Be a Better Reader: Reading Beyond the Headline (Or, Driving Safely on the Internet)

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A 5-part series. Sure, there are a number of ways in which any writer you enjoy on the Internet can do their work better. However, there are also ways in which readers can improve how they interact with the content they consume, and in doing so, improve their own experience and the experience of fellow readers. (Obviously, my opinions are my own – this is my blog, after all – and are not endorsed in any way by any outlet past or present for whom I write or have written.)

I was speaking with a writer friend recently, and we were both commenting on how amazing it is that, for all that the Internet has allowed people to have access to more information, reading comprehension skills seem to be sorely lacking. What’s more, for all that people love to “surf” the Internet, they often don’t spend the time actually reading anything. We’ve all become skimmers – which isn’t a bad thing in and of itself. Use the Internet however you want and more power to you!

The problems arise when people who haven’t actually read anything feel the need to comment on the things they haven’t read. Rather than contributing to a healthy dialogue, they derail the conversations of people who have read the piece, and start “debates” that have nothing to do with it. Nowhere is this more evident than on Facebook, where posting a comment on an item for which they’ve only seen the preview seems to be a lot of people’s favorite pastime.

It’s become such an epidemic that NPR posted this article about it in April of last year. You’ll be amazed at how many people “commented” on the “story” despite NPR’s obvious fishing.

However, even if people engage with a piece past the headline, many seem to not be engaging too well with the text. A good reader, when they reach a point that’s unclear will ask for clarification before trying to make a point. The outlets for which I’ve written in my career generally have very thoughtful, intelligent readers, and if I haven’t communicated well enough as a writer, they’ll point it out, responding gently to the point I seem to be making while acknowledging that this may not have been what I meant based on the rest of my piece. Then, I clarify accordingly and we have an actual discussion about it. This is great, and I love this kind of engagement!

Then there are other types of readers, who will skim something then make comments like “Why didn’t you address X point?” or point out a fallacy in my argument based on lazy reading. I often find myself defending myself with my own text – No, here it is. I said that right here, or alternately, That isn’t actually what I wrote – here’s this bit again….

I take my job as a writer very seriously, and I’m looking to improve every day. I hate it when I’m not clear, and I actually enjoy getting notes on my work, because I know that my work will end up stronger because of it. However, I do think that readers have a huge responsibility. Communication is a two-way street (or a multi-lane highway), and it’s your responsibility to take other drivers into account, not simply focus on your own driving.

Just because you’re reading a professional website doesn’t mean you’re absolved of your duty to think critically or, you know, actually read the words that are in front of you before you say something about them.

What you can do: If you come across something in a piece of writing that you want to comment on, STOP. Take a breath. Read it again. See if you can repeat the writer’s point in your own words to yourself. If you can, comment. If you can’t, ask for clarification. There’s no need to rush to comment. The Internet will still be there for you when you get back.

Also, before you engage with fellow readers in the comments section. Read the comments, too. Comments sections are for (or should be for) conversation, and you don’t want to butt in on a conversation of which you don’t know the context.  If you were at a party, and you passed by a group of people chatting and just blurted out an opinion based on a stray word you heard, that would kinda be frowned upon. (I know – I’ve been that awkward person who thinks they know what they’re contributing to when they don’t. Trust me.) Likewise, comment sections.

I write, you read. I make a point, you make a point about the point I made. We discuss. We move forward. But we have to be doing that together.

Stay tuned for Part 3 of Be a Better Reader! If you missed Part 1, check it out here!

(This post is supported by Patreon)

Join Me at ONA 2015!

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Thanks to a recommendation from the lovely Sophia Flores-Cruz from Sci-Fi Latino (thanks, @latinageek!), I’ve been invited to participate on a panel at the Online News Association’s 2015 Conference this year!

It’s a panel called Whose Idea of the Future is This? Here’s the official description:

Rapid advances in tech and shifting population dynamics in the United States ensure we are destined for a future beyond current white-male-dominated media thinking. We’ve assembled a group of experts on futurism to look at predictions and possibilities for how our society is changing, and help rethink our approach to media, technology and our communities.

