Throwback from 2005: “Aggregating Our Webs

One of the first iterations of QuakerQuaker, from January 2006.
One of the first iter­a­tions of Quak­erQuaker, from Jan­u­ary 2006.

Look­ing back at a 2005 post that started to lay out what was to become Quak­erQuaker:

Maybe the web’s form of hyper­link­ing is actu­ally supe­rior to Old Media pub­lish­ing. I love how I can put for­ward a strong vision of Quak­erism with­out offend­ing any­one – any put-off read­ers can hit the “back” but­ton. And if a blog I read posts some­thing I don’t agree with, I can sim­ply choose not to com­ment. If life’s just too busy then I just miss a few weeks of posts. With my “Sub­jec­tive Guide to Quaker Blogs” and my “On the Web” posts I high­light the blog­gers I find par­tic­u­larly inter­est­ing, even when I’m not in per­fect the­o­log­i­cal unity. I like that I can have dis­cus­sions back and forth with Friends who I don’t exactly agree with.

Remembering it’s an honor just to be read

Strange moment this morn­ing when I checked my blog stats and real­ized that I get a fair amount of traf­fic for a movie review I wrote last year. I was check­ing the stats to see if any of the Quaker-related search terms might give clues for future con­tent on Friends Jour­nal or Quak­er­S­peak and for that pur­pose the review’s pop­u­lar­ity with Google (and read­ers) isn’t that use­ful.

But this blog is just my life spun out. I don’t aim for key­words and I don’t want to dom­i­nate a thought-sphere. If I see a movie and jot down some impres­sions that attract a small audi­ence, then my blog post is a suc­cess. A dozen or so ran­dom peo­ple a month Google in to spend a cou­ple of min­utes read­ing my thoughts on a fifty-year-old movie. That’s cool. That’s enough. In all the talk of tar­get­ing and SEO we some­times for­get that it’s an honor to sim­ply be read.

The other night stayed up late to cud­dled with my wife and watch good-natured but flawed Rom-Com. I read some reviews on IMDB and pon­dered the cliches in the shower the next morn­ing. Boil­ing these impres­sions down into 500 words on a train com­mute would be easy enough. I should do it more.

Up Into The Cherry Tree

Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses
Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Gar­den of Verses

My mother died a few days ago. While I’m over­whelmed with the mes­sages of prayers and con­do­lences, at least at some level it feels like cheat­ing to accept them too fully. This isn’t a new con­di­tion. This is just the final moment of a slow-motion death.

A lit­tle over five years ago my mother was for­mally diag­nosed with Alzheimer’s. It was quite brave of her to get the test­ing done when she did. This had always been her most-feared sce­nario for aging. Grow­ing up, we had befriended an active elderly neigh­bor who had gen­tly died in her sleep after a minor slip on some ice. My mom thought that was the best exit ever. She swore Mrs. Gold­smith had come to her in a dream the next night to con­grat­u­late her­self, say­ing “See, I told you I was lucky!” For years after­wards, my mother con­vinced her­self that she would go in a sim­i­larly ele­gant way.

My mom, Liz, must have sensed that Alzheimer’s was a pos­si­bil­ity when she sched­uled that doctor’s visit. The news didn’t come as much of a sur­prise to us fam­ily. I had been jok­ing for years that my mom seemed to have only twenty sto­ries that she kept on rota­tion. After she read a study that cross­word puz­zles keep your brain sharp as we age, she became an obses­sive cross­word puz­zler; when the Sudoku craze hit, she was right on top of it. She had bravely bought her first house in her late 60s. How proud she was. At the time she let us all know, repeat­edly, that she would be leav­ing it “in a box.” Caulk­ing trim, replac­ing win­dows, and trou­bleshoot­ing a mud room leak that defied a dozen con­trac­tors became her occu­pa­tion, along with vol­un­teer­ing and watch­ing grand­kids. But by 2010, she must have known she wasn’t going to have Mrs. Goldsmith’s luck. It was time to adjust.

