Is Scott Simon violating some societal taboo?

I wouldn’t do it, but I don’t begrudge him his choice. Everyone deals with death in his or her own way. I hope he doesn’t regret this. It begs the question, is it best to wait to write about grief, or is the moment the truest time?

If You Have Five Seconds to Spare

Perhaps you’ve heard of NPR’s Scott Simon this week—he’s getting a lot of attention for tweeting his thoughts and observations as he sits at his mother’s deathbed.

As with any public figure’s actions, Simon is getting both praise and criticism. I read through the negative comments posted to the Los Angeles Times article—here’s a sample:

  • “That is just creepy”
  • “Ratings must have been down”
  • “This guy needs to seek mental help”
  • “Can’t even someone’s dying days be afforded some dignity?”
  • “Ghoulish. Disrespectful. Selfish.”
  • “Rather he used his Mother to garner favor and a story as well as pity.”

But what Simon is doing is not new—only the vehicle for expressing his thoughts is new. Books and essays, thousands of times over, have been written about a loved one’s death, and I hear little similar criticism leveled against that type of writing. So apparently the thing that is making people…

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Fare Thee Well, SPAAGERT….

SPAAGERT – or Senate President Acting As Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, has left the building.  For a chronologically correct reading of his departure just moments ago, read the bottom tweet first and end at the top.
 
Thanks for everything, sir.  You were simply the best and leave very big, fake, shoes to fill.
 
 
Earl Ray
ActingGov_WVEarl Ray

 
God bless you, and God bless the State of West Virginia.
»
 
Earl Ray
ActingGov_WVEarl Ray

 
Turning on the iPod for the journey – http://t.co/fSeQmp5
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Earl Ray
ActingGov_WVEarl Ray

 
Helmet on, goggles down, and with the tanning bed in tow, we depart for home. The garden calls, the growing season is half over.
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Earl Ray
ActingGov_WVEarl Ray

 
And so with an intern in the sidecar, kindly on loan from @SpeakerThompson, and Mrs. Earl Ray behind me, I bid you farewell.
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Earl Ray
ActingGov_WVEarl Ray

 
It’s an awfully long way to the Dairy Delight in Chapmanville – where lunch will await. A hot dog with NO SLAW @ASourAppleTree.
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Earl Ray
ActingGov_WVEarl Ray

 
Mrs. Earl Ray is in the drive, and the interns have brought the ATV and U-Haul around.
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Earl Ray
ActingGov_WVEarl Ray

 
It is time dear friends to say good-bye. With a tip of the hat to @ertwv and best wishes to all –
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Earl Ray
ActingGov_WVEarl Ray

 
And the Speaker has arrived. #thisjustmightbehisday
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Earl Ray
ActingGov_WVEarl Ray

 
First we must enjoy this magnificent breakfast & savor the moment. The upside is, someone else will have to take Noland to see Harry Potter.
»
 
Earl Ray
ActingGov_WVEarl Ray

 
Before Mrs. Earl Ray could say it, I told her I knew. It’s time. And the staff knows, too.
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Earl Ray
ActingGov_WVEarl Ray

 
But there’s a look in Mrs. Earl Ray’s eyes – and I know what that means.
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Earl Ray
ActingGov_WVEarl Ray

 
Mrs. Earl Ray has gathered the staff – it’s a breakfast buffet from Tudor’s. #amidreaming?
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Earl Ray
ActingGov_WVEarl Ray

 
Heading downstairs. Something smells good. Perhaps there’s a surprise for brunch?
»
 
Earl Ray
ActingGov_WVEarl Ray

 
Up early. Big day planned.

Why I Love the Fictional Earl Ray

There are these people out there, and sometimes you don’t even know who they are, but you’ve got to love them.  I can no longer contain my adoration for my personal candidate for the next individual elected to the chief executive office for the great State of West Virginia…….please give it up for @ActingGov_WV!

Hailing from Chapmanville, West Virginia, this tan, rested and ready top gun on Twitter states his bio as follows:

The (fictional) Governor of WV is the head of the executive branch of WVa’s government and the commander-in-chief of the state’s military forces (fictional).

The profile pic of @ActingGov_WV

I like the real ERT very much so far, but if for some reason he can’t fulfill his duties I rest comfortably knowing that the fictional Earl Ray Tomblin is ready to roll.