Basically, we’ll be talking about diversity in sci-fi/dystopia and how it relates to media. :)

I was so honored to be asked, and to be sharing a stage with the digital editor at The Atlantic, a futurism scholar, and a talented author/filmmaker who’s an expert in Afro-Futurism. It should be an interesting discussion!

Despite what the website currently says about it, my panel has actually been changed to Friday, September 25th from 3:30-4:30PM. So, if any of you out there are digital journalists, journalism students, or simply so interested in digital journalism and media that you want to hang out with online journalists all day and listen to me and others talk about visions of the future, join me at ONA15!

Trans Love is Love! (or, Thanks, Buzzfeed!)

So, check this out! The GF and I were featured in a Buzzfeed video! :)

OK, I gotta say, since this is my blog and blogs are historically where people go to complain and express their insecurities (thanks, LiveJournal), I wish I would’ve thrown on some makeup. Damn. :) But The GF looks gorgeous, so feel free to just stare at her side of the screen the whole time. And I’ve always been low-maintenance – I shouldn’t start apologizing for it now.

But seriously, I’m so glad that Buzzfeed made this video (BIG thanks to Hillary Lauren Levine!), and I’m honored to have been a part of it. It’s so cool to hear the stories of the other couples they interviewed and know that some of them have been together even longer than us, and it’s awesome and inspiring to know that they’ve made it work and are even longer-term than we are and still so happy!

Yay, love!

Be a Better Reader: Vote With Your Clicks

 

Photo from: Marketplacers.co.nz

Photo from: Marketplacers.co.nz

A 5-part series. Sure, there are a number of ways in which any writer you enjoy on the Internet can do their work better. However, there are also ways in which readers can improve how they interact with the content they consume, and in doing so, improve their own experience and the experience of fellow readers. (Obviously, my opinions are my own – this is my blog, after all – and are not endorsed in any way by any outlet past or present for whom I write or have written.)

As you’re probably aware, I’m an Assistant Editor over at The Mary Sue, where I have the pleasure of writing about all sorts of geeky and fun things through a feminist/social justice lens. 9 times out of 10, we write about things we love – new films/books/TV shows we’re excited about, inspiring women and girls doing cool things in all fields, cool new products we love, or discoveries in tech and science that we’re super-jazzed about. We really, really do.

But sometimes, we don’t. Sometimes, we hear about something in the news about which we want to use our platform to be a voice for change, equality, and a better world. And so, sometimes our writers will write pieces about films or TV shows, or even public figures and how they can do better in relation to things like sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, or issues of class. These are important concerns to us (and hopefully to all of you, too), and we believe it’s important to use these stories as stepping stones to start conversations .

That said, we’re well aware that, since there is so much wrong in the world, there’s always the danger of us dwelling on those things. It’s something we, as individual writers and as a site, fight against every day. We want to provide readers with a balance.

Determining that balance proves difficult, however, when what our readers respond to seems lopsided. We write so many stories about things we love, do interviews with amazing female creators doing awesome things, and tell the stories of awesome women and girls. Things that many of our readers say they want. And yet, those are the pieces that get the fewest “hits.” They’re often the pieces with the fewest comments, conversation, and interaction. They’re the pieces shared the least (unless they somehow involve a big-name celebrity like Chris Pratt).

Yet, whenever we post a social justice piece of any kind where one of our writers expresses a strong opinion about how someone or something could be or do better, we’re accused of writing “clickbait” (it’s amazing how often people mistake “an article they find interesting enough to click on” for “clickbait.” They’re two different things); accused of using important issues to “manufacture controversy” and get views for our site. Or, alternately, we’re accused of “always being negative;” harping on the wrong in the world without acknowledging how far women, LGBTQ+ folks, or ethnic minorities have come.

First of all, our intention with pieces like that is always to inform, educate, and start larger conversations in the hopes of making the world a little better than it was yesterday. Yes, of course we need to worry about things like our numbers – but that isn’t why we choose the things that ultimately end up on the site. We choose them, because they’re things we care about and they’re things we think are important – as evidenced by people having so much to say about them!

