Date Satisfaction Survey

Dear [Date]:

Hello and thank you for our wonderful [day / afternoon / evening / evening and breakfast] together! If you would be so kind, please help me make the next one even better by taking a few minutes to fill out this survey.

Thank you!

Sincerely,
A. Rascal

1. Age:

☐ 20-29
☐ 30-39
☐ 40-49
☐ 50-59
☐ 60-69

2. How often do you typically date?

☐ Once a year
☐ Daily
☐ Weekly
☐ Once a month
☐ Every 2-3 months
☐ 2-3 times a year or less often
☐ Never

3. How often do you date Latin men?

☐ First time
☐ Maybe once in high school or college
☐ No idea
☐ Rarely
☐ Often
☐ ¡Ay, papito!

4-9. How important to you are these qualities in a date?

Not Important Somewhat Important Rather Important Dealbreaker
Looks
Charm
Sense of humor
Maturity
Financial stability
Ability to keep it in his pants

10-15. Overall, how did your date perform?

Miserably Somewhat Satisfactory Very Satisfactory Delightfully
Punctuality
Appearance
Grooming
Light comedy
Napkin origami
Famous impressions

16-21. How often did your date:

Rarely Sometimes Often Quite a bit
Hold your hand
Share feelings
Compliment you
Wiggle his eyebrows
Use vulgarity
Attempt to dry hump your leg

22. Overall, I am very satisfied with the way my date behaved himself.

☐ Strongly Disagree
☐ Somewhat Disagree
☐ Neither Agree nor Disagree
☐ Somewhat Agree
☐ Strongly Agree

23. My date was knowledgeable, courteous, and respectful.

☐ Strongly Disagree
☐ Somewhat Disagree
☐ Neither Agree nor Disagree
☐ Somewhat Agree
☐ Strongly Agree

24. My date made me feel comfortable and at ease.

☐ Strongly Disagree
☐ Somewhat Disagree
☐ Neither Agree nor Disagree
☐ Somewhat Agree
☐ Strongly Agree

25. My date refrained from making eye contact with other women.

☐ Strongly Disagree
☐ Somewhat Disagree
☐ Neither Agree nor Disagree
☐ Somewhat Agree
☐ Strongly Agree

26. My date refrained from conversing with other women in a manner that could easily be construed as flirtatious.

☐ Strongly Disagree
☐ Somewhat Disagree
☐ Neither Agree nor Disagree
☐ Somewhat Agree
☐ Strongly Agree

27. My date refrained from using hand signals with other women to communicate phone numbers in my presence.

☐ Strongly Disagree
☐ Somewhat Disagree
☐ Neither Agree nor Disagree
☐ Somewhat Agree
☐ Strongly Agree

28. My date refrained from asking me how attractive I thought other women are.

☐ Strongly Disagree
☐ Somewhat Disagree
☐ Neither Agree nor Disagree
☐ Somewhat Agree
☐ Strongly Agree

29. I am down with threesomes.

☐ Strongly Disagree
☐ Somewhat Disagree
☐ Neither Agree nor Disagree
☐ Somewhat Agree
☐ Strongly Agree

30. How “handsy” was your date?

☐ Cold and distant
☐ Cordial
☐ Appropriate
☐ Casper the Friendly Ghost
☐ Casper the Very Friendly Ghost

31. If there was sex, it was (choose all that apply):

☐ Amazing
☐ Incredible
☐ Ecstatic
☐ A work of art
☐ I saw angels and they gently took my hand and walked me back to earth

32. Considering how much time, energy, and money you spent preparing for this date, would you call it:

☐ An exceptional value; more than worth it
☐ A good value, I got about what I expected
☐ A poor value, not even close to worth it

33. Compared to how you felt about your date before, what are his chances of having another one with you?

☐ Ha!
☐ Ok but we really have to have a talk about his behavior first
☐ Depends what I’m doing that day
☐ Fairly good
☐ My ovaries say yes

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My First Date Rules (guest post by A. Rascal)

As many of you know, I started dating again several months ago. Time and again, however, I found myself having the same conversations with women, over and over.

After a while, I decided to just print up a set of rules to hand out before or during the date. Believe me, it’s really helped clear the air so we can move on to other things like enjoying the movie, art gallery, concert, or even getting to know one another.

I’ll update the list as needed. But for now:

Rule 1. No kissing on the first date.
Absolutely not. I wish I had a nickel for each time a woman either closed her eyes and puckered up, as if expecting me to plant one, or tried to surreptitiously graze her lips on mine while coming out of a hug. No.

