Saturday, February 09, 2013

The Zen of Comments

It's been a crazymadbusy — though fun — week.  But not one that has left me much time to blog (though I've been writing up a storm).

Last week/weekend's conference (ScienceOnline13) was great.  I learned that I can draw clear and useful sketches for my students, a skill my kindergarten teacher apparently thought I had in me, but that remained unrealized all these years.  Two pieces of advice that were helpful:  slow down, and you don't have to capture every detail in this one frame, less is more.  It's advice I could use in many realms.

I got back on Sunday (at 1:45 in the morning) and plunged into what turned out to be a week even more wild than the conference.

Midweek I got an invitation to write a piece for Slate Magazine, responding to a recent article in the NY Times Magazine (The Boy with a Thorn in his Joints).  Cool.  But this week was already pretty tightly scheduled, with regular teaching, a make-up lecture for the class missed while I was at the conference, a board of trustees meeting, and some writing projects.

I ended up staying up most of Tuesday night writing the article, revised it between the next morning departmental meeting and my noon class and sent it off to the editor after office hours and before my evening physical therapy appointment.  It was back in my inbox the next morning with a few queries and revisions, which I responded to, then returned my revised piece to the editor on my way to quantum mechanics class.  Then not quite 48 hours after I'd opened the first email — it was up at Slate:  Curing chemophobia:  Don't take medical advice from the NY Times magazine.

And then came the comments.  The article has more comments on it at the moment (over a thousand) than both my blogs put together get in a year.  In two years.   And then there are the tweets and the emails.  Not all of them are complimentary (though interestingly, the tweets and emails are running more supportive than the comments on the article itself).  I needed a generous portion of contemplative grace to delve into the comments at all.  In a week where I have been praying with the Examen in a particularly focused way (for The Ignatian Adventure retreat that kicks off tomorrow at DotMagis), this sort of listening to, sorting through, reflecting on and responding to feedback has been interesting.

I'm still hoping for a week with a more contemplative pace.

Illustration is mine from the class.  XKCD has nothing to worry about.  (But my students do report that my drawings are better.)


  1. Slate commenters are notoriously vicious. For years the Slate Comments section was a whole separate world - called The Fray - and you could just log on and comment without ever having to read the articles. Bullying, fighting, etc was the norm. It was, indeed, a fray.

    About 2 years ago Slate shut down The Fray and instituted comments associated with each article. The Fraysters were perturbed.

    Many of the old regulars still comment as if it was "The Fray" and I would guess a large proportion of the negative commenters never read your article.

    I used to go there quite often to let off some political steam - commenting in the Politics section and XX and a few others. (XX was a women's Fray, not doubly pornographic!) I learned a lot about the internet there!

    Don't read the comments as if they were meant to make a statement on your writing or your article. Truly.

    That said - I really enjoyed the article and am glad you are able to be so articulate even when in a hurry! You're amazing!

  2. Michelle, what an excellent article. When I was on the board of a non-profit organization for educating the public about autism, we regularly dealt with parents who were concerned about vaccinations and autism. There has been so much misinformation circulating around that it is a concern. Your article should help to clarify some questions. I can't imagine how you were able to write the article when you have been so busy!

  3. Michelle,

    I read your blog often but have never commented. I wanted to thank you for your Slate article. Although not directly related, my husband and I are going through infertility right now. We've chosen not to use a NaPro doctor (all the Catholic rage) but a local RE. There is constant badgering from friends about how an RE just wants to sell you IVF (not our experience), that they prescribe unnecessary drugs, doctors can't be trusted (unless they're Catholic), you can't believe anything they tell you, they're lying, etc. I don't know why total distrust of medical professionals has become part of the Catholic subculture, but it has. The stress of constantly second guessing, constantly fearing that you're doing something wrong, that maybe they're not telling you that if you just drank some cherry juice you'd get pregnant, wears on a person. So thank you for the reminder that a. doctors aren't the devil and b. "natural" treatments aren't always as natural as they sound.

  4. Julia - I'm sorry you are feeling the pressure and distrust from among some of your Catholic friends. What a shame that during this time of stress and when you are in a type of desert they are unable to 'stay awake' long enough to pray with you.

    Please know that I'm a Catholic woman, mother, daughter and sister. And I will pray for you and your doctors. I hope that you and your husband are able to find a route to a healthy pregnancy and birth. More than once!

    God bless.

  5. Denise J9:27 AM

    When I read the Slate article, one of my first thoughts was that you would enjoy reading it -- then I noticed the byline. :-)