When she called to tell me the diag­no­sis, she couldn’t even use the A-word. She told me her “brain was dying” and that the doc­tor was putting her on Ari­cept. A quick Google search con­firmed this was an Alzheimer’s drug and a call with the doc­tor later that after­noon helped map out the road ahead.

Alzheimer’s is a slow-motion death. She’s been dis­ap­pear­ing from us for a long while. Reg­u­lar out­ings became less fre­quent till we couldn’t even take her out to a nearby restau­rant for her birth­day. As words dis­ap­peared and speech began fal­ter­ing, I’d show her recent kid pho­tos on my phone and tell sto­ries to fill the emp­ty­ing space. Even­tu­ally she stopped show­ing inter­est even in this. On my last reg­u­lar visit with her, I brought the kids and we had lots of fun tak­ing pic­tures. Mom kept point­ing out at the phone’s dis­play as if it were a mir­ror. But con­ver­sa­tion was too dis­jointed and after a few min­utes, my kids started wan­der­ing in ever widen­ing cir­cles look­ing for inter­est­ing but­tons and alarms to touch and pull and I had to round them up to leave.

In the past few weeks her for­get­ful­ness has extended to eat­ing and swal­low­ing. Inter­ven­tion would only buy a lit­tle more time until she for­got how to breathe. Alzheimer’s is a one way trip.

On my last few vis­its she was mostly sleep­ing. She’s was calm, preter­nat­u­rally calm. Lying on her back, pale and peace­ful, she looked as if she might already be a body rest­ing in a cas­ket. Only the slight rise of sheets as she breathed gave away the news that she was still with us, if barely. I felt awk­ward just sit­ting there. Some peo­ple are good in these kinds of sit­u­a­tions, but I self-consciously strug­gle. With lit­tle chance of inter­ac­tion, I struck on the idea of read­ing from a favorite book of poems that she had read to me on count­less nights as a child.  “Up into the cherry tree, who should climb but lit­tle me?” I don’t know if she heard me or pic­tured the cherry tree in her haze, but it was a way for us to be together.

The slow-motion nature of Alzheimer’s means she slept a lot until she didn’t. For rea­sons that go deep into biog­ra­phy, she was a won­der­fully friendly per­son who didn’t have a lot of close friends any­more. It seems pecu­liar that one can walk upon the earth for so many decades and only have a dozen or so peo­ple notice your depar­ture. But then maybe that’s the norm for those who live deep into their eight­ies. Most of us will leave life with the same kind of quiet rip­ples with which we entered.

Liz (Betsy) Klein(top) aka Mom

My mom Liz just passed away tonight. It’s not unex­pected. And sadly, given her health, it’s per­haps not even so tragic; she’s been declin­ing for years from Alzheimer’s and all but stopped eat­ing in recent weeks. I’m sure I’ll find voice to tell some sto­ries in the months ahead, but for now I’ll share some pic­tures. She would have turned 85 next month.

A note about names: she was born in late sum­mer 1930 as Eliz­a­beth Ann Klein­top. In her adult life she went as Betsy and took the last names of her part­ners. In her late 60s she decided to take back a vari­a­tion of her last name and overnight Betsy Kel­ley became Liz Klein.

NYTimes video remembers the 1965 Selma James Reeb attack

One of the white min­is­ters with James Reeb in the 1965 attack that helped pro­pel the Vot­ing Rights Act remem­bers the night.

He also reflects on the value of white lives vs. black lives for national atten­tion in the Civil Rights Move­ment. While the actual Selma march was protest­ing the killing of black civil rights activist Jim­mie Lee Jack­son by a state trooper, national out­rage focused on the vis­it­ing white min­is­ter.

In 1967, Dr. King noted, “The fail­ure to men­tion Jimmy [sic] Jack­son only rein­forced the impres­sion that to white Amer­i­cans the life of a Negro is insignif­i­cant and mean­ing­less.”

Don’t miss Gail Whif­fen Coyle’s overview of con­tem­po­rary Friends Jour­nal cov­er­age of Selma on our web­site.