Rule 2. No incidental touching.
Women are wily creatures. On dates, I’ve noticed they begin by lightly touching your arm with a finger, ostensibly while trying to make a point. However, their nefarious purpose becomes clear as soon as they then place a hand, as if to see how far they can go. Before you know it, they’re rubbing your back and (this is embarrassing to say) sometimes even more.

No. I am not middle-aged male candy.

Rule 3. No Staring.
Ladies, my eyes are up here. I’m sad I even have to say that. Just no, plus ew. Gross.

Rule 4. No Whispering In Ears.
It took me several dates to catch on to this, but I finally got wise around the twelfth time. Especially in crowded bars, women motion to you to come closer, as if they have a secret to share. You take the bait, and bend your head towards theirs. Then, while whispering in your ear, they plant a kiss. Sometimes tongue. Again, ew and gross.

Rule 5. No Sharing Park Benches.
It begins innocently enough, with a request to go for a walk that almost invariably ends close to a secluded park bench. “I’m tired, do you want to sit down,” they ask, and, wanting to be a gentleman, I always say yes.

That’s when the trouble starts. Sometimes I’ve been quick enough to notice the fingers walking along my back to alight on my shoulders. Sometimes I don’t even see it coming, as when women yawn, stretch out their arms, and suddenly one of them lands on my back. No.

Rule 6. No Dancing.
This is a hard one for me, as I love to dance. However, time and again, I have found myself surrounded by women, forming a circle, clapping, whistling, and saying disgusting things like, “woah hoah, Rascal! Shake it! Shake what your momma gave you!”

Honestly, I have no idea what my poor mother has to do with any of this. Except to say, of course, that she would be appalled to see how poorly I get treated on the dance floor sometimes. Shame on you ladies and no. Anyway, this brings me to:

Rule 7. No Stuffing Dollar Bills In My Pants.
Again, it pains me to have to even say that. I don’t care that they’re neatly folded. I don’t care that you lightly perfumed them. I don’t care if you wrote your phone number on them in red lipstick.

And I don’t care that I need the money. No, just no, full stop.

And yes, that goes double for all your friends.

Rule 8. Hot Sex.
Hot monkey sex on a first date is fine, just ask first.

Pillow Talk

“Hey. You awake?”

“I am now. What’s up, Mister?”

“I have a weird question.”

“Ooh, I don’t know. Is it kinky?”

“No.”

“No? Well that’s a damn shame! Just kidding, my dear. What’s your question? Fire away.”

“Ok. It’s a bit embarrassing. It’s about them.”

“Uh oh. What’s up?”

“Yeah. Well. Hadn’t thought of them in a while, you see.”

“Right.”

“Well let me back up, and begin by saying that, despite everything that happened the last 20 years, despite all the crap, there were plenty of good times too.”

“Ok so you miss her. Wait. Oh God, I don’t even know which one. Oh my God, both of them?”

“Yes. Holy shit, how do you do that?”

“Wait, I’m not done yet. And now you’re about to ask me if I miss him. He Who Shall Not Be Named.”

“Ok, either I’m really transparent or you’re really good.”

“Well I learn from the best.”

“Thanks. Look, I want to know—”

“Of course, darling.”

“Most of all because I want to know all about you.”

“Aw. Thanks, sweetheart.”

“You’re welcome. But part of me also wants to know what might be in store for me down the road.”

“Of course love. Ok, so let me tell you. I’ll preface this by saying your mileage may vary. But I don’t think it will, and if it does at least not too much.”

“How so?”

“I’ll explain later.”

“Oh!”

“Anyway. The answer to your question is yes, but very rarely.”

“Aha. Why?”

“Well, if I have to talk to him for some reason, I feel pangs, because we did spend ten years together. That’s a lot of time, plus a lot of common language and shared references. But here’s the thing, love: that man is dead and gone.”

“When? You never told me he—”

“Relax. He’s still alive, of course, but the man I married is dead and gone. And to be perfectly honest, so is the woman I was. As a result, the pangs are pretty brief.”

“I see.”

“He broke my heart. That’ll kill a lot of things in a person.”

“I’m sorry, honey.”

“Thank you. Ok. Now. Are you ready for the punch line?”

“There’s a punch line? God, I love you.”

“There’s always a punch line. Come on, sit up with me for this.”

“Ok.”

“Now give me your hands.”

“They’re yours. All right. What’s the punch line?”

