Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Here's the song that spurred my addiction. If it gets you to, check their tours before it's too late.
Oh and P.S., the morning radio show host I listen to, said the next morning that it was one of the best shows she's been to. Kosher grain salt in my wounds!
Monday, November 29, 2010
Earlier this month I attending a fantastic webinar presented by TSIA on the State of Social Media and Support. You can click here to see it for yourself. John Ragsdale from TSIA presented the results of the 2010 TSIA social media survey and talked about common questions, issues, and misconceptions about enterprise social networking.
The webinar also featured David James from Salesforce talking about their service cloud and their focus to integrate twitter with their other tools. the most spending is going towards social service-expanding the reach of support into social media.
The survey results were enlightening. The full report is available on the TSIA website.
Overall, attendees learned, not surprisingly, that social media use in business is growing. But the more nuanced details showed some interesting shifts in the placement of these activities.
1. Organizationally, social media is shifting from Marketing to Customer Service
Respondents showed a shift from marketing over to customer service:
2009 - 44 percent;
2010 - 31 percent
Customer Service: 2009- 14 percent,
2010- 22 percent
John found this worrying, because he believes that much of the content will need to be branded. If it is customer support people providing content and they are not aligned to the PR messages they might undermine the brand. He thinks it is a risky trend that responsibility is shifting towards customer service if they are not properly training on marketing priorities.
2. While social media activity grows, the investment in this focus has been tiny.
There is a lot of use of all social media tools: facebook, wiki, blogs, forums, and video
And yet, staffing of FT employees in social media is still almost nonexistent:
-It went from very low (64% had 0 FT in 2009)
-to slightly better (54% had 0 in 2010)
Lastly, and in my mind, most importantly, John pointed out room for much needed growth:
3. Social Media is not getting the support that it should from the rest of the organization.
It is slowly becoming more integrated with the corporate website, but it is still only 24%, there is no integration with CRM, ways for people to see how customers are interacting with social media, becoming based in the history. Federated search of knowledge base and forum info is not put together so that an issue can be searched.
They have seen many opportunities for leveraging internal customer communities. Xerox is saving millions per year by sharing technical issues globally. Professional services are creating usable libraries of code and sharing that information.2011 will see examples of enterprises using internal communities.
The information TSIA has gathered is enlightening, especially when looking at the two years of data and beginning to define trends in enterprise social networking. The location of social media activity within the organization is a fascinating question, and I would say that there are pros and cons that one must balance no matter where this focus ends up calling home.
In my community management of Saba Customer Community, I live in the support organization.
We use our new collaboration software Saba Live to create a community that functions on many levels, and support is a large part of its mission and its value for Saba customers and employees.
But it is also easy to draw connections to other areas within Saba. Saba Live is software we offer to our customers, to create their own internal communities to enhance collaboration, performance management, and all aspects of people management.
Customers who already use our Centra Web Conferencing tool can use the Saba Customer Community as an integral part of their purchasing decision if they are considering implementing Saba Live.
So, even in my own experience, social media is a black sheep-
certainly not JUST marketing, JUST support, JUST PR, JUST IT, but a little bit of all of the above.
The question remains, where do you put such a creature? Who do they report to? How do you manage them, measure them and their success or failure? This we will have to answer together, and perhaps we will see in increase in the Social Media FT employees in TSIA's 2011 survey offering.
Where are you situated? What is social media's role in your organization? And what would you venture the future holds?
Friday, November 12, 2010
Customer Community Update
This summer, Saba used our newest offering of the collaboration suite, Saba Live, to create an online space for Saba employees and customers. And here you are! The Saba Customer Community is a space for exchanging advice, best practices, and generating group learning and innovation. This is a quick update to let you know about recent developments and to let you know how you can get involved and take advantage of this developing resource!
My name is Deirdre Yee and I will be the Community Manager for the for the Saba Customer Community. I am excited to meet and work with you, and I already had some enlightening conversations with many of you at People 2010: Saba Summit. I don’t want that to stop just because we aren’t in the same physical space. I plan to use the innovative tools in Saba Live-groups, discussions, Centra sessions, Channels, and the Innovation Lab, to get suggestions, ideas, and feedback from you as we use the community together.
The Customer Community was everywhere you looked at People 2010: Saba Global Summit, last week. Presenters told customers, partners, and prospects that the community was there to continue the valuable discussions that we have every year at Summit. Everyone was invited to login and explore the various groups, channels, discussion forums, resources, and ideas that were being shared on the community in real-time. Throughout the week, I repeatedly met customers, partners, prospects, and Saba employees who had just heard all about our new fantastic collaboration tool. Almost every session I attended mentioned the community for further questions and discussions when time invariably ran out before ideas did.
Login Stations were set up in the hallway, and everywhere you looked, attendees adorned buttons announcing “I’m on Saba Live. Are you?” On the first morning of keynote speakers, Amar Dhaliwal, SVP of Product Operations, asked everyone to sign up for the Customer Community, and to use the platform to reach out to the fringe of their network-where the most valuable connections often occur.
Today, the Customer Community is growing at an amazing rate and the amount of activity and the diversity of the participants and materials is growing every day. Every measure of community activity has skyrocketed in the past week:
There are now more than 1000 community members, a huge jump from before the Summit. And the members are actively exploring the site:
Week of October 31st 2010
Week of November 9th 2010
189 Unique Visitors
609 Unique Visitors
3906 Page Views
14,325 Page Views
We have also tracked the roles of individuals who are taking advantage of the site. The leading visitors and contributors work in the following fields:
- Product and Business Strategy and Development
- Information Technology
- Human Resources
The buzz that was generated during Summit is bringing people to the community, this much we can see clearly. And once you sign up on the community, what kind of experience will you find?Saba Live in Action
Groups are still being created, profiles are still being filled in, and everything is moving and changing at a constant basis. However, we can already see some of the unique advantages of using Saba Live to communicate with customers.
