Falling Asleep on the Beach

Walked down to the beach
she fell asleep, then I did
not sure for how long

She had just finished exams. I’d just had another week at the office of a nowhere job that just barely telegraphed the semblance of professional career. (What I remember most is my boss telling me that I had to keep a photo of his dog on my desk.)

We decided to go away for the weekend. A no-frills trip up the coast, because we didn’t really have any money to spare, beyond paying rent and the usual monthly expenses. We booked a room at a cheap motel and the rest of the itinerary followed along these lines — a couple of bottles of cheap red wine from a supermarket, lunch from a deli, dinner at a diner. In other words: perfect.

Did I even pack a bag for this trip? Even if I did, I surely wore the same clothes the entire time. I have no memory of anything we did or talked about. I’m not even sure I would remember the trip at all if it wasn’t for this:

We walked down to the beach as soon as we arrived. It wasn’t summertime swimming-in-the-ocean weather, but it was a beautiful day, and people were all about, soaking up the sun. We didn’t bring beach towels. Just found a spacious spot for two and sat down. Eventually, we laid down. She fell asleep. And then I did. We stayed that way for quite some time.

I don’t know for how long. That’s the beauty of it. It’s so rare to be enveloped in that kind of comforting mystery.

The sun going down woke us up. At first I had no idea where I was. But I did feel a distinct warmth, one that made me feel truly rested, and safe, and right where I was supposed to be. Where we were supposed to be. The beach had emptied out. We sat up and let the evening’s quiet be our guide, not to mention the resonance of finding a respite from the relentlessness of what’s next. We were there, the waves were crashing, and the sun was setting on a clear blue sky. We watched it together. The hues of the lingering light are as pure in mind now as they were all those years ago.

Fell asleep on beach
setting sun awakened us
hues stream the sweet dreams

BODY OF WATER

Subway to the Ocean

When you think of New York City, you don’t think of the beach. Tall buildings, taxis, shows, hustle and money and fancy clothes and cuisine, day and night. People from everywhere, walking this way and that, fast.

It’s the city that never sleeps, though it does, in a way that only New York City can, on a moving subway car to the end of the line because you slumbered right past your stop.

Think of it as a dream. This is a city surrounded by water, after all. You wake up early. Let’s not make this about summer. No beach towels and coolers are involved. There’s a snowstorm about to land, so you put on long underwear, wool socks, jeans, a sweater, heavy coat and hat. You lace up your boots with an extra tug.

You leave your apartment and head to the subway. It’s a weekend. The subways are all fucked up. You listen to announcements over muffled speakers and ask, “What did she just say?” Actually, there were no announcements. You just imagined that. No one was saying anything.

Finally, the subway arrives. You hop on and sit down. It’s a mostly empty car, and you embrace the comfort of that, not unlike climbing into bed after a long day and pulling the covers over your shoulder tight.

It is a long ride. You are not even halfway there.

You pulled out a book awhile ago but haven’t read a word. You keep holding on, though, in case you change your mind. Your thoughts are with your eyes, staring out the window, which is able to see out and over distant neighborhoods. You are on the outskirts of the city.

A crazy person gets on the train at a stop you’ve never noticed before, and will likely never get on or off the subway, ever. He’s not yet saying anything, except with his bleary, busted, watery eyes. You look away. He starts to shout. Crazy talk, you understand nothing, other than yes, this person is crazy. You tune him out. He is not there.

Was he ever there? Have you been staring out the window this whole time? You don’t remember seeing anything at all. The book is still in your hands, unopened.
Finally, your stop. You get off the train. You adjust your hat down, rework your scarf, and bring the coat in closer.

The snow began, and it has fallen hard. But it’s a short walk.

In no time at all, you have arrived, and are welcomed by crashing waves, which are just for you. No one else is there.

— Jeffrey Yamaguchi

Traverse to water
chasing turmoil to the crest
welcomed by wave crash

BODY OF WATER

#notalking

I suppose that since it’s a hashtag, and that I’m using Instagram to “broadcast” it, that makes the whole thing a wash. That’s a form of “talking,” and sometimes, it can be louder and more intrusive that an actual verbal exchange.

Setting that aside, I have very much been enjoying posting up an image with that hashtag as of late, because one, at that moment, there’s no talking going on, and experiencing that, and recognizing that that is indeed happening, has been absolutely splendid. And how rare is it to actually use the word splendid and mean it?

I mean it with the #notalking.

Splendid.