I can hear your thoughts, dear reader.  Why would anyone spend their time creating and sustaining a fake account, masquerading as Earl Ray Tomblin, and being completely clear that it’s all fiction?  I can’t say for sure.  But I can hazard a guess or two.  This person knows state government, and not just the structure and processes and rules.  He knows the people.  He knows how the personalities of those people can work for or against functional governance.  And God bless him, he knows that so much of our crazy world at wv.gov is just pure hilarity.

Citizens in every state across the U.S. of A. are losing their collective sense of humor, and that is understandable.  I follow and appreciate @ActingGov_WV because he makes me laugh at things that need to be laughed at, including myself as a voter and a citizen.  He also has a gift for poking at people who take themselves too seriously in a very gentle way that keeps things in perspective without trying to take a body count.  Having worked in the Governor’s Office myself a few years back, I can assure you that this skill is rare and to be treasured.

It is impossible to share all the great tweets because, well, they are all great.  If you are on Twitter and follow West Virginia politics, you really need to find @ActingGov_WV and treat yourself to the full smörgåsbord of fun. Without further ado, here are some of my favorite tweets from a very funny mind:

  • OK. Get this clear. Tent was a Manchin thing. It’s in state code that all Manchin stuff is tacky. #lookitup
  • John Raese sure does love the people of West Virginia, Alice Click. That’s why he lives in Florida. #totallyobvious
  • Sending intern to Natalie’s kickoff to spy. Also to bring back some pizza. Don’t tell Mrs. Earl Ray.
  • Joe apparently wants all state residents to stop what they are doing and listen to his maiden Senate speech tomorrow. #yeahright
  • Marcellus shale will give me a perpetual perfect tan and get me on Jeopardy.
  • May do musical chairs next Board of Public Works meeting. If you don’t grab a chair, you can’t run for governor. #imfast
  • When Senator Jenkins talks about the “Far East” I’m suspicious he means Jefferson County.
  • I think Betty is giving Kabler gift certificates to the Food Court. Will have to step things up. Delivery + a behind the scenes tour.
  • As Senate President, may order heat in Sen. Jenkins turned off over the weekend. Freeze all his hair products.
  • Are we sure there is actually a real Shelley Moore Capito and not just a bot in DC pretending to be SMC?
  • UK Parliament amending the Act of Settlement isn’t going to put the Speaker in line to be King of England, either. #justnothisday
  • Text from Joe. He wants to know why we haven’t made his birthday a state holiday yet.
  • Polishing the ATV for the ride into the chamber.
  • May challenge Natalie to a shovel-off for the next big storm. Won’t tell her I’m bringing the ATV. #planningahead
  • Clearly, one should not trifle with Daily Mail reporters. The editorial staff is a different matter, altogether.
  • Communications staff is in for a rough meeting this morning; expect an explanation of why @CartneyWV gets better press than me.
  • I walked to the candy machine instead of sending an intern. #fitwv
  • Considering submitting legislation to make the Speaker the governor of Mason County. #dontwantitanyway #compromise

And my personal favorite, naturally:

Thanks @ElizGaucher for the #ff! I always insist the staff read your blog. 😉

Though I am bracing for:

@ElizGaucher kissing up, dropping resume hints.  Think she’s too pale to do get the job done. #letherdowneasy

The Best of the Blog 2010: What Lit Fires and Stirred the Pot

Last year I ranked the “Top 10” Esse Diem posts by the number of comments.  I was still new to blogging and had did not have access to statistics that would allow any other evaluation.  This year, it’s different.  And more interesting.

WordPress provides statistics on the number of visits to the blog each day, and breaks it down by post and page read.  I’ve also started tracking how posts are shared on Facebook and Twitter, as well as keeping mental note of private email messages about posts that people do not necessarily want to comment on in public.  (Those stats are some of the most interesting, to be sure.)

Because there are so many different ways to evaluate a “Best of” list, this summary represents a combination of factors, from raw numbers to shares to gut instinct.  Different groups of people read different things, but the pattern that emerges is one of solidarity around an interest in people just being better to one another.  I could not ask for a more rewarding realization as a writer.

2011 will bring a new award recognition for West Virginians making a difference; another essay series; and a little more about sexuality issues, especially where they intersect with spirituality issues.

In no particular order, here they are.  Thank you for reading Esse Diem, and enjoy the 2010 flashback!

The Top 10 of 2010

What’s Mine is (not) Yours

WordPress has a daily feature called Freshly Pressed.  They term it “the best of bloggers, posts, comments, and words” and I wanted to be that.  After reading the qualities of blogs selected for this coveted status, I determined the one thing I wasn’t doing that I needed to change was to start using more original images and to make sure all other images were credited to their source.  This post kicked off a week of original drawings by my husband for the blog.  It was immediately selected for Freshly Pressed, and garnered 3,000 blog hits.  It also changed how I select and credit images on the blog.