Justin asked about something he had heard about in a session at the Summit: a possible future integration of Google Analytics with Saba Analytics for Cloud customers. He had a few specific questions, and wanted to know a timeline. Within five minutes, Ronno had responded, promising to get his engineering team in touch with Justin.
This was not a specific troubleshooting question that would be better aimed at support. Justin might not have known the best person to contact with his question. And yet, the Customer Community allowed for quick attention and the pool of knowledge to be expanded- anyone else who wonders about that can find the exchange and get even more out of their Saba software.
Another instance of Saba Live in Action Christonya Green, a Learning Technologies Analyst at S. C. Johnson & Son, Inc. and a number of other customers and Saba employees discussing the difference between Hosted and Cloud solutions.
You can also click here to see a lively back and forth when Janice Watrous-McCabe, a Senior Business Analyst at Allina and Andy Wooler, HR Technology Manager at Legal & General Group discuss best practices of competency use in Saba Learning.
Exciting stuff going on! I’ll close with a few tips for getting started on the community.Getting Started at the Saba Customer Community
*This is your community, and I am eager to hear your suggestions for the general direction of the community. Go through the normal avenues for troubleshooting, of course, but I’d really appreciate some input for ideas for best use of the community. Got ideas? Want to get involved? If you would like to see a new discussion forum in one of our groups, or an entirely new group- we want to hear from you! Let me know!*We urge you to join the Customer Community today, to complete your profile (with a picture!) and to start following people. Join groups! Just like all of Saba’s products, we believe people are the most valuable resource. Take advantage, and follow relevant colleagues, industry peers, and Saba employees. If you don’t follow anyone, or belong to any groups you won’t see any of the content getting shared and you won’t get to play your part in the conversation.
*Share everything! Other members of the community want to know about your experiences working with Saba products. Your anecdotal story of a global implementation could be invaluable insight for another customer. I once heard that a good policy for online communities is that every time you ask a question and receive some knowledge from the community, you be sure to post something to contribute to the collective knowledge of the group. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but if you were at People 2010: Saba Global Summit, think about all of the engaging customer presenters. All they were doing was sharing their stories and answering questions. Consider presenting your experience on the Saba Customer Community.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Executive Panel: Entrepreneurship and Innovation
A fascinating and inspiring discussion moderated by Bobby Yazdani, Founder and CEO, Saba. Yazdani talked about the need for any entrepreneur to disrupt the norm, breaking through the status quo and reforming the world with his ideas.
These entrepreneurs presented their exciting and lucrative projects that focused the power of technology on the user-experience:
Founder and CEO of Qwiki, the new information experience. Jaws dropped as Imbruce navigated through searches on Boston and JFK and a multimedia story about each unfolderd. You can experience it pre-launch here.
Co-Founder and CEO, Clever Sense, a company working to personalize the world around you. They are developing an AI-based, context-aware, personal conceirge. Meet Seymour here.
Founder and CEO, Webs, a custom website service design for microbusinesses who see more than 30 million visitors to their Webs sites each month. Mohktarzada also played a video that demonstrated the advantages of his new small business management tool, Contact Me.
Creative Director, New Math TV, a sound design company where Fitzpatrick connects musicians and advertisers. Fitz also performed for all attendees of the conference with his band Fitz and the Tantrums.
Co-Founder, 1000 Memories, a web service to provide memorial sites for remembered loved ones. Brett talked about the need to create an emotional space on the internet for families and friends to share stories and memories.
Chairman and CEO, Pascal Metrics, a company that measures patient safety culture through data-driven measurements of the healthcare industry.
Friday, November 5, 2010
By midday on Thursday, we all looked a little worse for wear. For almost four days we had been eating and sleeping innovation and the next big thing, whether in human resources, web conferencing, learning management, or enterprise collaboration. Exhausting, but exhilerating stuff at People 2010: Saba Global Summit in Boston.
One tired-eyed customer who I met after the last keynotes and closing remarks said that this year's conference was the best she had ever been to, that she hadn't even considered making so many connections, or bringing back so many excited new ideas to her company. Her sentiment was echoed throughout the ground floor of the Waterfront Westin, and Amar Dhaliwal's request of more than 600 attendees, that they reach out to the fringe of their network and:
find connect share laugh
was obviously followed to the letter.