Secondly, we do write more celebratory things. If you look at our site, you’ll probably notice one or two “controversial” pieces every day while the rest is stuff we think is cool! And yet, the majority of posts get the least interaction, while the minority of the posts – these longer-form pieces featuring strong opinions about the world’s ills – get all the comments, shares, and interaction.

Many of those comments saying things like, “You’re always stooping to writing clickbait!” or “Why are you always complaining about stuff? I remember when you used to write celebratory things about things you like!”

We still do – often – you just don’t read those things.

What You Can Do: If you want to see a certain type of content more often, make sure you check it out when it’s offered, make positive comments, share it often, and engage people in discussion over it. If you only offer negative comments on things you don’t like, but don’t visit/comment on the things you do, you know what that means? It means that the thing you don’t like got a bunch of clicks, but that the thing you do like got shown no internet love. And so which of the two do you think we’re going to think our readers find more engaging?

When we look at our stats, we don’t see who came specifically to complain versus who came to love the piece. All we know is that people – for some reason – responded to this piece in a way they didn’t to others. As we’re trying to give our readers content they find engaging, we strive to replicate the kind of content our readers want to read. And while it’s great to receive feedback from individual readers about what they like and don’t like, the individual feedback is a small sampling of people who read our site. Stats (or “clicks”) are the easiest way for us to look at the entire picture.

Going to articles you hate to complain is less effective than visiting and interacting with the articles you do like.

This is not to say that you should never disagree with articles. By all means, disagree with the ideas in anything I write. But if you don’t like a type of post – rather than telling me you hate when I post stuff like that, support the stuff you like instead so I know you like it. Both you, and your fellow readers, will be better off for it. If you want to be a good reader and Internet Citizen, vote for things with your support rather than against them with your criticism.

Now, feel free to let me know if I missed something in the comments below! :)

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Be a Better Reader tomorrow!

(This post is supported by Patreon)

Veruca Salt: The Concert I Didn’t Even Know I Needed

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The GF is a huge Veruca Salt fan. Eight Arms to Hold You “got [her] through high school.” So she was super-excited when she heard that not only has Veruca Salt’s original line-up gotten back together, but they have released a new album (the awesome Ghost Notes – my current fave: “Laughing in the Sugar Bowl”) and were going to be playing in LA!

On my birthday. :)

The GF was torn – she wanted to go to the show, but she was also prepared to defer to what I wanted to do on my birthday, and if that didn’t include Veruca Salt, then so be it. So, of course, I said we should go to Veruca Salt on my birthday. I wasn’t about to deprive my boo the chance to finally see one of her favorite bands in concert. Meanwhile, I love live music, no matter what it is – and they’re the band that does “Seether” right? I remember that song. Oh, and that other one that goes like…you know the one. It’s about Spider-Man? :) I wasn’t a huge Veruca Salt fan, but they were a female-fronted band from the 1990s, and I thought it’d be cool to see them live and see how their stuff holds up almost 20 years later.

We got the tickets a couple of months ago, and as I was brushing up on my Veruca Salt catalog, I realized two things:

1) Veruca Salt is awesome! Why haven’t I been listening to them all this time? and

2) I was so painfully mainstream as a kid.

I grew up during grunge. During Riot Grrrl. During a really great time in indie rock. But you’d never know it from what I listened to. I was a Top 40 girl through and through. I mean, I listened to those grunge/punk/rock songs that managed to make it onto the radio, like Nirvana, or VS’s “Seether.” The most “alternative” thing I listened to was Fiona Apple – but that was also at a time when Lilith Fair artists were popular, and songwriters like Fiona Apple were mainstream. I’ve never been the kind of person who was a geek about music. I’ve never been the kind of person to seek out my own stuff. I listened to the radio and relied on recommendations from people I know. I absorbed music when I was a kid, I didn’t seek it out. It was through literature and film that I expressed my tastes, not music. And so a lot of great stuff passed me by.

Talk In Tongues - El Rey Theatre 7/11/15

Talk In Tongues – El Rey Theatre 7/11/15

However, as fate would have it, whereas most people get more conservative as they get older, I’ve gotten more liberal – and in some ways, more radical (thought I’m still a moderate most of the time). And I’ve started to appreciate the music from my youth that was a little more alternative and rebellious. Don’t get me wrong – I am UNASHAMED of having listened to The Spice Girls and TLC. But that’s the great thing about music – or any art, really. It’s always there for you when you need it, even if you need it almost 20 years later.

