A Little Love Note to Twitter

I know, I know, Twitter can be a poisonous realm filled with evil trolls.

But it brings me good things in a celebration of serendipity and the spread of good ideas that I don't find elsewhere.

Some examples that inspired this post:

I follow Andrea Learned (@andrealearned) and have for years. I found her when I lived in Spokane, worked in communications, and was building my women's bike blogs list, among other things. We had biking and communications in common. I followed her.

Then I moved to a job in Seattle (for which, by the way, Twitter provided some of my brand-building and influencer identity). I met Andrea in person, we became friends who occasionally get together for bike rides and coffee, and I realized just how much of a leader she was in bridging the worlds of sustainability, bicycling, social impact, green business, and online influence.

So I follow her, retweet her, and look at who she recommends and amplifies. This recently gave me a "you are there" series of tweets as Andrea participated in a climate-action bike ride at the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco.

Andrea shared a story recently that taught me how few influencers/changed opinions it takes to turn the tide on something you care about by sharing a link to this Fast Company piece: The magic number of people needed to create social change. The magic number? 25 percent--just one in four.

The whole notion of hashtags as a way to link people with common interests illustrates how Twitter can bring strangers together around a shared idea. A few examples from my interests, and there are many:
  • When I look at the spread of concepts like #CrashNotAccident, with people calling out media coverage that doesn't follow the AP stylebook and makes it sound as if a driver hitting someone was somehow inevitable or unavoidable, I know it's worth engaging to keep up the drumbeat.
  • More recently #DriverNotCar has emerged--an especially important distinction as we begin to have self-driving cars tested on public roads. The next time you read an article about someone injured or killed while walking or bicycling, look at whether the reporter actually says the driver did it or whether all the actions are attributed to the vehicle.
  • Andrea started the use of #bikes4climate to highlight the value of bicycling as carbon-free transportation. 
  • Every Thursday night from 6-7pm Pacific time #bikeschool takes place: A "guest prof" asks bikey questions, people chime in with answers. I regularly serve as guest prof and it builds such community that when a #bikeschool regular came to Seattle on a visit, several of us got together for beer and met in real life for the first time.

Another phenomenon I can attribute directly to Twitter activity: The number of people I meet at conferences with whom I can forge a strong and immediate connection. When I introduce myself if the response in a tone of recognition is, "You're Barb Chamberlain?!" I know to answer with, "You must be on Twitter." The answer is always yes.

Why? Because I live-tweet conferences, briefings, any setting in which I'm able to use Twitter to disseminate information relevant to my work and my passions. I type like the wind and I'm good at picking out sound bites--or what we used to refer to as sound bites before they became tweetable comments. A few examples from September 2018, which was a somewhat over-conferenced month for me but one full of great learning and connecting:
#WalkBikePlaces (which was attended by more good live-tweeters than many I go to)

If you've been avoiding Twitter because you know it's abused by bots and ranters, you don't have to let them scare you away. It can be a space in which to connect, share and learn. And there's always the function that lets you mute certain keywords for a much more...civilized experience.

Wondering where to start? I've compiled some lists around various interests, particularly active transportation and equity. Andrea has a big batch of lists focused around sustainability, climate change and corporate social responsibility. You can follow a list or just look at it to pick out a few people you find interesting. You can always unfollow later if you change your mind. It's not like Facebook, where people (should) only let you connect if they know you in real life and then get their feelings hurt if you unfriend because you're not all that interested in pictures of their grandchildren.

At its best, Twitter lets you learn from and connect with total strangers. If this post encourages you to give it a try--or to come back to an account you started years ago but haven't been active on--give me a shout at @barbchamberlain to let me know. Then we won't be strangers.

Related Reading

Hey (We’re Not All) Guys! Why I Don’t Use “You Guys”

Let me put my English degree and years of copy-editing experience to work and start with a handy little grammar lesson: In most instances when you would say, “You guys” you can say “You” and the sentence works just fine.
  • Wait staff to diners: What would you guys like for dinner tonight? Would you guys like to see a dessert menu?
  • Social butterfly to a bunch of friends: Where do you guys want to go tonight?
  • Emcee to an audience: Are you guys ready to give it up for Famous Guest Name Here?
  • Anyone, to any group anywhere: Are you guys [verb]-ing?
This has been grating on me for a while now between hearing it live, on the radio, and from podcast hosts. (Side note to podcasters and announcers: Run a transcript of your last show and highlight every occurrence, then come back. I'll be here.)
I’ve been working to purge my own use, I hope with a fair amount of success. I’ve read a number of articles about the inherent sexism in having a male-gendered term--because oh yes it is--used as a collective. Each one reinforces my feeling that we need to address this default setting.