I was particularly struck by the vibrancy and enthusiasm at the event because the first day of the conference was my first day with Saba. Without having seen my office, or met any colleagues in person yet, I proceeded to meet a large portion of the more than 600 customers, partners, and Saba employees leading the charge on Web 2.0 developments in people management. My new colleagues and even some customers called this technique an 'immersion by fire' tactic of on-boarding. All I know is that I was quickly welcomed into the fold, and immediately exposed to the many fascinating ideas and discussions that permeated the conference. My walk through fire gave me some invaluable insights into the culture, values, and focuses on Saba. I wanted to share some of my favorite experiences with
Here are some photos I took at the Summit of some of the engaging speakers and sessions I was able to attend:
Collaborating in Your Enterprise: Managing Change - A Conversation with Thought Leaders
Jim Lundy, Saba; Nick Howe, Hitachi Data Systems; Andy Wooler, Legal & General; Janice Watrous-McCabe, Allina Hospitals & Clinics; Alice Harkin, Saba
Driving Global Saba Centra Adoption Despite Limited Resources
Paula Hanby and Peter Olguin, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited
Creative, Contemporary, and Collaborative: Connecting with the Real World Anytime, Anywhere- from Down Under
Roger Edmonds, Department of Education & Children's Services, S. Australia
Roger's presentation of his usage of Saba Centra to bring social interaction and education to K-12 students who are seperated from their teachers and classmates by 100 miles or more was inspiring, touching, and hilarious. I walked away with an Australian Flag, and one lucky person got to take Skippy home. He's the one with the spiffy hat.
Saba Customer Excellence Awards
Awards were presented by Jeff Carr and Alice Harkin, Saba
Jason Averbook, Analyst Keynote
Chief Executive Officer, Knowledge Infusion
Jason stressed the need to implement technology in a way that produces a 'What's in it for me?' moment among staff. He pointed out how collecting perfomance and HR information continuously allows managers to make the right choices, something that did not happen in 2008 when the recession began and the wrong cuts were often made. He also pointed out that Social Networking Tools for HR are not enough, you can't just start with the processes, you need to know how to leverage them.
He also got the audience to produce content for his address from their cell phones, a real-time interactive element of his presentation.
Keynote Speaker Jim Lundy
Vice President and General Manager of Collaboration, Saba, spoke about finding that next great idea. He brought up examples like Google's innovation model and asked the audience how they encourage innovation in their organizations. He showed how Saba Live can facilitate an environment of total HR engagement with business strategy and enrich the employee experience. One book he recommended looking at was Being Digital by Nicholas Negroponte, published in 1996, but with ideas that are still relevant to the transformation happening in business today.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Thursday, September 9, 2010
Sunday, August 8, 2010
Saturday, August 7, 2010
Thursday, August 5, 2010
Sunday, August 1, 2010
When I a piece of narrative non-fiction I always begin with a general idea that, though vague, seems to have potential. It may center on a poignant moment, when my concept of a part of the world was altered or clarified. When the idea occurs to me it is amorphous, it could be pulled in this or that direction. For example I may have a moment in my life in mind, and I could write about it from so many different perspectives, all of which are still my own. I experienced and then remembered every moment on many different levels, and I have to choose the ones to include. At this point I also have to focus on the audience of this piece. This is what I call the So What? factor. Interesting to me does not automatically mean interesting to anyone else. The story has to be a message, to have a point, to have an end that is more substantial then the chronological end. Whatever I decide is for the audience, that element becomes one of many filters I put my thoughts through before I decide what qualifies to go into my paper. It is also handwritten, boxed, and there to remind me that as much as I enjoy a thorough exploration of this particular feeling, if it has no relation to the message then it is self-serving and should be cut.
After coming up with a general concentration, and why it can be entertaining and engaging, I quickly jot down facets of the experience. This is always in freehand, and includes people that were there, and the elements of their character to include. I also focus on the physicality of the experience, the internal dialogue during the scene, and the exposition that I will include that branches out before the experience. These are points that prove or focus my narrative. Many of this points end up getting crossed out as it is through the process of writing them down that I can tell their validity and relevance. Occasionally a whole side of my final paper emerges while writing these notes, the sort of “fell out of the sky” idea and I block out a phrase or sentence followed by a few words that will hopefully remind me of my thoughts on it. I feel like during this whole stage I am chasing my thoughts, and if they are not down on paper fast enough the clarity and certainty that I fleetingly grasp will escape before I can nail it down.
Other times while I write out points I am surprised by when I have written, and unimportant exposition reveals a whole new idea to me. I look at the words on the page and realize that they could say much more than I intended, and through them I can find a much more complex and interesting argument. Then I’m back to chasing the thoughts with my pen before the words can revert back to their original unremarkable meaning.
After my handwritten notes are completed I mark up the page with all sorts of corrections and clarifications. I decide on the order of the different subtopics, figure out if they fit, and if so, where. When I transcribe my notes on the computer the rush is all out of the process. I start with my briefly scribbled note and type it out into my word processor, referring to the bare frame of the content on my page and fleshing it out so that the articulation of that point has some style and voice. Inevitably some of my “brilliant” moments of handwriting fall to pieces when I try to expand them in this process, and I cannot put together why I felt that they said so much.
This is the process I go through when working on my first draft. I need a bare bones handwritten outline that is completely structural before I can begin to add style and tone at a computer. If I try to bypass that step then I have style, voice, but no content of interest beneath it. After the first draft I must take a step back from the piece to revise it. I know that a revision may include a rejection of a whole area of my piece’s foundation, so the first time around I want to be sure that the draft of my work is strong and that any shortcomings of style will not sabotage a solid foundation and trick me into questioning the core of the piece.
Thursday, July 29, 2010
Friday, May 28, 2010
I started off my research during the end of the Spring Semester at which point I had an inkling that I’d like to write something about someone in the Beat Generation. I loved Howl when I read Ginsberg in college and was otherwise completely new to all literary and historical aspects to the period. My first two sources were overviews. First, A Cultural Chronology of Early Beat Generation Literature 1944-1960 on the blog The Beat Page, which was a timeline of key political, international, literary, musical and pop culture events that occurred each year from 1945 until 1960. My second was a copy of The Americans, Robert Frank’s book of photography with a forward by Kerouac. I read through the listing of historical happenings and started to get excited as I started to get an idea of everything happening in America when these ambitious-for-life boys were writing: Mccarthyism, steel protests and national strikes, Cold War Fear, racial tensions and the civil rights movement… I looked through Frank’s photographs and felt like I was catching glimpses of vibrantly alive moments in the dusty bop-ridden canvas of America in 1955 and 56. After a bit more reading and now in between the piles of library books on my desk, I’ve got a long list of possibilities.