“That man made me who I am today. What I’m saying is, if my marriage hadn’t fallen apart as horribly as it did, if I hadn’t spent years walking around this house, looking for all the tiny little pieces of my heart to glue back together into something stronger, I wouldn’t be this current version of myself. Which, to be frank, is really the first version of myself I’ve ever truly liked.”

“Really.”

“Oh yeah. Ok, love. Now it’s your turn.”

“Aha. Well. Ok. Before them, I suppose I was at best a partial person in relationships.”

“Yes, I agree. But explain.”

“Well that I spent so much of my time trying to figure out what they wanted, and trying to give them that, that I lost sight of who I was and what I wanted.”

“Right. And what happened when you did finally speak up for who you are, for what you wanted or needed?”

“Can we skip that part?”

“Sorry. But ok, right; now would you be who you are now, had it not been for them?”

“Absolutely not.”

“Exactly. You know who you are and what you want, and you’re a lot less afraid to say so than you were before, from the looks of it.”

“Yes.”

“Plus you have me, so life is perfect!”

“Ha! Yes.”

“Ok. Now it’s my turn to ask a really awkward and embarrassing question.”

“Sure, go for it.”

“Can we go to sleep?”

“Of course. Love you. Night night.”

“Love you. Good night.”

Coming Home

I went to bed last Saturday night with every intention of making it to church the next morning.

As many of you know, I’ve been looking for a spiritual community for most of my life. Brought up Catholic, but now functionally Buddhist, I always longed to feel comfortable in the place so many friends and loved ones have gone to in times of need or everyday spiritual sustenance.

Recently, I made a couple of major life changes that made the search for a church all the more pressing. I won’t go into them here (except to note them) because a) that’s not what this blog is about and 2) that’s the kind of thing I prefer to etch into a diary instead.

Now the church I was trying out is in downtown Boston and I live in the suburbs, about 20 minutes away by train. That means I had to get up extra early to make it to the 9:30am service. As I’m a morning person, this usually doesn’t present much difficulty other than the usual obsessing over the right bow tie and/or cologne.

But this morning was different. I woke up late, and managed to just miss the train. That’s when things got interesting.

My usual response when things like this happen is exasperation, frustration, and anger with myself. In fact, it should have been doubled as it was a snowy morning, and the train is usually late, so I figured it would be even more late. Yet lo and behold, the train was on time — on a snowy morning, no less.

I should have been pretty upset, but I wasn’t. Instead, I was filled with a cool calm, and just found myself saying to myself, “no biggie, I’ll just double back home and catch the next train. Instead of the 9:30 Mass, I’ll catch the 11:30. It’s bound to be better anyway, as the priest will have a chance to revise his homily.”

Then, as I traveled home, I realized something else. I realized that the church I was heading to — the one I’d been to visit twice, on Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, recommended to me by a friend on Twitter — also felt, in a very weird and tentative way, like a home. I didn’t want to make too much of this at the time, but I made note of it.

A home. To appreciate the strangeness of that association you have to understand that Churches have mostly been a courthouse for me: places where judgment takes place.

As soon as I walk into a church, I can hear myself being judged in ways only Catholics can judge one another.

I’ll give you a small sample. I hear these things in my mind now, but many of them were actually said to me. Sometimes they were said far more kindly than I say them to myself. Sometimes a lot less.

“Why are you here? This is a church. We belong here. You don’t.”

“You see, we have some problems with people like you. And yes, when we say ‘we’ we mean the whole Catholic Church.”

“For one thing, you’re liberal. Liberals don’t go to church; liberals don’t even believe in God.”

“Another thing is you don’t vote Republican like we do, and sometimes as the priest tells us to. You think being gay is fine. You think priests should marry and that women should be priests. But worst of all, you don’t oppose abortion. That alone disqualifies you from being a Catholic.”

“Why? Because here we believe what we’re told to believe, not what we think or reason for ourselves. All of us believe the exact same thing in the exact same way, which is what gives our faith strength and power.”

“Your problem is you can’t listen to authority. We can, and yes, we think blind obedience to the right people on the right matters is a good thing. We know how to do that. You don’t.”

“We never, ever question our faith. We accept it. You’re so busy asking questions you don’t even have time to pray, which we do all the time. You should try it sometime, but not here. Go home and pray. This place is for Catholics only, and you are most definitely NOT a Catholic.”