Children of a Lesser god

I wrote this post after a student at Rutgers University killed himself when his roommate and one of the roommate’s friends broadcast the student’s private sexual encounter with another man online.  The suicide and what precipitated it were chilling, but the responses to the events were even more so.  One of the most disturbing pieces of fallout from this post was a lengthy Facebook thread that followed its reposting by an Esse Diem reader who tried to use it to launch a discussion about compassion, especially in his faith community. It was shocking to see the number of “Christian” voices who blamed the victim, and who attributed his death to a failure to exhibit confidence in (a particular interpretation of) God.  I was strongly reminded of Kiefer Sutherland’s character in A Few Good Men:  “Private Santiago is dead, and that is a shame, but he is dead because he had no honor.  He had no code, and God was watching.”  While I didn’t love what I discovered, I think it was important.

Twittiquette

I can handle disagreement; in fact, without healthy debate I start to worry if anyone is paying attention to anything.  What I don’t tolerate is reactionary disrespect.  Twitter has many positive uses, but it can still be used similarly to anonymous online comments by people who see “tweets” and hiding places for their attacks on other people.  This post was my response to one such incident, and it received a large number of shares and hits.  Apparently many people concur:  Twitter should be open for debate, but not for bashing.  The post made the rounds in the Philipines and beyond.  I now have regular polite exchanges with the individual involved in this incident, even though we still don’t tend to agree on much!

The Victory of Every Woman

The popularity of this post surprised me, but it probably shouldn’t have.  The title alone suggests a wide range of relevance.  Women with cancer, strained marriages, and parenting struggles connected and shared their thoughts and emotions about Elizabeth Edwards.  One of the most important honors I’ve ever had is to have this post featured on the home page of a married woman and mother who is fighting cancer with every fiber of her being.

C’mon.  Don’t Be a Hater

This was a popular post, but I chose it for this list because it was the real beginning of something I’d wanted to do for a long time, and that is say, “Enough already with the cowardly crap.”  Cowardly crap is my kindest and best term for when people refuse to identify themselves online but feel free in their anonymity or disconnection from others to attack people.  It goes on all over the world, and is especially rampant on news sites.  I got some pushback from some — surprise, anonymous — bloggers who disagree.  That’s fine.  What I also got was change in online policy comments in my local paper.  The timing was no doubt coincidental, but it was satisfying.  The whole series of events helped me upgrade my own online transparency; it is true that owning our words makes a person more conservative but also discerning in his or her expressions and choices.

Essays on a West Virginia Childhood

This was by far the most fun project on the blog this year.  I learned a lot working with people who spent all or some portion of their childhoods in West Virginia, and I am so grateful to John Warren, Amy Weintraub, and Lisa Minney for sharing their thoughts and memories.  We decided to break up John’s essay into a week-long series, which worked well for a piece that was both serious and complex.  My hope is that this project convinces others that writing need not be long or published traditionally to be shared and valuable.

We still have a few more writers in the queue, so stay tuned!

The Short Ladders

One of my personal favorites, this post is about the perils and pitfalls of extreme opportunity in my home state; I was suprised that the only comments it received on the blog itself were from out-of-state.  I did receive some interesting private correspondence, which I appreciated.  Apparently it struck a chord, just one upon which no one really wants to elaborate publicly.  We might work on that in 2011!

I Want to Be a Shepherd

Regular readers of Esse Diem know I try to work in Good Will Hunting whenever I can.  This post was originally just a quirky musing on an event a friend had with her child.  It turned into one of the most shared and read posts of the year.  The response to the idea that we can do more than be victims or predators in this world, that we can choose to take care of one another, was very special for me.

I think this blog has the coolest readers around.  Thank you again for being part of this work!  See you after the ball drops!

Image credit: Painting in Thailand

Twittiquette

As I am still puzzling over a recent “event” I experienced on Twitter, I thought I’d blog it out and see what anyone else thinks.  The event was an emotional backlash to one of the posts on Esse Diem from a new follower on my Twitter account.  As he followed me first, I naively assumed he had positive intent. 

Twitter: The etiquette is unwritten, but it is real.

Positive intent for me does not equate with agreeing with everything I express; in fact, some of the most helpful comments I get from readers of this blog have been critiques and questions about my thought process and conclusions.  This Twitter thing was something different. 