You can’t read about the Beat Generation without quickly encountering a note that the label was created by Jack Kerouac, and that it is not exactly accurate, since the ‘generation’ consists of a small social group, not a whole generation of people. Kerouac’s early proclamation of his generation was met with a huge amount of hype and many voices of dissent, which scoffed at the central figures and the writing and coined the term beatnik. I am interested in this preemptive labeling and the idea that Kerouac was knowingly creating a self-enforcing trend, with the insight that the label would help create what it described. This posturing is connected to a lot of what goes on in Kerouac’s novel On the Road. The group’s interest in Herbert Huncke fascinates me, he is a member of the underclass and he seems like a character to him, the kind of person who Neal Cassidy can really dig. He seems to have an advantage in ‘real’ experience over the others because he is a drug dealer and a member of the underclass. They see experience as the supreme meaning; it is almost Godly. There are Marxist implications to their choice to leave the middle class comfort for the experience of hobos and drifters and the unprivileged. Kerouac scrounges for money and work and goes hungry for days, but when his sense of adventure is gone he writes his mother to get her to wire him $50. Their destitute is play poverty. I thought I’d focus on the idea of hypervisibility and appearance and its relation to the spiritual. This might particularly be relevant what I read Desolation Angels, a book written about the fame that Kerouac experienced after On The Road was published, within which I may observe the implications of being seen.
I have another idea that I wanted to propose, though I don’t know if it has any merit. I thought I might compare Zuckerman Bound by Philip Roth to Desolation Angels by Kerouac. But... I’d hate to waste my project drawing an obvious connection or one that is completely off base. Perhaps I might try and compare the Zuckerman Unbound trilogy to Kerouac’s road novels: On The Road, Desolation Angels, and Visions of Cody. That’s my new idea for the topic, my original was to focus on the poetry of Allen Ginsberg and to try to find a more recent text for me to compare it with.
This is the second big idea I have, which is centered on Howl and other poems by Allen Ginsberg from that period. The change in structure, meter, and the phonic attributes of Howl are intriguing to me. I know the poem’s formal composition is considered rebellious like its content, and the form has been said to form the true voice of the time, unencumbered by what the Beats saw as outdated forms and meaningless grammatical rules. I might look at the differences between his free and explicit style and the materialist and media-saturated world that Ginsberg lived in; in which advertising, television, news, and impersonal urban society stood in for human intimacy and appearances subsumed usurp the place of the real. Again I wanted to explore these issues of the ‘real’ versus the fake and postmodern ideas of questionable meaning, simulacrum, and meta-literature. I would find a novel or poem or maybe even a historical moment to look at in comparison to Howl.
I’m eager to get going, get more specific, get comfortable with something being my one and only topic for the summer. At the least I have a huge number of books to get through so if there isn’t much here I might stumble across it in the days to come.
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
My street looks like a snow globe tonight. The air is warm and the snow of past hours has merged into a colorless, crunch-less pulp beneath my boots. The streetlights pick up a swirl of huge lazy flakes tossed against gravity in every direction. It gently coats everything, what was this morning a growling work vehicle is renamed as a part of the landscape. Everything ceases without a whimper or groan and I am alone in this world of hush, silently sifting through the tents of aged light towards home. If I could imagine another in this dark and sepia toned snapshot, I might picture myself through their eyes, a tilted face and a dark figure dwarfed by the sameness dripping down from the sky. Before I stumbled into this non-city I was walking briskly off the Orange Line and shuffling in my black jacket past the waves of other dark coats making their way to Forest Hills.
The music crackling from the headphones of the girl sitting next to me had been stunted by the clamor of machinery. Sitting in the rattling tube with fifty strangers inches away, I wrapped myself in my separateness, closing a door between me and the present company, and choosing to turn this sticky seat into my work chair. I only wasted a moment or two after the train began to shake us home before I had pulled out some of my papers, and began slashing incorrect answers and reaching around in the air for encouraging statements to precede my advice for the freshmen in my class. I was stuffing completed quizzes in one folder, drawing fresh, unspoiled papers from another. I had parceled out my time in as much as I can get done in any moment, hundreds of little projects matched to just meet all the deadlines peppered in the landscape of my future. My brain, meanwhile, reached into the future, planning my next moves once the train pulls into my station, once my walk up the monumental hill has stolen my breath, once I could sigh and sit and stop for a second. And then start working again, typing away at my desk, waiting for when I allow myself to let go and tumble into my bed.
