs a blog called Steveology, which is an awesome name, by the way. Steveology: The branch of knowledge that is Steve. Who thinks of this stuff? Well, Steve does. And he also accepts guest posts on his blog, so I wrote one. And he accepted it. You can read it right here:

Social Business Starts with Leaders Connecting Socially to Employees

On Friday afternoon Steve and I were tweeting each other about whether or not an article about the 40 Hottest Women in Tech was sexist. Uh, yes. Steve agreed. He is a branch of knowledge after all. And then he used the word “douchebag” in a tweet this weekend, so what is not to like about this guy?!

4. Twitter is good for carrying on a conversation with a lot of people all at once, especially if you’re focused on a single topic — like a movie or a speaker (as in when you’re at a conference). It has this amazing way of adding a layer of meaning to something that you are already learning. But more on that later, when I have a better example of what I’m talking about.

So there are four reasons to use Twitter. Or at least four reasons why I am starting to really like using Twitter. And I hope you were paying attention, because today is a special day for you. You got two posts in one. And that’s got to be good for something.

* I actually tried to create a Twitter account a year ago, but it took that long to troubleshoot login problems that I was experiencing. But happy day, I persisted, and I finally created an account. And now I can live happily ever after.


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Talk to me on Twitter @sarahanngilbert

© Sarah Ann Gilbert, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sarah Ann Gilbert with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Work, life balance: No need to be redundant

How much do you work? Yesterday, I worked a lot, at least I think I did, but I don’t punch a clock or keep a timesheet anymore so I couldn’t tell you exactly how much. But my day started at 5 a.m. with a trip to the gym, then I was to the office by 8, home by 5:30 for dinner and back online between 7:30 and 9.

For some portion of the day, I was paid to do what I did. The portion from approximately 8 to 5. But I considered all of it, except the lying on the bed that I did for about an hour after dinner, to be work. The part at the gym was most definitely work, and I actually had to pay someone else to do that. I’m sure that if I told a pioneer woman from 1852 that I spent perfectly good money to go somewhere so I could lift heavy objects, run up and down some stairs and have a shower, she would think that I was from an insane asylum.

But we, especially us ladies, seem more than a little interested in whether we have enough work/life balance. But my question is: What’s the difference? Work is a big part of my life. And I’m not sure where the balance part comes in. I suppose I’m trying to balance the parts of my life that I want to do with the parts of my life that I have to do. But more and more that has little or nothing to do with whether I’m making money at it. And sometimes I can’t tell if it’s work.

What are you balancing?

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© Sarah Ann Gilbert, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sarah Ann Gilbert with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Ideas come from the strangest places

I’ve always known that walking the dog bestowed some small health and social benefits. You get a little bit of exercise and you usually get to say “hi” to the neighbors. But I didn’t expect it to cause me to want to start a social network.

This idea didn’t come like a bolt of lighting out of the blue as the mythology often suggests. It developed slowly and is still evolving. I’m calling it “The Hyperlocal Experiment” and it started with this.

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I came across this pile of poop and thought, that’s a great business idea! Not quite. I came across this pile of poop, and like the maker of this sign, thought that’s gross and irresponsible. And then I start laughing at the sign, took a picture and posted it on Facebook, of course. It got a great response, and it also reminded me of a blow-up in Boulder, Colorado in 2007 over dog poop on public trails. Animal excrement is both a public responsibility and a public hazard – a perfect topic for a community newspaper, but usually not something that’s big enough to make a metro or national newspaper.

My neighborhood is Denver’s most densely populated, and most of the people that live here are young and untethered, except to their iPhones. So I started a local, social community in January of this year that covers neighborhood passions and just a little bit about poop. It’s called Normal on Capitol Hill and I’ve been creating stories and marketing campaigns for the site for three months. I’m now in the process of creating a bigger team to help and expanding to other neighborhoods. But more about that next time.

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Talk to me on Twitter @sarahanngilbert

© Sarah Ann Gilbert, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sarah Ann Gilbert with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Getting started, a little late. Or not. Why judge it?

I have been meaning to blog about this for a while now, but there is no time like the present. Seriously. That’s it. There is just right now. The past is back there. And the future is not here, yet. But I digress.

I’m just not sure how far to go back to start this story. When-I-was-born seems a little too far back. I might have been born do this, but I’ll leave that up to someone else to decide. So maybe we’ll just start with college.

I have a master’s degree in journalism and for a few years I worked as a newspaper reporter covering business, education, the state legislation and once in a while something more fun, like the guy who wrote a book called Underwear on the Roadside about walking across the country. Spoiler alert. He found underwear in every state except one.

This was a great job, except for the pay, the hours and the fact that with the advent of the Web, the entire industry was turned up-side-down. And by that I mean going bankrupt. Every few minutes, we had to do more with less. So that made me good at getting a lot done with very few people and even fewer resources. It also forced me to be creative, do lots of research and meet deadlines. All stuff that was great practice for what I do now.

It also made me want to start a collection of hyperlocal social networks for Denver. I’m starting with my neighborhood. You can check out the first one here: Normal on Capitol Hill. And if you want to follow along behind the scenes, just stick with me right here. I’ll tell you all my entrepreneurial adventures. And by that I mean, you can feel free to laugh at my mistakes (I will) and cry if I succeed (I will) and give up and try again. There will lots of that, too.

 

Talk to me on Twitter @sarahanngilbert

© Sarah Ann Gilbert, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sarah Ann Gilbert with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.