It’s not that anything dramatic is going on in my life creating some special need for peace and quiet — nothing but the usual day in and day out. The meetings, the phone calls, the subway small talk, not to mention the 67 million reminders to pick up some tomatoes at the market the second I open my eyes and realize that once again, I got a terrible night of sleep. A million things to complain about, and a million reasons why I should shut the fuck up because there are a million reasons why I should not be complaining about a single God damn thing. Perhaps that’s precisely why I’ve embraced my #notalking experiences.

The other day I was out for a run. It was a gorgeous outside. I felt fucking great and the bright blue sky was awash in those billowy white clouds that look like you could just lie down in one of them and have one of those afternoon naps that, upon awakening, you actually feel rested and healthy and free of the to-do-list stranglehold. Quite suddenly there was an empty bench right in front of me, which overlooked a pond full of gorgeous yellow flowers. I said to myself, that’s where I will go, in my mind, the next time I’m sitting in a meeting and feeling like the only option I have to escape the droning on of subpar professionals is to stand up and make a running start at the window. No one else was around. It was the perfect place to take a seat and enjoy the view, and say not a single word to anyone, and have no one say a single word to me.

And all last month, I took a weekly drawing class. The instructor did just the right amount of instructing — enough to teach us a thing or two, but still leaving plenty of time for us to simply explore the craft. How nice it was to sit in that class with my fellow students and not get to know each other at all. I treasured the time I got to stare down at my pad of paper and commence with flailing attempts to draw various objects and faces and figures. All in total, art loft hot silence.

So when I had lunch by myself the other day, after one of those days, and realized my mood was brightening, I took notice. The sandwich was good — damn good, in fact. And a damn good sandwich can definitely make me feel better. But something else was going on.

Not being able to turn to someone and discuss this electric feeling that I was experiencing brought about a revelation. I had walked into this restaurant alone, and truthfully, I had almost gone straight home, because I was wallowing in my own self-pity — a combination of boredom, self-doubt, too little sleep, and a general sense of feeling utterly unaccomplished, that day, and all the days before as well. I’m glad I decided to continue on and get to that restaurant. So that I could realize that what was lifting my spirits was the fact that I was engaged in thought and completely free and clear of all the usual claptrap.

No talking.

Hence, #notalking

Since then, I’ve made a point of not only embracing this sensibility, but seeking it out.

It feels good to embrace the silence. I really haven’t made that many adjustments. For example, you don’t necessarily have to be alone. This isn’t so much about finding ways to avoid having to hear other people as it is about keeping my own mouth shut. I get that now. Not talking about it has really helped along the revelation.

I’m not just going to that empty bench by the pond in my mind. I’m going there all the time, in real life.

Content Creation vs. Curation: Finding the Right Balance

As of late for me: too much reblogging, retweeting, and link sharing, not enough time writing and posting other types of original content.

Man is it easy to reblog, retweet, or share a link on any number of social networks. What’s not so easy is creating the content that gets reblogged, retweeted and shared. It’s not that it’s super hard, but it certainly takes more than the click of a button.

I’ve been thinking about this lately because of how I am spending my own time in front of my computer. The balance seems off. Too much reblogging and link sharing, not enough time writing and posting other types of original content. I’d like to get a better handle on the ideal balance between content creation and curation.

My gut answer to this is:
80% content creation.
20% curation of content by others.

Here’s how I would breakdown what really goes on:
80% curation of content by others.
20% content creation (on a good day).

I totally want to share and curate the content of others. I get the important role it plays in being a part of the digital conversation. I love discovering cool stuff online and then telling other people about it. I do get fulfillment from that. But not as much as I get when I actually create something of my own.

I can break this down by showcasing a couple of scenarios:

An ideal Saturday morning:
What I would like to happen: I wake up early, like 7:30 — the morning is fucking mine. I’ve got hours before the household gets going. I make some coffee, cut up some fresh farmers’ market fruit and eat it, fire up the computer, and immediately start tapping away at the keys. I only stop to refill my cup with coffee. About an hour in, I log into tumblr and post a photo, and reblog a few cool posts that are flowing through my dashboard from the many tumblr bloggers I follow. Then I log into twitter, reply to a few tweets, share a couple of links, and then close it up. This tweeting and tumbling and checking out various links takes about 20 minutes. But now it’s back to my doc-in-progress. I commence writing for another half-hour or so. I feel fucking great. I throw on my running gear, put on my headphones, head out the door, and run like the fucking wind. This day is mine, and it has just barely begun. Go. Go. Go.