My walk from my station is normally a sensory pothole, a jarring mix of unpleasant sensations squatting down between my A and B. I avert my eyes, nose, fingertips and ears from cat calls, frigid wind and the sickly sweet breath on street corners. Tonight, my winged shields are unneeded, and the snow has nudged and realigned my defensive autonomy. I pass the echoing playground on my left and breathe an unmeasured taste of the night. I can remember days exploring another jungle gym, this one rimmed in lime green paint. I spent my time in elementary school in perpetual awe of the Main Street Middle School students. They were on my walk to and from school, and everything about them was LARGE and fantastic. The school they poured out of was a huge building of four stories, and the students were chic and self-assured as far as I could tell. The girls were pretty and shapely, and the boys were tall and actually had muscles. I’d watch in admiration when I saw mixed sex groups wandering toward downtown laughing and even touching each other. I knew, from Saved By the Bell, that their lives were full of practical jokes, near disasters, dramatic dating antics, and maybe a little schoolwork too. I could barely wait to be a cool and attractive middle schooler, a wise and accomplished adult of twelve. When that disappointment came and went, and I was still the awkward, too-tall, half-Asian girl that couldn’t figure out which Spice Girl to play, I kept looking forward. The parts of my life that were vain and silly and shallow expected, so surely, the arrival of the Hallmark moments at each birthday. For certain body parts to arrive; perk up. Self-confidence never grinned back from that mirror, I had to take it and fight my own tooth and nail, insisting I belong here and will be happy about it, damnit. I’m still working on that cool chic ideal I once watched scamper out of the middle school.
I feel lighter at the top, the flutter in my bright apartment seems far away. From here, the pressures untangle themselves. Before I had these months and years of little increments and a tantalizing horizon of the end of waiting, I had a few Vermont summers, a barista’s apron, and gatherings to explore in peeling barns and smoke filled coal cellars. My mind was sharp and my mouth ready to spread in an incredulous half grin looking up into the eyes of broad-backed young men. I remember nights at the parties that spread across an entire field under more stars than Boston has ever seen, a car stereo crackling, kegs tapped, and EVERYONE there celebrating and skinny dipping and laughing and passing out, passing from elation to nothingness in a moment.
And I remember my first taste of fervor. Evan was a beautiful boy, and I just loved to look at him. I fell for him the first time I noticed him, in a hallway between classes, the truest representation of love I’d seen yet. When I opened the door I interrupted Evan and Carmen exchanging a kiss as they parted ways for 50 long minutes. They pecked each other on the cheek, and Evan ran his hands up and down her arms like he was warming her. They looked at each other for a drawn out breath and parted ways. I was stunned, and hurried off, leaving my mind, that was so useless in Calculus anyways, perched in that hallway, mesmerized. It was the simple sweetness of it, the lack of ostentation, of lust that superseded most romances in my high school. The sweetness of the exchange that I interrupted surprised me more than seeing the girl in the grade above me getting cozy with a boy two years younger than her. Wow. That’s what I want.
At the time, it was not Evan that I wanted, but his sweetness, from someone who would be just as astounded by me. Eventually the outing club made us friends, and Carmen was off at college, presumably out of the picture. And that yearning came back, stronger and more urgently once I knew Evan and decided one of my favorite things in the world was to look at him. Which was nothing compared to having him look at me. I persisted in my addiction for months, knowing he wasn’t over Carmen, but I sustained my end of the gaze for both of us, waiting for his eyes to clear and know me.
And then something amazing happened, and he reciprocated. I was so used to grasping, I couldn’t decide what to do when he slipped his arm down to cover mine. I would pull away and sneak peaks when he bent to kiss me.
What can I say to impress him? I’ll play dynamic and confident tonight.
I was not good enough so I pieced together what I wanted to be; what he wanted. I turned my gaze inward and created “me”, the one that shined and flowed with planned spontaneity. The pauses grew. I had nothing to say and I could feel the creases in my foundation. I never cringed, even if my flaking words might have.
What’s wrong? Why can’t I do this?
And then something terrible happened, and despite my anxiety and plastic smiles, he changed his mind, when I still couldn’t hold him like the shadow of her. He left and our relationship changed only a little after that day. We were friends. No, he was a friend, I was planning, patient, flirting. A manipulator. I was hoping for months. I pushed and tried myself to exhaustion. He still wanted to be around and I was more than happy to be there. I wanted to grab that thread and will myself further. I wanted to hoist myself up by that thin string and climb back into being with him. But the future I wanted evaded me, until I could barely remember why my need was so urgent. I waited myself out. I had to turn my head again, reposition it towards something or somewhere else. I chose Canada and University and the steps leading towards here, the doorstep of my apartment and the beautiful man waiting for me inside. Those red hot days of desperation faded into the Vermont landscape of looming mountains and dipping stars.
I fumble with the lock, the cold seizing my hand as I shove forward and leave the stagnance of the aimless beauty behind me. If I step back and consider all my accomplishments and all my experiences, I would say I am an experienced and able practitioner of waiting. I’ll bide my time with jumbled responsibilities that keep my muscles aching and straining. I’ll take a kiss on my forehead and turn back to the glow of my screen and look forward to you, someone who returns my gaze.
The wind sweeps my hair across my face as I walk down the dark cobblestone streets, fixated on each step, absorbing the distinct feel of York at night. The city center echoes with pop music, shouting, and singing; it’s like a playground for those who spend all week in suits. The bars and pubs swell with bass thumping and light pours out onto us as we walk quietly by. To our left, a window displays its wares: a group of men in striped button-up shirts grabbing each other around the shoulders and the waists, swaying, drinking and belting out Oasis anthems. They’re out on the pull, they are boys’ boys, their conversations are punctuated with raucous laughter every other moment as they joke and argue about football and sex. Further down, near the looming shape of the Minster, we pass a group of drunk women, decked out in glitz, who lean on each other as they navigate spiked stilettos between the uneven cobblestones to the next stop on the bar crawl. Their legs shoot up to the fringed edge of tiny skirts, leather and denim, their heels towering, their makeup artfully glowing in the dark spaces between watering holes. Our sneakers bridge the gap between two stones, stepping quickly back into the darkness.