The concert had a great first opening band in Talk In Tongues. I dug their sound from the moment they got out on stage. And then, I fell absolutely in LOVE with The Muffs, who were the most punk band I’ve ever seen.

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The Muffs – El Rey Theatre – 7/11/15

It was once The Muffs got on stage that I realized why this concert was so important to me. When I say that The Muffs were “the most punk band I’ve ever seen,” I mean that bassist, Robbie Barnett looks like Bill Nye, but plays like Dee Dee Ramone. I mean that lead singer and guitarist, Kim Shattuck uttered the phrase “I’m a grandma, but I don’t give a fuck” before launching into her next song where she proceeded to scream like a banshee. That is punk. A young person being all “down with the establishment” and “I’m a non-conformist” ain’t no thing. That’s kinda part of the job description. But if you can carry that attitude with you through the rest of your life. Holy crap, that’s amazing. That’s what I aspire to!

Veruca Salt - El Rey Theatre - 7/11/15

Veruca Salt – El Rey Theatre – 7/11/15

The awesomeness continued as Veruca Salt took the stage. Having never seen them play live before, I was totally transfixed by them. Everyone’s musicianship was on point, the vocals were amazing, and the energy – oh, the energy. I felt older than they are as I started whinging about having to stand for so long. Meanwhile, their energy never flagged. They brought the same in-your-face, feminist rebelliousness of their youth, but also brought all the wisdom they’ve acquired in the subsequent seventeen years of breaking up and getting back together. It was inspiring.

I needed this show right now. I needed to see women older than I am rocking the fuck out. It inspired me and reminded me that it’s more than OK to not “settle into” getting older, but rather, come into it kicking, screaming, and screeching. Happy fucking birthday to me!

Help Me Help Amy

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The indomitable Amy Cooper.

You may have seen this on my social media platforms before, but I’d like to formally draw your eye to this very important GoFundMe.

The GF’s best friend, a lovely young woman named Amy Cooper, needs your help. You can read the full story at the page itself, but basically she’s dealing with a lot of health issues that both don’t allow her to work, and don’t allow her to afford care long-term. Her own health situation is precarious, and she’s also dealing with a mother who’s sick, was recently hospitalized, and whose insurance coverage lapsed.

If you’ve got anything to spare – and I do mean anything at all: $5/$10 – and understand that sometimes health care is a lot more complicated than it needs to be, consider giving to this GoFundMe on this beautiful Sunday. Both The GF and I would greatly appreciate it, as Amy is someone extremely important to us.

Thank you so much! :)

36th Birthday Playlists!

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So, The GF is taking me to see Veruca Salt tonight at the El Rey for my birthday, and I’m very much looking forward to it! I don’t see nearly enough live music anymore, and their new album, Ghost Notes, is really good.

But this got me thinking about the music I grew up listening to, and I decided to put together a playlist of the #1 songs for every year I’ve been alive. Because it’s my birthday, and I. LOVE. LISTS.

So, join me in a trip down memory lane while listening to the soundtrack of my life. Here’s my Birthday Playlist on Spotify!