“What are you even doing here in the first place? You don’t believe in God or Jesus. Your parents do, but not you. You’re too liberal and so-called ‘educated.’ We hear you also meditate, do yoga, and read Nietzsche. We know you’re not Catholic, and you may not even be Christian.”

“You don’t belong here. This is our church, not yours. Go away.”

I can’t remember a time in my life when I thought of a church as a home of any kind. As a kid I got dragged to church; the only times I went voluntarily after that were during times of intense personal crisis.

I said to myself in the car that while God may never have given me what I wanted (such as a clear sign on what to do about something very important), God did give me what I needed. That is to say, if it is true that what God calls us most to do is to be who we really are, then it’s clear God, the Tao, or the Universe has been nudging me more or less forcefully in that direction my whole life.

If I’d been paying closer attention, I’d have been creeped out by the fact that I was talking about God as a person rather than an experience and not having a major conniption about it.

About an hour later, I was on my the way to the train again. This time I gave myself extra time.

On that trip, I realized two more things. One is that I was going to church to find myself in some way. I know that sounds odd. Yet in some strange way, some part of me was already inside that building. It was simply calling out to me and I was simply answering.

Needless to say, if it had been calling me by name I’d be getting an MRI rather than the urge to write about it.

That led me to the second thing. For the first time, something was calling me to church, rather than pushing me to go from the outside or inside. Put another way, I was going to church because I wanted to, not because I had to or needed to.

There’s no way to know if this is just a passing thing or something more significant along a larger journey. But it felt important enough to share, so there you go.

Twitter Bullies

Well, it finally happened. I met my very first cyber-bully.

Many of us remember bullies from grade or high school. Growing up, we all get more or less solid training expressing frustration with others. Parents are our first model in metabolizing anger, and then come teachers and peers.

What most of us learn, in our earliest years, is how to tell someone that they did something that bothered or hurt us and why.

Along the way, we notice an interesting group of people. These are the people who get furious with you when you tell them they did something wrong. While nobody likes to be told they bothered someone, this group of people responds with particular outrage: how dare you tell me I bothered or hurt you. You wimp! Now you’re really going to get it from me.

And then you get the abuse. Insults, threats, intrusions, unwanted contact…anything, it seems, in the attempt to intimidate you, get you to back off, or show you they are far more powerful and important than you.

So what happened? You just told them they did something wrong or that you didn’t like. Why didn’t they just say sorry, or even “no, don’t think what I did was wrong, and here’s why.”

What happened is you humiliated them, usually but not always in front of a crowd (often a gang) whose regard means as much to them as your parent’s, family’s, or significant other’s love regard means to you.

Here’s a common but by no means exclusive possibility. You didn’t know this (now that you do, you’ll probably be more careful), but when you took them to task for doing something they probably know is wrong, unwise, or ill-advised, you took them back to a horrible place. This is a place they may have long forgotten (or just long to forget) where they were the ones on the receiving end of criticism, yelling, teasing, exposure, shame, intrusion, threats, or even physical violence.

Truth is, many bullies live in deep, close, and intimate knowledge of what it means to feel inadequate, worthless, and powerless. When you cross them, it becomes your turn to find out exactly what it is (or was) like to be them.

For a number of reasons I tried to explain elsewhere, communication here has to be inductive rather than discursive. That is to say, it usually works better in these situations to help someone feel something rather than (just) telling them how they made you feel.

So now you’re going to get attacked, verbally or physically, but always emotionally. You’re going to get picked on, taunted, bullied, harassed, or even assaulted.

The luckier folks with this background learn to put those painful feelings to words, music, or art. The unluckier ones are left with using whatever means at their disposal (usually fists or words) to let you know just how much it hurt them to be told they hurt you.

If you have the presence of mind to say, “whoa, I just told you I take issue with something you’re doing and now you’re calling me an X, Y, and Z,” they’ll invariably say “no, you started it.” In a certain sense they’re right, in that you inadvertently exposed a strong vulnerability. But when you step back and compare what you did with what you got in return, you’re left scratching your head.

Many of us know the eggshell feeling we have around certain bosses, partners, and workmates. We can easily feel controlled by their volatility, but my sense has always been they’re not out to control us so much as stabilize a very vulnerable and precarious self-regard.

Put another way: if the thermostat in your car is broken, and the heat or air conditioning kicks on hard at the worst possible times, you’re going to have strong feelings about a passenger touching the controls, opening a window, or even complaining about the temperature.