They rush in to order before last call. They rush to work and to spend, a whirl of purpose: sets of small, attainable goals. They enjoy themselves, enjoy the things they have, are satisfied within the moment. The scene of their lives is the office or the bar or the store or the sex, untouched by the things that do not brush up against their arms, they navigate a straight unbroken path, a wall of trees at their sides, blocking the view. We catch fleeting snap shots of their night through the foggy windows as we walk by. Like moments captured in a strobe light.
The light and sound pours out into the dark and damp street, and it feels counterintuitive to ignore these beacons of amusement and pleasure to pass them towards more dark. We could go that way; we could enter and trace the path that promises ease and the company of many travelers whose feet have marked this way through the forest.
My friends, who walk beside, behind, and in front of me steer me on past the parties. Noah and I fall into step, our stride stretched as wide as possible without tipping over, balancing from stone to stone.
The first time I met Noah’s family was a few months into my time at York, heading home to Vermont by way of London. Noah invited me to stay for the few days I had after term ended and before my flight left. His mom, like mine, is a little, red-headed, Irish nurse. Siobhan Riley was visibly disappointed to learn that my mom wasn’t “real Irish”; she can only boast Irish parents, American style. Noah, his two solid muscular brothers, and I crowded around the little table in Siobhan’s kitchen. She was heating up mince pies in the oven while asking me about my parents, my professors, Noah’s behavior in the classes we shared.
“Do you want some mince pies? No, Deirdre? How about you Noah?”
“No, thanks mum, I’m full.”
“Nonsense. You’ll have two, they are very good.”
She plops two little mince pies onto a plate and puts it down next to Noah. As she turns back to her cooking, two husky hands dart out and maneuver the pies away.
“Mum, Noah wants more mince pies.”
She scolds him for not telling her to heat up more, and warms another set of pies, again these are stolen by his elder brothers, again they demand more through Noah, the baby, who can have as many pies as they want.
Our friendship began as a dual narcissistic fascination because we are so similar. A fellow English nerd and ex-victim of Catholic school, with a mostly silent doctor father figure. In the wake of their quiet influence and hordes of Catholic guilt, we’ve used the same buzz of chatter, and always had a lot to talk about. After the first blush of enjoying each other’s jokes, music and trudging across campus to classes together, we became confidants. My old heartbreak. His new girlfriend. How useless our degrees will probably be. How we’d like to be creative and successful and famous all at once and don’t think we will.
We are a clump of glitterless friends, booze and drug laden and excitable, plotting our adventure. We are passing by these warm and bright spots in the night, and even their transient presence enhances the sense that we walk through a dark, damp cavern, with stone on all sides and the raucous cheers echoing far along the winding streets within the city gates. Tall walls, battlements and a barbican ring York’s center. The city’s streets and buildings are tightly drawn around itself with corridors of stone that lead to the towering Minster or the impending city walls. York is one of the most conquered cities in one of the most conquered countries in the world, once a political hotspot that drew the attention of the armies of Danes, Romans, Vikings, Normans and Saxons. The city today is a patchwork of each people who once occupied its walls. The stones laid by each of these warring civilizations surround us completely and send tendrils of echoes of each of our steps; amplifying our excitement, our hushed anticipation.
Up ahead, we see Pizza Express, a chain encased in another edifice that is centuries old, that sits right across from the Yorkshire Museum Gardens. During the day the Museum Gardens is another tourist draw for my college town, helping to ensure that the streets are always flooded with many British, European, and Asian tourists. During the day the gardens are packed with foot traffic, children are everywhere, in prams and racing across the grass. Visitors wander around St Mary’s Abbey, idle near the River Ouse and partake of the vendors selling lemonade and bratwursts. That’s during the day. Tonight the gardens are silent, dark, glistening with dew and potential. We are caged without by a tall dark iron fence and the street outside of Pizza Express is well lit, littered with streetlamps. A quick examination of the fences shows that they could be climbed, despite their twelve-foot height. A foot here, a hand here, lifting to give way for the other foot, a hand clasping the top of the fence spike, and the same way down the other side. We gather by the fence, casting sideways glances around us and begin to climb in a few different spots along the street, an organized procession like ants ascending a wall. Purses are thrown through the bars, breaths are held in, and the lapsed Catholic boys instinctively cross themselves as they balance with one leg horizontal to the ground, their crotch poised directly above the menacing spikes atop the fence. I stand on the street side, watching my friends- artists, potheads, hippies, musicians and actors- scale the fence in quick disciplined movements, a posture I’m not likely to see again. I can’t quite enjoy Ollie’s uncharacteristically serious expression as he considers his next step down because I am dangerously one of the last on the street and visible. Hesitation is definitely not the safest course of action, and in that moment my glimpse of this spectacle is gone.
I can see Ben and Dave retreating from the light that drains through the bars; I know Ella is with them from a low hoot from the inky space beyond the fence. I walk up to the bars, notching my foot in the first horizontal joint about three feet from the ground, grabbing the upper joint. I hoist myself up, stretching my other foot up to my hand’s level. I transfer my weight and center myself, standing for one crystallized moment above the fence, fifteen feet from the ground. I’d love to look around from up here, into the dark and inviting gardens, or maybe back on the town. I don’t. Swinging my legs over quickly I am on the other side of the fence, stepping down lightly, and, like my friends before me, retreating quickly from the last lingering risk of the streetlights.