Normcore and the new-old Quaker plain

In the last few weeks, the fash­ion seg­ment of the Inter­net has gone all a-buzz over new term “Norm­core.” Nor­mal, every­day, cloth­ing is appar­ently show­ing up in down­town Man­hat­tan — gasp! Like many trendy terms, it’s not really so new: back in the nineties and early oughts, Gap ruled the retail world with posters show­ing celebri­ties and artists wear­ing t-shirts and jeans avail­able at the local mall store. “Norm­core” is just the lead­ing edge of the utterly-predicable 20-year fash­ion indus­try pen­du­lum swing.

It also per­haps sig­nals a cul­tural shift away from snob­bery and into embrac­ing roots. One of the most pop­u­lar posts on the New York Times’s web­site last year cel­e­brated regional accents (appar­ently Philadel­phi­ans are allowed to talk like Philadel­phi­ans again).

An ana­logue to this fash­ion trend has been occur­ing among Friends for a lit­tle while now. The “New Plain” dis­cus­sion have revolved around reclaim­ing an atti­tude, not a uni­form.

If you read the old Quaker guide books (called “Books of Dis­ci­pline” then, now more often called “Faith and Prac­tice”), you’ll see that unlike other plain-dressing Amer­i­can groups like the Amish, Quak­ers didn’t intend their clothes to be a uni­form show­ing group con­for­mity. Instead, plain­ness is framed in terms of inte­rior moti­va­tions. Avoid­ing fash­ion trends helped Friends remem­ber that they were all equal before God. It also spoke to our con­tin­u­ing tes­ti­mony of integrity, in that Friends were to dress the same way in dif­fer­ent con­texts and so vouch­safe for a sin­gle iden­tity.

When I began feel­ing the tug of a lead­ing toward plain­ness it was for what I began call­ing “Sears Plain,” indi­cat­ing that I wore clothes that I could find in any box store or mall. I devel­oped a low-maintenance approach to fash­ion that freed up my time from shop­ping and the morn­ing dress­ing rit­ual. Mod­ern plain­ness can lesson the temp­ta­tion to show off in in clothes and it can reduce the over­all wardrobe size and thus reduce our impact on the envi­ron­ment and with exploited labor. But all this is noth­ing new and it never really dis­ap­peared. If you looked around a room of mod­ern Quak­ers you’ll often see a trend of sar­to­rial bor­ing­ness; I was sim­ply nam­ing this and putting it in the con­text of our tra­di­tion.


Over time I found that these moti­va­tions were more preva­lent in the wider cul­ture, espe­cially in the min­i­mal­ist techie scene. Steve Jobs famously sported a uni­form of black turtle­neck, jeans, and New Bal­ance sneak­ers (explained in 2011). In a 2012 pro­file, Barack Obama talked about lim­it­ing his clothes to two col­ors of suits so that he could free up his decision-making energies on more impor­tant issues (I wrote about his fash­ion in “Plain like Barack”).

Non-celebrities also seem inter­ested in work­ing out their rela­tion­ship with fash­ion. My arti­cles on mod­ern plain­ness have always been a big draw on my blog. While my fel­low Quak­ers are some­times mildly embar­rassed by our his­toric pecu­liar­i­ties, out­siders often eat this stuff up. They’re look­ing for what the techies would call “life hacks” that can help them pri­or­i­tize life essen­tials. If we can com­mu­ni­cate our val­ues in a real way that isn’t propped by appeals to the author­ity of tra­di­tion, then we can reach these seek­ers.

So now that “Norm­core” is appear­ing in places like Huff­in­g­ton Post , the New York Times and fash­ion mag­a­zi­nes, will Friends be able to talk more about it? Do we still have a col­lec­tive wit­ness in regards to the mate­ri­al­ism and ego-centricity of fash­ion mar­ket­ing?

The QuakerRanter Top-Five

Outreach, Family, Pacifism, and Blog Culture

At year’s end it’s always inter­est­ing to look back and see which arti­cles got the most vis­its. Here are the top-five Quak​er​Ran​ter​.org blog posts of 2013.