A far-from-ideal Saturday morning:
I wake up at 8:30. I am pissed that I didn’t get up earlier, but lie there for another twenty minutes instead of rolling out of bed immediately. I have half a mind to just go back to sleep, because I’m exhausted, but after about two seconds of closing my eyes I realize this is just totally not going to happen. My jaw clenches down even tighter than it was already clenching. I finally crawl my way out of bed and a hint of a smile does streak itself across my bloated face as I begin to look forward to making that first cup of coffee, only to realize that there is no fucking coffee in the house. Fuck! I mean, Fuck! I throw on some clothes and walk to a nearby cafe looking like I haven’t slept in a week, and also, just got violently knocked off a bike. I decide to pick up a bagel even though I am off bread. Actually, I pick up two bagels (one for me, and another for me). I get back to the apartment and the cat is freaking out because he is hungry but thinks he is starving. I go to feed him and thank God there is one can left but fuck, I have to add “get cat food” to the list of things to do today. I go and fire up the computer. I want to get some writing done, so I immediately open up NYTimes.com. Then Slate.com. This leads me to google one of the writers, who has a twitter account, which links to her blog, which I go and check out, which leads me to some other sites based on this post she wrote that have nothing to do with the original article that initially caught my attention, and all of the sudden a half-hour has gone by. I tweet the link to that Slate story. I retweet a few tweets that are rolling along on my Twitter feed. I log into Tumblr. Whoa. Who took this cool picture of these flames in the desert? I reblog this shit and go check out more of the photographer’s work. Turns out he has a flickr account. I’m looking at this guy’s photos and the next thing I know I’m jumping around and looking at all kinds of photos taken by I don’t even know who. I recall that I’ve been meaning to post photos from my trip to India from back in February. Shit. Another half-hour is gone. I haven’t written a thing. I throw open an empty doc screen, and a wave of disgust washes over me. I write a few sentences, realize it is going nowhere. Staring at the terribleness is making things worse, so I throw open Tumblr and reblog a few more posts. Finally, I post one of my own photos. Of a sandwich I ate the day before. It was just okay. The picture is who cares. I don’t even know why I posted it. I realize I am hungry, even though I ate a bagel. Make that two bagels. I close down the computer and head into the kitchen, and start looking to see if I even have what I need to make a sandwich — any kind of sandwich will do at this point. As I am staring into the cupboard and realizing that there’s no God damn bread anywhere to be found, I think to myself, I didn’t get jack shit done. And the day is half gone. I think about going for a run, but flip on the TV instead. Nothing is on, but I don’t turn it off. I just sit there and click through the channels.

Obviously, I’d like to experience the ideal scenario more often than not, so here are some things I’m doing to help strike a better curation vs creation balance:

  • Casually logging how I am spending my time in front of the computer, so I can get some better clarity of just how much time I actually spend curating vs. creating.
  • Setting some loose parameters on how many retweets, reblogs and link shares I’ll do on any given day. I don’t want to get too rigid here, but by establishing some guideposts on the numbers, I keep the amount of time I’m spending on this type of activity in check.
  • Setting word count goals — at least 500 words a day. If I accomplish this, I can set aside my concerns about spending too much time on curating and not enough on creating.
  • Another goal: at least one solid blog post a week. This used to be so easy — I was writing lengthy blog posts daily, if not more than once a day. I know what happened, and I don’t know what happened. I should probably write about it and try to figure it out. Maybe it will be a blog post. Because I have to write one a week now.
  • Being strict about keeping only one window open on my desktop when it’s time to write, going so far as to turn off the internet connection when I can’t help myself from popping over to some news site or amazon.com or imdb or who knows what I really don’t need to looking up right at that moment but find myself doing it anyway.
  • Also, I make a point of firing up the computer at appointed times with a very specific agenda. On Sunday mornings, for example, I wake up and write (and only write) for an hour. Once the hour is up, I head out for a run.
  • This sounds silly to actually note, but I use a reward system as well. Here’s an example: on Sundays, I reward myself with a jelly donut(s) if I’ve gotten up early, had a good writing session, and been able to get out and come back from a run before 11:30 a.m.

Overall, I don’t want to get too rigid in how I strike this balance. If I create a workplan that is too hardline, I’ll end up ignoring it. But I do know that I want tip the balance so that I am spending more of my time creating. This post is actually a good start, though of course now I’ll go spend some time curating around this subject. Let the battle for an ideal balance between content creation and curation begin.