Done! Check, check, check. My eyes resist the varying shades of darkness around me and I blink and stumble towards the sounds of my friends. Delicious illicit adrenaline races the rounds of my veins now as I consider my unlawful entry. I turn back to appraise my handiwork. Very nice. Tall, scary iron fences, are no match for me. The grounds are beautiful, cloaked in stillness that we promptly stomp though as we explore. We wander around for a while, rediscovering the art that bespeckles the grounds. A group sits down in a loose circle, passing a bowl, and I grab Sam for a swig of his flask. Blood still pumping with my gleeful naughtiness, I pull a clipboard out in my mind and add a line to the slowly growing list of things I’m going to try at least once. A trace of self-satisfaction infuses my smile. Done!
“What are you grinning about, monkey?”
I shrug at Noah, still grinning, and hand the flask back and skip off. He knows me too well; if I give him a chance to guess he’ll read me like a book and then mock me relentlessly. Our banter is dry and harsh, where almost everything said is okay because it’s a joke.
When Noah and I got into our first fight we ended up crying in a haze of tobacco smoke, throwing around words like soul mates.
I’d been feeling the buzz of the night, my castmates, the cocktails running through me, and talking to Jake Canton Powell about sex. We were out with our favorites in the cast of The Tempest, Noah’s production. I played Ceres, one of Prospero’s spirits whose only long-winded speeches took place in the marriage scene that Noah ended up cutting. The scene didn’t add much of anything to the three hour-long performance. Still, it cut me back from Ceres to spirit #3. Jake was playing a small part that involved swinging a sword around. He was a freshman but only a year younger than me/ He had a bit of an infatuation with me, and my head was buzzy with pleasantness besides.
I was sitting next to Jake, speaking in a slight undertone about my interpretation of sex noises, a subject I wouldn’t broach sober. I launched into my thoughts on the matter, and felt the press of an outsider on my eyelids. My face was turned down to the table; I was diplomatically laying out intimate details with the considered detachment of a scientist when I glanced up to my other avid audience member, Noah. I was apparently not drunk enough to be proclaiming my theories on screams versus moans to the entire bar because shame colored my cheeks as I met Noah’s gaze.
“Wait, so you’re saying that when a girl’s tone is all squeaky--"
I silenced Jake with an embarrassed smile and jerk of the head and waited for Noah to lose interest. Well it’s not like I wanted to have this conversation with him! We talked about, well, everything, surface impressions of York Uni, the anxious moments of social awkwardness, his insecurities, mine. Our conversations trekked all over my sometimes showy nature and the related decision to get my undergraduate degree in England, his tendency to dive stomach first into love, and to go crazy with jealous from time to time. We’ve probably been over this exact subject over a drink or two while we hid from our respective significant others and laugh at the absurdity of sex, of love.
But his eyes were making me lose my footing on the gravelly precipice of my self-confidence because I probably wouldn’t be talking about this, this way, to Polly, a girlfriend who borders my other side. Jake’s a guy, a cute young boy who I’m not at all interested in and I can hear a little voice in my head saying that I’m making an ass of myself. And another, whispering that I’m making a bit of an ass of Jake by toying him along, dangling talk of intimacy in front of him, like a joke, just because it’s gratifying. And both voices in my head are Noah’s.
And he won’t look away and Jake keeps trying to pick the shite-stained conversation up from the table I kicked it under. I want to whisper to Noah, “Don’t listen, stop listening this isn’t for you.”
“Go away we’re just having a fun, slightly charged, conversation.”
“It’s boring, I’m being an idiot.”
“It’s stupid I’m being a bitch.”
Instead I draw myself up, look sarcastically, searching his face. I make an impatient sound in my throat:
“What?…. What?!... Fuck off and die, yeah?”
He doesn’t understand what I didn’t say, only the rude, hurtful thing I did say. He gets very angry, shouting and saying nasty things in a sour voice I don’t recognize. All the while blowing smoke into my face. I am shocked by the vehemence of his anger; by the things he’s saying and only briefly try to explain that I didn’t mean it before I get angry too. He gets angrier. We storm out separately. Luckily we can’t ignore it, really let it fester for a few days, because we live together, and dealing with this is contingent to going home.
We end up having to talking it out: why I was feeling exposed, and judged, and lashed out, but expecting him to laugh. How he was sitting there feeling disconnected and unsure of himself and then turned to me, wanting to chat, wanting some support, wanting to voice his binding insecurities so that I could laugh them off, turn them inside out and discard them in the corner. Why it felt like I’d slapped him in the face right when he already felt so raw, how he can’t believe that I was the one humiliating him in front of his cast. I said I didn’t plan on it being nasty whereas his response was a conscious effort to hurt me back. He said that I hurt him first, unprompted. But not on purpose, by accident! But still hurtful! And we talked in circles, we gave in, made allowances, and let go of each other’s offenses as we released each drag of smoke into the air. He said he thinks of me as his closest friend, he expects me to always understand the core of him through and through, and that’s why he flipped out when I said that. I said, he’s right. I do see him.
And now I skip away from his line of sight towards the dim silhouettes at the periphery of my vision. I jog over to the dark huddle I can make out far across the lawn. Vices aside, my friends are all business. They divide into teams, go over the rules once, twice, a third time, and set the boundaries. Ella inches forward from the protection of her ranks, and in a harsh, carrying whisper, “GO!” and my friends begin to stealing forward into enemy territory in our midnight game of Capture the Flag.