The capper came just last week. I will let the highly male-dominated conference I was attending remain nameless, along with the male emcee.
I had just finished discussing this very topic with the people at my table--four women, five men, although two of the men were having their own sidebar conversation and probably didn’t hear my little lecture.
We had talked about how someone bothered by this in the workplace brought it up only to be told that they were “too sensitive”. I think we were in general agreement that this created an unwelcoming climate at the same time we’re trying to recruit a lot of people and are actively seeking to diversify the workplace.
I work in an agency whose headquarters and regional offices are essentially big concrete boxes full of engineers--most of them men, many of them approaching retirement age. Some of them participate in STEM outreach and mentoring and we have interns and recent graduates in the workforce.
Do you suppose the young women being mentored want to be referred to as “guys” or think they have an equal chance of advancement if the agency’s default setting is one of guy-ness? I mean, it already is full of guy-ness by virtue of who’s there now so we need to try extra hard to be inclusive and welcoming.
All I know is that when the emcee congratulated two (senior executive) women receiving an award by saying, as they exited the stage, “Congratulations, you guys,” the other women at the table and I all made eye contact and nodded. There it was again.
We’ve worked through similar changes before. We’ve come to recognize that using words that only include some of the people in the room reflects the implication that some people belong there and some don’t.
Many of us are working to overcome that history--to move away from default settings that privilege some people as the norm and mark others as the exception. You wouldn’t look at a room full of people who embody a variety of races, ethnicities and cultures and say, “Hey white people, where should we go for dinner tonight?”
I’m not suggesting it’s easy. Like any habit, changes in your word choice will require effort. This is a lot of historical baggage we’re packing around. (And if you’re a man you have pockets in which to carry this stuff. Women mostly don’t.)
Seriously, folks, if women had been in power throughout the ages would we be addressing groups of all genders by saying, “You gals”? And if we were and you were a man in this system how do you think you’d feel about that?
Let me give you one more reason to purge “guys” as a collective term. Some people are born in a body that means their family and friends refer to them as a guy. They go through difficult work to represent themselves as who they really are, and their true self isn’t a guy at all. How do you suppose it feels to have people still calling you a guy at that point?*
Here’s a list for you. Practice a few times so these become a reflex. Some are better suited to following “you”, some work better after “hey” or “okay” or “so” or some other little throwaway word you use to signal that you’re about to say something. Or you could, y’know, just say what you need to say.

One more thing to know: It doesn't require that many of us making the change to get society to shift. Just one in four, according to this study at University of Pennsylvania.
Useful Collective Terms***
  • Folks
  • People
  • All
  • Y’all
  • All y’all (for a bigger group)
  • Team
  • Friends
  • Family
  • Colleagues
  • Group
  • Everyone
  • VERB-ers, VERB-iers, VERB-ists:** If you’re engaging in a specific activity this can be useful--partiers, gardeners, balloonists, card players.
  • NOUN lovers/aficionados/VERB-ers or NOUN participants/attendees: Food lovers, birdwatchers, stamp collectors, workshop participants, conference attendees
Age-specific as appropriate (and it often isn’t):
  • Kiddos (only for kids)
  • Young people (only to young people--no need to jokingly referring to old people as young people as if there’s something wrong with being old)
  • Elders
Now, if you’re in a meeting of all guys, or a bunch of people named “Guy”, by all means use “guys”. (At which point you might also want to bear in mind that you’re now in a meeting that doesn’t represent the perspectives of the majority of people in the world. So there’s that.)
We are all learning, every day, how to treat each other with kindness, dignity and respect. Our words matter and can move us toward or away from a more inclusive world.
If acknowledging that you've unintentionally included some and excluded others with your words feels too hard, maybe check your values orientation a little more closely. No, wait--scratch that “maybe”. Just do it.