The Best Strategy Session I Ever Had Involved No Talking About the Project At All

hiking4

We had been working hard all week on our project. Planning. Storyboarding. Recording and editing podcasts. Shooting videos in the workshop. Posting up content on our blog and setting up a temporary landing page. None of it was supposed to be final or setting anything in stone, so there wasn’t too much pressure, and yet, it does take a lot of creative energy to begin laying groundwork and hitting the publish button. At the end of each day, we were truly beat. We crashed the pillows hard and slept the sleep of a day well spent.

Our time together was limited. Gordon is in Charlotte, and I’m in Brooklyn. It was important that we schedule out our efforts and make the most of the week.

But on Friday, the weather was going to be too damn nice. The forecast called for a bright, sunny, warm day that was essentially nature’s way of formally announcing the arrival of spring. There was just too much rain and cold and snow this winter. When Gordon suggested we go hiking for the day, it was clear there was only one appropriate response: Hell yes.

We would still get work done, of course. We would talk strategy. We would bring notepads and continue to map out details and solidify our overall plan.

So we got up early, pounded out an hour or two of work, and then hit the road for the South Mountains. About an hour and a half later, we were standing at the bottom of a waterfall, ice on the branches but the brisk uphill walking and the sun streaming through the trees heating us up and truly brightening our day.

waterfall

We each ate a banana and a banana never tasted so good.

Then, it was on to our destination — the top, to see out and far and beyond.

hiking2

We didn’t talk about the project at all. Just conversation about books and old stories from back in the day and the bird that just flew by and can we fit in that hallowed out tree and movies and where we grew up and the food we were going to eat later.

There were also long stretches where we didn’t talk at all. The air was so fresh. I couldn’t get over it.

hiking3

When we got to the top, we perched ourselves up on a rock and did the only thing you can do in situations like that: took in the wonder of it all.

hiking5

It was the best strategy session I ever had.

Discussion Board “Engagement” in Online Courses Is Holding Online Education Back

Note: This essay is also posted over at Medium. There have been some great responses offering up further insights and ideas on how to improve engagement in online courses. Definitely worth checking out.

I recently did a “guest lecture” stint for an online course. It was done via the Blackboard platform, which felt old and clunky and was an overall frustrating experience.

This is how my guest lecture was presented: Two essays and a powerpoint were posted up for review, and the 21 students in the course were then tasked with posting three questions each in the discussion board area.

My job was to answer these questions via the “reply” function in said discussion board area.
This is how a lot of online courses work, and that in and of itself is a problem. The students’ questions/comments and the instructor’s responses are siloed into a container that is isolated. Students are really only looking at the responses to the questions they posed. And even if they wanted to look at all the other questions and responses, it would be a pain via a discussion board experience, especially in a platform like Blackboard, which is antiquated and essentially a deeply flawed user experience, both for posting and viewing.

Another issue is the time it actually takes to answer all these questions in written form. If this had been an in-person class, and I had spent just 3 minutes answering each question (3 questions X 21 students = 63 questions), it would have taken over three hours — that is not how in-person classrooms are run. Actually writing out responses to 63 written questions takes longer. To give the answers depth, and make the whole “discussion” worth it, you need to provide context and examples — and that’s not always going to just roll off the fingertips. It takes time and effort.

At least in a live class, you know all the students are benefitting from the exchange. But in an antiquated, siloed discussion forum, it’s a totally inefficient learning exchange that in the end is unsatisfying for both the instructor, and more importantly, the students.

While the questions from the students were decent, sometimes it felt as if they were simply phoned-in to fulfill the requirements of the assignment. I am sure part of this is just being uninspired by a platform that lacks any innovative solutions to fostering dialogue.

Duplicate questions were also an issue. Totally understandable that several students would have similar lines of inquiry, but the platform didn’t have an easy way of allowing me to point to the place where a question was already addressed.

One element of Blackboard that really annoyed me was how hard it was to simply create a link in the discussion board. In every response I was referring to multiple sites or articles — I would have to highlight the text, select the hyperlink option, wait for a pop-up box, fill in two fields, hit “Insert,” and then wait for the pop-up to close. Blackboard should be embarrassed about this — a learning platform that makes a basic tenet of digital interfacing unbearably inefficient is not worthy of use in any educational institution.

I could go on and on. The short of it: learning management systems that employ antiquated discussion board forums to foster exchanges lack the functionality — and the vision — to offer a truly dynamic, engaging online learning experience.

There is so much opportunity with online learning, and we clearly have a long way to go with making it a truly enriching experience even with the best of the online education platforms. Offering up a way to showcase a rolling dialogue based on a unique set of questions is a good place to start — One only needs to look at a Twitter chat, a Q&A via the Facebook Newsfeed, a Reddit AMA, or a Product Hunt Q&A to see that there are much better solutions than the tired old discussion board.