I want to give myself up to the exhilaration, the thrill and rush of competition but it doesn’t take long for this expectation to flounder, the promise to fall away, for me to realize that none of these Brits are playing right. A quick survey tells me that the game has fallen into disarray. I pull in the park with a deep breath and wander down the slow sloping hill following the path down towards a crowd of trees. And here’s Noah sitting underneath the weeping beech, a large sprawling tree house of a tree, complete with separate spaces and curtains.
“Hey. What’s up, Noah?”
“Hey. Come here.”
I walk towards the trunk of the tree, where Noah is sitting alone and quiet while the chaos of the splintering game clatters around us.
“What are you doing under here, creeper? Meditating?”
“Please. C’mon, sit down, hang out for a minute.”
I lower myself down and my head tilts up instinctively to greet the full moon peering through a slit in the branches around us. The Gardens are worth it. The risk itself might have seemed worth it, but the reward of this locked up wonderland has eclipsed the achievement. Though fenced in, the gardens surrounding the museum are open for acres. The moon is out, I couldn’t see it in the tightly wound streets of the city, nor the wisps of clouds racing in and out of view across its face. Moisture clings to the whole grassy slope; the dew angel I made after the climb has adorned me with the glitter I lacked before. It’s nice to be still. The ground is dry here and the abbey ruins are illuminated to our right, grass lined shapes that just suggest the colossal monastery that later became a King’s palace, that later became the arena for our haphazard war game.
From under the tree we are at once protected from view and watching, able to witness our friends stalking each other, succumbing, and rushing off again into the safety beyond the hill. Unseen, I can watch Dave creep down the slope and hide behind a shadowy tree trunk waiting as Ella wanders closer and closer to his perch. I grin as Ella yelps with terrified delight, shoving Dave away and sprints after his giggling form. Noah passes the flask to me and turns, placing his gaze on me, low laughter rumbling in his voice.
“Did you see those girls near Dusk?
“Nah, drunk?” I pass the flask back.
“Umm, yea. We walked by this one girl whose standing in an alley totally spread out. She is literally stretching herself as wide and large as possible, with a face on her that is completely casual. Which, obviously, looks really weird, so I’m staring at her and I see her friend crouching down behind her. And this girl, instead of concentrating on what she’s doing, or looking down or facing the wall or something, this girl is looking straight at me, totally nonplussed. She’s just as casual as her friend, peering up at me with these big eyes like she’s not doing anything. Totally innocent, like I can’t see pee streaming down under her skirt. Nothing to see here. I’m just crouching in an alley. Really.”
We’re both laughing now, making the peeing face at each other.
Beyond the laughs and the tears, Noah is a point of comfort in this foreign country. I have no real roots here; all my ties are new and flimsy. He has been someone I could lean on, if and when I need it. Noah feels like a favorite sibling, our loyalty is deeper than common likes, common interests. When we fight we end up crying all over each other because we’re upset that we are upset with each other.
My mom was nervous about me being 3,000 miles away, and liking it. Prodding her for reasons, she once exclaimed, “You’re going to fall in love and get married and never come back!!” Luckily for her, my long-term relationship here fizzled out after a little more than a year, and the break up had left me with no pain, some guilt, and a dizzying sense of relief. 6 months later, my eyes still skim over reasonable-type men, and I wouldn’t consider a real relationship if I tripped over my future husband in the street. Mom wins, I’ll be heading back at the end of this year. And Noah will be my best friend in college, my best friend in England, my was best friend.
“What are you looking at, Yee?”
“Nothing! Gimme that flask.”
I try to press my fingers into the matter around me, to be still again. I look back over at the abbey. I take a quick swig, and lean back and eye the moon again. Noah is looking at me out of the corner of his eyes.
“I guess I’m just thinking about this night, and it being a story later, being a retelling only. And we’re here now and I want to draw it all in, really appreciate it, make a movie in my head that has every taste and breeze and feeling all wrapped up in it, that I can take out and have again. And I don’t want to go back to America and resign all of this to the past, I want to stay at this point, or at least have a clear picture of it. But then I look at that tiny fragment of a wall and I know that this right here is not a moment in its history, it doesn’t even exist in moments, it exists in centuries. And in a few of its moments I will be old and fat and won’t remember the name of this place, or who I came here with, or any of it. And it’ll be the same, maybe an inch or two eroded.”
“Or maybe Ollie will kick it down tonight and destroy it forever. Poof!”
I half smile, but my point is still not made. Not even to me. What am I clinging to?
“Cheer up, Puppet! When you’re old and fat and don’t remember being here, you won’t remember that you are forgetting something.”
“But what if I do? What If I forget and remember that I’ve forgotten it?”
“At least it’ll be a story. And you were here. So you are in its history, really. But I mean, come on, it’s just a bit of rock. It’s not sentient. It doesn’t care, it doesn’t have or want, or anything. And at this point it doesn’t really do anything either, does it? It’s in your story now, that’s all.”
We sit some more passing the flask and talking for a long time while the wind blows and the moon shines down. This moment can’t really end because it already has and hasn’t. If I made a movie I would end it at some point, moment closed, memory complete. Maybe no one will ever be stuck as what they were. Maybe 3,000 miles isn’t that far. Maybe I won’t remember what I’ve lost in time, once I’ve lost it. Maybe not. But we keep talking and drinking and remembering and never quite forgetting about our return trip over the spiked fence.