1. Outreach gets people to your meetinghouse / Hospitality keeps people returning

This grew out of a inter­est­ing lit­tle tweet about search engine opti­miza­tion that got me think­ing about how Friends Meet­ings can retain the curi­ous one-time vis­i­tors.

2. Tom Heiland

My father-in-law died in Jan­u­ary. These are few pic­tures I put together while Julie was still at the fam­ily home with the close rel­a­tives. Thanks to our friends for shar­ing a bit of our life by read­ing this one. He’s missed.

3. Expanding Concepts of Pacifism

A look at Friends tes­ti­monies and the dif­fi­cul­ties of being a fair-trade paci­fist in our hyper-connected world today. I think George Fox and the early Friends were faced with sim­i­lar chal­lenges and that our guide can be the same as theirs.

4. Rethinking Blogs

A num­ber of new ser­vices are try­ing to update the cul­ture of blog­ging. This post looked at com­ments; a sub­se­quent one con­sid­ered how we might reor­ga­nize our blogs into more of a struc­tured Wiki.

5. Iraq Ten Years Later: Some of Us Weren’t Wrong

This year saw a lot of hang wring­ing by main­stream jour­nal­ists on the anniver­sary of the Iraq War. I didn’t have much patience and looked at how dis­sent­ing voices were reg­u­larly locked out of debate ten years ago – and are still locked out with the talk that “all of us” were wrong then.

I should give the caveat that these are the top-five most-read arti­cles that were writ­ten this year. Many of the clas­sics still out­per­form these. The most read con­tin­ues to be my post on unpop­u­lar baby names (just today I over­heard an expec­tant mother approv­ingly going through a list of over-trendy names; I won­dered if I should send her the link). My post on how to order men’s plain cloth­ing from Gohn’s Broth­ers con­tin­ues to be pop­u­lar, as does a report about a trip to a leg­endary water hole deep in the South Jer­sey pines.

Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has a page devoted to issues of faith and next…

Pew Forum on Reli­gion and Pub­lic Life has a page devoted to issues of faith and next year’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tions.

Embed­ded Link

2012 Pres­i­den­tial Can­di­dates Reli­gious Back­grounds | Pew Forum on Reli­gion & Pub­lic Life
Inter­ested in how reli­gion could affect the 2012 elec­tion? Learn about the 2012 pres­i­den­tial candidate’s reli­gious back­grounds in Pew Forum online biogra­phies.

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I thought I’d try an experiment

My life is now such that I don’t have the time to do long-form, thought­ful blog­ging. When I have time to think about big ideas expressed in well-chosen words, it’s as edi­tor at Friends Jour­nal. I have a rather long com­mute but it’s bro­ken up with trans­fers, I often have to stand and I usu­ally don’t have a lap­top on me. What I do have is a smart phone, which I use to keep up with Quaker blogs, lis­ten to pod­casts and take pic­tures.

Despite this, I can usu­ally write a few para­graphs at a time. Kept at steadily those could amass into blog posts. But the finishing-up effort is hard. I have a 2/3rds com­pleted post lav­ish­ing high praise for +Jon Watts’s new album sit­ting on my phone but haven’t had the chance to fin­ish, pol­ish and pub­lish. So what if I seri­al­ized these? Write a few para­graphs at a time, invite com­men­tary, per­haps even alter things in a bit of crowd-sourcing?

Any feed­back I’d get would help keep up my enthu­si­asm for the topic. This infor­mal post-as-chat was actu­ally the dom­i­nant early model for blogs, one that fell away as they became more vis­i­ble. It’d be nice to get back to that. The medium seems obvi­ous to me: Google+, which allows for extended infor­mal posts. So I’ll try that. These will be beta thoughts-on-electron. If they seem to gell together, I might then pol­ish and pub­lish to Quak​er​Ran​ter​.org, but no promises. This is mostly a way to get some raw ideas out there. 

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