Which online learning platforms are doing the best job of fostering online course engagement? I’m very interested in hearing about the more innovative platforms and online course strategies. Let me know via Twitter @jeffyamaguchi, or leave a response over at Medium.

This just occurred to me: I certainly wouldn’t want to have this “discussion” in the discussion board area of most online course platforms.

A Hidden Park in Brooklyn

bushterminalpark1

Late one evening I was looking at the map to make sure I knew exactly where Sunset Park was — not the neighborhood, but the actual park that resides in it. And when looking at the map for green spaces, you can’t help but notice all the other green spaces. On a Brooklyn map, you will be drawn to Prospect Park and Green-Wood Cemetery by the sheer nature of their expansiveness. But I know those places well. So what really caught my eye was a small area of green right on the water, tucked within an industrial part of the city.

A quick bit of research revealed that yes, there is indeed an area of green there — a small park that is open to the public. It’s on the water — the Upper New York Bay — and it has stunning views of the Manhattan Skyline, as well as the outer edges of Sunset Park.

Of course I went there the very next day.

The park is called Bush Terminal Piers Park. It truly is tucked away — you don’t see it from the main road (1st Ave). You have to turn into a side street (43rd Street) — one that feels a bit like you are entering private property. But if you simply follow the road, you will be soon be welcomed by an obvious park entrance gate and stunning views of the harbor.

I’m going to let the pictures tell the rest of the story, except to say this: I had one of the most relaxing mornings in ages wandering around this park. I sat on the rocks and looked out on the water, and the city. I took photos, and wrote in my journal. I went to the end of the jetty and just stood there for a long while. I spoke to no one.

I plan to go back, and soon.

bushterminalpark2

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The Follow-Up Note

followupnote

Filled with resources, but far too long, and therefore, likely going completely unread.

In the classes that I teach at NYU, there are 8 sessions, two hours each. I always feel pressed for time. I find myself saying over and over — “I’ll provide some more info on this particular subject in my follow-up note.”

And I do! After each class, I send a note that summarizes the lesson and provides links to the various companies, websites, social media profiles and articles mentioned during the lecture. I always feel like these follow-up notes are extremely valuable to the students.

There’s just one problem: I don’t think the students actually read the notes. Why? For the very simple reason that they’re just too damn long.

I get it. The students came to the class, listened to the lecture, participated in the discussion, and they’ve got some homework to do — Or maybe they just want to dive into something that intrigued them from the class — a website or a company or an author they jotted down on their notepad to remind them to check it out once they got home. The last thing they want to do is pore over a follow-up note — one that rings of “I’ve heard all this before” — that scrolls on endlessly.

And yet, I can’t help but want to include summaries and links, and other things that they should check out, items that I wasn’t even able to get to in class.

But no more. And this goes for the workplace as well. I’m keeping the follow-up notes brief, and to the point. They’re more likely to be read, and therefore acted upon. In short, they’ll actually have an impact.

With that in mind, here is my follow-up note to this post about follow-up notes:

1. No more than three items in the follow-up note, just a few sentences each, though one sentence is fine. Each item should only have one link.

2. If you really feel you need to say more, then write it out as an essay or blog post, and simply provide a link to the piece in the follow-up note. (This counts as one of the three items).

3. Always include an immediately doable action item to encourage forward progress.

That’s it! End of note.

Do share via Twitter your follow-up response to this post on “the follow-up note” — @jeffyamaguchi. Keep it short, of course!

I Like the Way We All Have a Favorite Poem

That the first words we wrote down back when we were still learning how to spell and form letters into words into sentences were poems. That the songs that mean the most to us are essentially poems set to music. That the first thing we wanted to give our first crushes was a poem. That at some point, later on in life, our love/other will say, in one of those ridiculous but actually kind of serious arguments: you never write me poems anymore. That that novel we wrote, or the one we intended to write but have yet to finish, and maybe will never finish, kicked off with a few lines from a poem. That when we’re writing in our journals in the late hour or at the top of a mountain, we feel compelled to write a poem.

Is it any good?

Yes, and no. Maybe, probably not. And of course!

Did it feel good to write it?

Absolutely, yes.

What does it mean?

This now, something else later, and whatever came to your mind, in this particular moment. You’ll likely forget, but if you do remember, the meaning will have changed. Hopefully. If not, that’s wonderful as well.

Happy National Poetry Month!