Several Footnotes
* Obviously some people making this transition are delighted to be referred to as a guy. Somehow I don’t think when it’s used in this careless collective that it’s meant to include you specifically on the basis of your gender. They aren’t thinking about gender or inclusion at all--that’s the underlying problem.
** You will find me giving the exact opposite advice about VERB-ers if I’m talking about usage in transportation. I tell people not to use the terms “bicyclist” and “pedestrian” to refer to people biking or walking. This is because I strive for people-first language to remind everyone that we’re all people no matter which modes of transportation we use.
If I were starting off on a walking or biking tour I’m most likely to say “OK, group/folks/everyone, let’s get going”. It wouldn’t be the end of the world in that context if I said “OK, walkers/riders, let’s get going”. But if I’m editing a policy document I’m in people-language mode.
*** My extra-cranky final note where I lose a bunch of you because you think I’m being too picky: I don’t include terms for groups of people on the list above that you might expect to see, such as “tribe”. I am not a member of any tribe and don’t think it’s okay for me to appropriate that word, whereas if you are a tribal member referring to others it's completely fine. I don’t use “posse”--they used to hang people, remember? And so on down a list of collective nouns that either don't apply or carry a burden of history I don't want to bring into the room.
Basically I try not to use any collective referring to a specific group defined by its religious beliefs, race, ethnicity, or some other characteristic or practice I don’t share. If I do it’s because I don’t actually know that word’s derivation, at which point I hope you’ll share that historical information with me so I can update my practice. I will be genuinely, sincerely appreciative.
Related Reading
Any Terms to Add or Avoid?
  • What collective words do you use in place of “guys”?
  • Any you avoid because they represent a group definition that doesn’t apply to you or the people you’re addressing?

How I've Been Reading

I love books so of course I love bookstores. Love. Them. As a kid, thought I'd grow up to own a bookstore because I couldn't imagine anything more wonderful than spending all day every day surrounded by books. Magic between covers, books.

If not a bookstore, then maybe I'd end up working in a library. I completed every summer reading program the Lewiston, Idaho, library offered, set records, got special permission to get books from higher up in the bookmobile where books were shelved by grade and I had already read everything for my age group.

Grew up, worked in the student bookstore during college (but mostly in the back office doing accounts payable reconciliations--good times, good times). After college, learned about the economics of publishing working for a small regional publisher that went bankrupt, learned how close to the margins a bookstore operates as we sold to them (nobody in this scenario was making much money, as it turned out). Didn't open a bookstore at that point, although years later I got to do a small retailing bit at the Washington Bikes office in Seattle's Pioneer Square and naturally included books in the mix.

Pretty much everywhere I go on vacation or on a business trip I go into bookstores. I buy books even when we're traveling by bike and I have to haul the weight of the book for another 150 miles.

So, yeah, I've been a voracious reader my entire life, although at times life has interfered with reading via the mechanism of little things like having children. I accumulated books by the boxfull as I moved from house to house, culminating in a giant 5,000-square-foot historic home with lots and lots of built-in bookshelves and room for more bookcases.

In a way my books served as the equivalent of rings on a tree, showing the ages and stages of my life. There sat a longstanding love of the Arthurian legend going back to a summer vacation when I bought John Steinbeck's The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights in a bookstore in Oregon. It anchored the fantasy and science fiction collection. In nonfiction my love of words and my linguistics and English degrees explained the collection of books on language history and how the brain processes words. My interest in science nestled there with the works of Stephen Jay Gould. My love of history showed up both in historical fiction and in works that took a topic and explored it through the ages in interesting ways. My master's in public administration and additional graduate work toward that unfinished PhD in political science added books on public policy, political culture, community engagement. I started bicycling for transportation (and joy and freedom and health and the environment and-and-and) so that started another big collection.

I filled all the bookshelves. I might occasionally take a few used books to Auntie's Bookstore to trade in for credit so I could acquire more. I worked out whether vertical or horizontal storage permitted more books to fit on a shelf. And then--

We bought a smaller house that had neither miles of built-in shelves nor much room for bookshelves, given the layout of walls, windows and doors. I had come to a crossroads. And a certain portion of one bookshelf was dedicated to books on simplicity, downsizing your belongings, things like that.

I took a deep breath and decided that I would set a lot of my books free to be read and loved by others. Like, a LOT a lot.

I dramatically downsized my book collection to mostly nonfiction--books I might consult rather than stories to be reread, with a few exceptions. A bit of a shock to the system, but I survived the surgery.

But then my reading life changed radically because Betsy made me take on her old Kindle.

I really didn't think I wanted one. I like the physicality of books: being drawn by the cover, flipping it over to read the blurbs on the back, opening it to read the first few lines and see if the author grabbed me immediately. I liked knowing how much more of the story I have by the thickness of the pages left so I can second-guess whether the author really can tie off all those dangling plot threads by the end.