1979 – “My Sharona” – The Knack
1980 – “Call Me” – Blondie
1981 – “Bette Davis Eyes” – Kim Carnes
1982 – “Physical” – Olivia Newton-John
1983 – “Every Breath You Take” – The Police
1984 – “When Doves Cry” – Prince (Dammit! Prince isn’t on Spotify!)
1985 – “Careless Whisper” – George Michael
1986 – “That’s What Friends Are For” – Dionne Warwick, Elton John, Gladys Knight, Stevie Wonder
1987 – “Walk Like an Egyptian” – The Bangles
1988 – “Faith” – George Michael
1989 – “Look Away” – Chicago
1990 – “Hold On” – Wilson Phillips
1991 – “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” – Bryan Adams
1992 – “End of the Road” – Boyz II Men
1993 – “I Will Always Love You” – Whitney Houston
1994 – “The Sign” – Ace of Base
1995 – “Gangsta’s Paradise” – Coolio
1996 – “Macarena” – Los del Rio (Bayside Boys Remix)
1997 – “Candle In the Wind (1997)/Something About the Way You Look Tonight” – Elton John
1998 – “Too Close” – Next
1999 – “Believe” – Cher
2000 – “Breathe” – Faith Hill
2001 – “Hanging By a Moment” – Lifehouse
2002 – “How You Remind Me” – Nickelback
2003 – “In da Club” – 50 Cent
2004 – “Yeah!” – Usher ft. Ludacris, Lil Jon
2005 – “We Belong Together” – Mariah Carey
2006 – “Bad Day” – Daniel Powter
2007 – “Irreplaceable” – Beyonce
2008 – “Low” – Flo Rida ft. T-Pain
2009 – “Boom Boom Pow” – Black-Eyed Peas
2010 – “TiK ToK” – Ke$ha
2011 – “Rolling in the Deep” – Adele
2012 – “Somebody That I Used to Know” – Gotye ft. Kimbra
2013 – “Thrift Shop” – Macklemore ft. Ryan Lewis
2014 – “Happy” – Pharrell

After putting that together, I realized that if I were to create a Birthday Playlist listing the songs that were Number 1 on my actual birthday every year I’ve been alive, it’d be a very different list. So, of course I had to figure out what that’d look like. Here’s my “Still Alive” Birthday Playlist on Spotify – chock full of summertime jams!

1979 – “Love You Inside Out” – Bee Gees
1980 – “Coming Up (Live At Glasgow)” – Paul McCartney & Wings
1981 – “Bette Davis Eyes” – Kim Carnes
1982 – “Don’t You Want Me” – The Human League
1983 – “Flashdance…What A Feeling” – Irene Cara
1984 – “When Doves Cry” – Prince (Dammit! Prince isn’t on Spotify!)
1985 – “Sussudio” – Phil Collins
1986 – “There’ll Be Sad Songs (To Make You Cry)” – Billy Ocean
1987 – “Alone” – Heart
1988 – “The Flame” – Cheap Trick
1989 – “Good Thing” – Fine Young Cannibals
1990 – “Step By Step” – New Kids on the Block
1991 – “Rush Rush” – Paula Abdul
1992 – “Baby Got Back” – Sir Mix-a-Lot
1993 – “Weak” – SWV
1994 – “I Swear” – All-4-One
1995 – “Waterfalls” – TLC
1996 – “Tha Crossroads” – Bone Thugs-N-Harmony
1997 – “I’ll Be Missing You” – Puff Daddy ft. 112/Faith Evans
1998 – “The Boy Is Mine” – Brandy/Monica
1999 – “If You Had My Love” – Jennifer Lopez
2000 – “Be With You” – Enrique Iglesias
2001 – “U Remind Me” – Usher
2002 – “Hot In Herre” – Nelly
2003 – “This Is The Night” – Clay Aiken
2004 – “Burn” – Usher
2005 – “We Belong Together” – Mariah Carey
2006 – “Promiscuous” – Nelly Furtado ft Timbaland
2007 – “Umbrella” – Rhianna ft. Jay-Z
2008 – “I Kissed A Girl” – Katy Perry
2009 – “I Gotta Feeling” – Black-Eyed Peas
2010 – “California Gurls” – Katy Perry ft. Snoop Dogg
2011 – “Give Me Everything” – Pitbull Ft Ne-Yo, Afrojack & Nayer
2012 – “Call Me Maybe” – Carly Rae Jepsen
2013 – “Blurred Lines” – Robin Thicke Ft T.I. + Pharrell
2014 – “Fancy” – Iggy Azalea Ft Charli XCX
2015 – “See You Again” – Wiz Khalifa Ft Charlie Puth

This was fun! :) If you wanna figure out the soundtrack of your life, the Billboard website is super-helpful. And to bring things full circle, I’ll leave you with Veruca Salt – the band I’m seeing play tonight – doing a cover of the Number 1 song the year I was born, “My Sharona” by The Kinks. Enjoy!