Rather than ask questions on the blog, this fellow retweeted my post with nearly hysterical questions, accusations, and sarcasm.  There were lots of exclamation points and question marks.  He managed to focus on one illustration of a larger argument and avoid the real point of the post.  In essence, rather than engage me directly he chose to advertise me to his followers as a nitwit.  When I asked him about it later he told me he was not upset — which is odd, because he certainly came across as very stirred up and angry.  I would not like to encounter him when he is actually troubled. 

I’ve since spent a little time trying to figure out why he uses Twitter, and I detect a pattern of doing to others what he did to me.  He likes to follow people he doesn’t agree with and then use that connection to try to discredit the ideas rather than to build rapport and understanding.  In fairness to him, this is a common use of Twitter among many people; it’s also disappointing, but it is a risk people take when they publicly “own” their work, especially online. 

This is not a media empire (yet).  It is one thing to RT (retweet) faceless corporations with whom you never have a prayer of actually communicating and hashtagging their tweets with smart aleck phrases.  And this is the United States of America — anyone is free to RT my tweets and label them any way they choose.  That is the game, and if you don’t know it when you engage you will learn it sooner or later.  It does seem, though, that when individuals engage there ought to still be an understood environment of respect everyone can reasonably anticipate.  It seems even more reasonable to expect this from others who live in your tiny state of 1.8 million people. 

If you are looking for accounts that demonstrate the very best professional execution of Twitter, I can recommend @bobcofffield (health care law blogger + local interest advocacy), @createwv (statewide grassroots organization), @CartneyWV (social media strategy + politics + fashion), @DanSchawbel (big time millenial personal branding), @lineberg (personal + marketing + fitness), @DUKEPress (academia + publishing + humor) and @mistygirlph (social media + reciprocity) for starters.  Each of these people have figured out what they want to do with Twitter, and they do it well.  They all use Twitter differently, but they are each professional, organized, and effective. 

There are many great accounts, and it is worthwhile to follow people who know what they are doing and just watch and learn.  Much of what you can learn is style-driven as much or more than content-driven — how do you feel when you read their tweets?  What words in tweets make you bother to read or RT versus just scan by?  A great tweet just today from @mistygirlph included “15 Reasons to Love Twitter,” with number 14 being “Receive kindness and love 24-7.”  A-HEM……….. 

As a professional, I like Twitter because it is an opportunity to discover new people who can teach me things and to find new resources that can enrich my life.  I also like the general environment of civility and etiquette.  It’s odd, but it’s pervasive in my favorite accounts.  Lots of please and thank you, lots of credit given to others and return favors delivered.  It’s a community of strange P’s and Q’s.  But in a world that has lost nearly all of those kinds of things, it’s a pocket of politeness and professionalism that I enjoy.  

Of course, I was never following John Mayer .  It pays to choose wisely.

Erudite…that’s goes with ranch dip, right?

There are times you read something truly amusing and you may never really know if the person who conjured it was trying to be funny; then there are times you know.

Brooks McCabe

Yesterday I read a tweet by @BrooksMcCabeWV that still has me laughing.  He had my vote for the next governor of West Virginia long before this, but now I can just tell one story and explain why he is the man for me, as well as why I believe he is the candidate our state needs in that office.

The tweet was a faux head-scratching over a journalist’s evaulation of him as “too erudite” for most voters.  The exact critique was this:

McCabe has some minuses as a candidate — he doesn’t exactly take command of the room when he enters, and with a doctoral degree from WVU, he can come off a bit too erudite for his audiences.

I don’t know about you, but I am sick and tired of a governor “taking command of the room.”  It’s philistine and tiresome and more often than not a glaring wart on a man’s character if he has to act that way.  The story I heard from the business summit at The Greenbrier was that McCabe quietly took a few steps up in a large hallway and, un-mic’ed, began talking about his vision for West Virginia.  He gathered a large group that soon crowded the area and listened to him intently and respectfully.  My clearance goes through rumor, but I also understand that quiet talk generated $20K in campaign support on the spot.

There will always be people who need someone to “take” command of them; who look for a big guy with too much hair product and a macho background to make them feel taken care of and important.  West Virginia has no shortage of these dudes salivating in the wings.   Then there are other people who appreciate a leader with an education, a respectful mild-mannered approach to others, and a flawless wit.  That leader is Brooks McCabe.

His tweet?  “Looking up ‘erudite’ in the dictionary.”  You gotta love it.