Yet in no time at all I found myself touching the corner of a physical page because that's what you do to "turn" the page in a Kindle book. So what turned me?
  • The smaller environmental footprint of books that arrive as electrons, not as something that involves chopping down trees and carrying their deadweight back and forth in the form of logs, paper, and finished books.
  • The light weight of the Kindle regardless of the size of the book I'm reading. No more getting painfully whacked in the face if I nodded off reading an especially hefty tome, like Pillars of the Earth.
  • The fact that I never, ever run out of something to read. There is always another book.
  • The ease with which I can get the next book by an author whose work I like without any cost in my time or transportation. (Yes, I'm aware that instant gratification isn't one of the most attractive qualities on this list.)
  • The ability to read works by authors who might never land a big print publishing deal, but who can get visibility within the world of electronic publishing.
I do miss the physicality of books, and I'd say I notice some differences in how I process digital content as compared with analog. For one thing, without the constant visual reminder of the book's cover I don't think I remember titles and authors quite the same way. The search function on the Kindle lets me find everyone eventually, though, so there's that.

Some books really don't lend themselves to the medium. I buy those, I buy books to give as gifts, I buy more books than I ever did, I still have bookshelves full of books, I regularly recommend writers on Twitter (and get to tell them directly how much I love their work, which is awesome). Still voracious. Always reading.

Reclaiming Yoga

I started my run at #30DaysOfYoga counting on the power of repetition. It worked as I'd hoped, restoring yoga to a regular place in my life.

But I think it worked for more reasons than simple repetition. It seems to me that my connections to yoga over the years laid a foundation I could return to.

That may be one of the secrets to getting a habit back: Having its roots in something that's a part of you. If you're tryinig to develop a brand-new habit it seems to me tying it to something you've loved before may give you what you need to make it stick.

My yoga interest stretches back decades. When I was a kid I read a book on yoga that belonged to Older Brother #2. I remember it as having line drawings of the asanas, a discussion of breathing, and information on advanced practices that included everting one's bowels to rinse them in the stream you should be standing in, then I guess tuck them back in somehow, or maybe draw them back in through ab strength.

Whatever it was, I didn't plan to try it. But I worked on trying to do Lotus and Tree and a few others. I memorized the Sun Salutation sequence. Even with the limberness of youth I struggled with Lotus, feeling the pinch and drag of my feet pulling at my inner thighs after I torqued my feet into place with my hands.

In high school it was episodes of Lilias, Yoga and You on Spokane Public TV after school. Lilias had a long, dark braid, a soothing voice, and a Danskin outfit of leotard and tights. This of course told me that doing yoga required special clothes, and who wouldn't want some of that?

The years passed and Jane Fonda had her effect, what with aerobics and legwarmers. Two babies and a few career moves later I started setting my alarm for 5 a.m. to have time to work out before driving (ugh) from my home in Coeur d'Alene to my job in Spokane. Some of my VHS tapes (yes, this was in the dark, dark days before apps, my children) put me through step aerobics and workouts with light weights. Others, though, gave me the gravity-defying yoga of Rodney Yee and a few others.

I didn't know about modifications and these tapes didn't give me options. So when someone popped up and down effortlessly into multiple repetitions of Upward Bow when I couldn't do more than get my butt off the ground, it was a trifle discouraging. But there were encouraging moments too, like one in which the person demonstrating Tree said not to worry if I swayed because trees sway.

Then one day I saw an event taking place at a yoga studio near campus. They were offering a juice tasting, which sounded interesting, and a class. (For the record, wheatgrass juice tastes like new-mown lawn. Not a fan.)

Live instruction took me to a whole new way of practice. Being shown modifications let me work toward the ultimate expression of a posture while seeing each modification as its own posture worth executing well. Each class brought a new insight, a subtle shift in position, a reminder to lift or drop or open. I spent a whole Saturday in a workshop going pose by pose through the Sun Salutation, breaking each one down to examine its elements and then putting them back together. The year I turned 40 I did 108 Sun Salutations at the winter solstice.

Yoga was a habit.

So when I started doing it again I had memories of what it felt like, what I could be like, to motivate me.

I might not be able to do a full bind in a side angle now -- and may never get to that level again. But I can lift from the core, roll over my toes, and remember that Down Dog does, in fact, come to represent rest rather than exertion.

I spread my fingers, distribute weight evenly and push back to take pressure off my wrists, lift my hips, drop my heels a fraction toward the ground (not that they ever really touched the floor even when I was at my best), exhale. Inhale. Exhale.