Self-esteem is a little bit like the ambient air: when it’s doing its job, we don’t notice it, but once there’s a sudden change in temperature, pressure, odor, or oxygen level, we feel it. And we’ll go to great lengths to correct the situation, regardless of how little or differently the situation seems to be affecting others.

These days on twitter, the cyber-bullies I see the most are the ones who’ve developed a strong sense of loyalty to a politician or even another tweeter. When you say something critical of the beloved leader, you threaten the glue that holds the group together.

You don’t usually hear, “hey, you got your facts wrong, and here are the right ones,” or “what you said is inaccurate, unfair, or untrue.” What you get instead is “oh yeah? Well this is what you do that makes you an even worse person!” or just the far more economical “you’re an asshole!”

You don’t typically get engagement on the issues, because that’s not where these folks live. They don’t inhabit a world of issues to be discussed, so much as personalities to be protected: at all costs, against all enemies, foreign and especially domestic.

They may or may not use military or totalitarian language approvingly to describe their paramount virtue: loyalty to a beloved leader experienced as extraordinarily vulnerable to criticism.

My sense is that the leader is question is often far more tolerant (or even welcoming) of criticism that the loyal devotee. I also suspect that loyalty here doesn’t mean fidelity (as in to principles) so much as a promise: never, ever to hurt the beloved, and to gang up as quickly and fiercely as possible on those perceived to be a threat to the cohesion or self-esteem of the group.

Why, you ask. Why is this discussion for you about the NDAA, health care, abortion, or the best ways to get out the vote, and why is it for them about what an awful, rotten person you are? In more general terms, why is this conversation, for you, about what’s being said whereas for them it’s all about you?

Well, truth is, we don’t always know. And that’s something important to say in the context of this article, so let me emphasize it. We can and often do speculate about what goes on in someone’s head, but they’re the ultimate authority with regard to what happened to them, what they feel, or how they think.

Be open to the possibility (if you’re lucky and the winds are right) that someone may inform you that you’ve got your facts or narrative all wrong. Let them surprise you and display some non-bullying behaviors. They may, for example, tell you precisely where and how your understanding is in error, without insults or invective.

You should also be prepared for it to get ugly. For some, the Rubicon has been crossed the moment (they think) you’ve called them a thug or bully, and there’s just no going back from there. Not that you’ve got them all wrong and here is how, no: you insulted them, grievously, and now you’re going to pay.

In general, I think, people who are not (afraid they are) bullies tend to respond with confusion or bewilderment and then clarification when accused of bullying. I also think people who have been accused of this before are more likely to retaliate instead.

Like me, you may have also seen people getting threatened in addition to insulted. It’s important to note that, to my estimation, no political party or other group has (yet) cornered the market on bullying behavior.

My advice if and when you find these folks is much the same as if you bumped into them outside of twitter: leave them alone. This doesn’t mean letting them intimidate you or stop you from speaking out as best you can on things that matter to you. It means give them as wide a berth as possible when they float into your timeline.

If you follow someone who RTs the bully a lot, consider muting or even unfollowing them. If you unfollow, be prepared for some anger if this is perceived as a hostile attack rather than wish for relief. Expect retaliation if the individual in question identifies as part of the bully’s gang.

When a Twitter bully does something you disagree with, consider carefully how directly you want to say so and why. If they engage you, be clear about your twitter rules (mine include no verbal abuse) and politely decline (no matter what you want to say back!) their invitation to make the exchange about persons rather than issues.

Realize that even though you always could have chosen better words, there’s probably little chance you could have escaped their wrath for calling them on some misbehavior.

If you decide to engage them, be prepared for all labels, descriptions and accounts (regardless of their intentions) to become names, and for all names to be hurtful; that’s just their world. They typically blame their anger on others, and you may even be held fully responsible for their choice of words and tactics.

Needless to say, I don’t recommend this.

My best advice is to wish them well, as this is not only the right thing to do but often has the side benefit of disarming them (if you’re extremely lucky, a bully will be touched enough by your kindness to convert their contempt for you to respect on the spot). Most bullies aren’t used to being treated with genuine respect, to say nothing of kindness; by the time they realize you’re not engaging them in the typical way, you already have a great chance to head for the exit.

If they follow you and chase you, consider a firm request to go away or unfollow. Or you can block them.

I’ve rarely seen bullies persist after that, but it’s always possible. If so, consider reaching out to friends who’ve dealt with these exact or similar people before, or have a look at many of the wonderful online resources now available on bullying and cyber-bullying.

