Thursday, December 22, 2011

How Facebook has killed the Christmas letter

I have very clear memories of my mother spending hours and hours organizing herself to prepare  Christmas cards for mailing to family and friends. She would camp out at the dinner room or kitchen table for a couple of days and work from her list. 

Each card was selected from her stash with the particular addressee in mind. She would take the time to hand write a note telling the receiver of all the news from the Harty household in the past year. She would hand address each envelope and her one shortcut was the pre-printed return address labels she received from St. Jude's. 

Having this as my role model creates lots of pressure. I can still hear her critical comments when she would receive a Christmas card in return with no personal note. Even worse were the ones where the people would have their names pre-printed on the inside of the card. Lazy people, can't even sign their names. It might even have been an insult for her.

Fast forward to the late 1980's/early 1990's, when it started being trendy to include a Christmas letter with your card. (I think this was acceptable to mom, but at a much lower standard) 
I remember when my friends started sending Christmas letters where they would either outline the many successes of their offspring or the fabulous locations they had traveled that year. Or worse, both. Since I could talk about neither (unless I listed the ice rinks that I had visited in the past year), I would just use my creative writing skills and make them humorous, but still include various tidbits of what I had done in the past year. I did Top Ten lists, I wrote poems. Anything to distract from my semi-pitiful life.

A few years ago, I started doing a Christmas blog (Ye Olde Yule Blog) and would send everyone an email with a link to the blog post. I would claim "green," but honestly it was just so much easier and cheaper. (You don't claim "lazy.")

Now, because of Facebook, I don't even do the Yule Blog. I'm diligent in posting updates, so people can know my every move and thought (and isn't that something everyone wants to know??). And with so many people in my demographic group who are now on Facebook, I think the list of non-Facebook people to whom I would send a card is fairly small.

Regardless of that fact, right now, a bunch of boxes of Christmas cards are stacked on my kitchen island for the non-Facebook list and I'm lacking motivation. I worry if I work on these cards, my resentment might sneak through and I might write something like, "why the heck are you not on Facebook?" or give them a warning that unless they join Facebook, they risk being cut off from receiving highly-valued information about me. I mean, that's got to be a motivating factor, right? 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Walking into the stream

Have you heard the phrase, "you never step into the same stream twice"? As a very non-philosophical person, I think it's a bit lame. For other non-philosophers, it means that, even if things look the same, everything has changed.

Or maybe I think it's a bit lame because I've had to accept its meaning whether I want to or not.

We've all had to accept it at some point in our lives. Those who don't, must live in their own happy, little world. The realization of the truth can be depressing, so denial can kick in.

A great example of this experience happens to most of us in our first year of college. During high school you were part of an awesome group, be it a choir, a band or a sports team. The memories can create a physical feeling of euphoria for you. And you want to go back to the experience and have those feelings again. But you're disappointed when you try and nothing happens. It's not the same group of people or the people who are still there, their lives have changed and moved on.

It's your clue to move on.

I don't know if many people have similar experiences when they're older, but being older doesn't make it easier. I know because I've had to face the facts and move on.

Fifteen years ago, I joined a choir with no clue as to what an amazing experience I was about to have and the people I'd meet who would enrich my life. I had sung in plenty of choirs, but nothing like this one. It was a large choir with almost 100 members in a church with amazing acoustics. The power we would feel when we belted out a song and have it reverberate off the walls for hours 10 seconds just rocked.

The Catholic Church is not known for their strong choral tradition - because they don't have one. This choir was an exception and we were proud of that fact. We cared about each other and I thought of them as my extended family. Christmas and Easter were marathons, but we thrived on them.

In 2006, I had to take a 18-month leave from the choir to work on my master's thesis and the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships (not to mention a full-time job). When I came back in March 2008, I immediately felt like an outsider, an intruder. It can be disconcerting when your expectation was to be able to step back into that stream as if it had been frozen in time.

I tried to reconnect, but it didn't work. Worse, it was affecting my mood, so I realized that it was time to move on. So without any fanfare or goodbyes, I was done.

Last week, the choir was giving a concert and I thought about going. I almost talked myself out of it thinking it would only cause me to be sad. But after getting some encouragement from a friend, I attended the concert.

The choir still is amazing and the music helped put me in the Christmas mood. Although there were many hugs and hellos, nothing was the same. I still felt like an outsider looking in, but it was easier because it was what I had expected.

I could step into the stream and not get swept away.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

You'll never understand

You'll never understand because I don't think I even understand why I choose to be a figure skating judge.

Let me be clear, I know that I continue to be a judge because I love the sport and have become friends with people I would never have had the opportunity to meet, if not for being a judge.

What I question is my sanity for wanting to advance as a judge. There are various levels and disciplines for skating judges and to be "promoted" (quotes due to the fact that it is a volunteer position), you have to trial judge.

Trial judging means that you go to a select competition and pretend you're one of the officials judging the event. After the event, you compare your marks to that of the official panel and then talk about what you did within a small group (usually other trial judges) and explain why you did what you did. The discussion is led by a JET.

I won't leave you wondering how airplanes can talk or how we get the plane into the ice rink. JET stands for Judges Education and Training and our upper level judges volunteer to serve as a JET at these select competitions. The right JET can make or break your trial judging experience. I've been fortunate during my experiences to have a great JET 90% of the time. I choose to mentally block out the times when the JET makes you feel like you're a complete idiot or you watch as they rip another trial judge to shreds.

The optimal outcome for a trial judge is to agree with the official panel and have your marks in range with theirs. But you also have to able to defend your decisions. And when you have ADD, that isn't always easy. (short term memory can be impacted by ADD)

I traveled to Ann Arbor this past weekend to trial judge a synchronized team skating competition. Being a Synchro trial judge is a challenge because unlike Singles and Pairs (regular skating for you Muggles), you only have two or three select competitions all year to trial judge while Singles and Pairs usually have 6 or 7.

Trialing can be an emotional roller coaster as you stress about your marks and what you say in post-event discussion. Did I sound like an idiot? What will the JET think of my answer? (generally you pray that the JET doesn't call on you unless you're sure you have the right answer.) If one of your marks is out of range for the official panel, you would be asked to explain.  In other words, please explain what you were thinking during the 20 seconds of an element you saw an hour ago.

It's important to take notes. It is equally important to be able to read your notes when called upon by the JET. "I can't read my writing" or "I don't remember why I did that" are not acceptable answers. I've also learned to admit when I made a mistake.  

It's expensive to trial judge because trial judges have to pay their own travel expenses. Airfare from Minneapolis to Detroit runs between $350-$400 round trip, and a hotel room is about $100 per night. Generally the host club requires trial judges to pay a fee to cover the added expense of having trial judges. I've paid anywhere from $20 to $100 for a two-day competition.

And you don't just do one competition in a season. Oh no, you would generally do two or three competitions in a season if you want to get the promotion before you hit retirement age. So take the afore mentioned costs and multiple them times three. So you have to get creative. I was able to afford this past weekend because I found a last minute $200 roundtrip airfare, I had a friend who let me stay with her in her hotel room, and I split the cost of car rental with another trial judge - she got a killer deal of $35 for the entire weekend.

I had a couple of stressful moments this past weekend after hearing one of the official judges talk about her marks for an event and realizing that I was much lower than her. When I was finally able to see the final results, I was indeed lower than her, but there were 6 judges on the panel and not all of them were as high in their marks.

So I guess I didn't have to drown my sorrows at the bar that night, but it sure felt good.