Oh, and good luck. Despite the bullying and other inconveniences, Twitter remains an intriguing world for the social explorer. 🙂

Follow You, Follow Me

One of the first things you learn about Twitter is how to negotiate the delicate issue of “followership.”

For those who don’t know, Twitter is a form of social media where individuals create accounts and post 140-character messages to the world. Individuals have the option of following people whose messages they want appearing in their “feed,” which gives the “followee” the ability to send Direct Messages, or DMs, to the follower. DMs are confidential posts that (we are told) are private between the individuals in question.

If the followee decides to “follow back,” then this enables both parties to send confidential messages to one another in addition to posting public conversations. In addition, every user has a profile, on which the number of people you follow and who follow you are posted.

One thing that I learned very quickly on Twitter is the kind of social status attached to the follower number. The more followers, ostensibly, the more people want to read what you have to say, and thus the more “popular” (I think Twitter exerts a strong regressive undertow back to high and grade school, but that a post for another time).

The other thing I discovered very quickly was the number of different views (I hesitate to call them “philosophies”) of followership people have. Some expect you to follow them back if they follow you first – and will tell you so. Or they may just unfollow you if you don’t follow back. Others just follow and don’t seem particularly bothered if you follow back.

Different expectations come into play here as well. Depending on the individual, some are less inclined to demand reciprocal followership if the person of interest is famous and/or has a lot of followers. But here I’ve heard the thinking go two ways: one is that they follow so many people they can’t be expected to follow everyone who expresses an interest in their stream; the other is that given how many people they follow what’s the harm in adding just one more (i.e., me)?

Then there is the “unfollow,” where you stop following someone after a longer or shorter period of time. Once again, depending on the person and twitter relationship, unfollows varyingly raise concern, hurt deeply, are met with indifference, never come to the followee’s attention at all, or are even met with relief.

Here’s where it gets most interesting for me: how people react to being unfollowed.

Most people I unfollow either unfollow back or keep on following silently, which is far more often than not, for me, the best situation. Once in a blue moon I (or twitter) may have unfollowed someone by accident; if that’s experienced as deliberate (and reacted to in silence) that certainly has the potential to be a problem.

Far and away the best outcome to an unfollow began with the person I unfollowed simply replying back asking why. Keep in mind all this is on the public timeline, which means anyone can see this conversation.

I replied by giving my reasons for unfollowing (see below), at which point she replied with her perspective, in an unusually frank and non-defensive manner. It was both what she said and how she said it that convinced me I had misunderstood her earlier behavior. So I followed back and am quite glad I did, as our conversations have become all the richer since.

Most of all, I’m glad she replied as quickly and maturely as she did, otherwise none of this would have happened and I would have missed out on a fine twitter pal.

For me, one of the least pleasant parts of twitter are those folks who, in their response to being unfollowed, remove any doubt in your mind that this was a good idea. Interestingly, each and every one I’ve had thus far comes from the ranks of a particular political group.

One person I unfollowed replied back (in public, because you can no longer DM one another) expressing outrage that I had done so. She demanded that I remedy the situation at once or face her further wrath.

Needless to say, I was insufficiently charmed to do as she asked.

My favorite, though, is the person who tweeted me back just moments after I’d unfollowed, expressing his pleasure that I had fallen for his “trap.” Huh?

He had been deliberately agitating people of my political persuasion, he told me, with provocative attacks on a figure of some prominence. My unfollowing, he said, was proof of my “utter uselessness” to the movement of which he was (of course) a very, very important leader.

After suppressing my initial reaction to this news, I informed him that I was unwilling to engage in an exchange of insults with him, and wished him the very best in his endeavors (we’re ostensibly members of the same political party). He wished me well in return, which was nice, and I haven’t heard from him since.

Anyway, all this (and more) has forced me to think about why I follow the people I do and why I unfollow those I do. To be clear, these are my reasons; they may or may not be yours, and that’s fine. Hopefully they’ll at least give you something to react to and form your own ideas about, in which case I’d love to hear what you think!

I’ve crystallized them into the following (no pun intended) form, based on what I take to be the three key decisions Twitters have to make on a daily basis – whether or not to follow, keep following, or unfollow:

Bad Reasons to Follow Someone on Twitter
Their avi is very attractive.

Because they followed you.

Because other people you follow (or like) do.

To get them to follow you back.

You want others to know you care about a particular person or cause.

You think this might help increase your follower count.

They’re famous.

Someone else told you to (and you didn’t first read some of their tweets to see if you would have followed them absent the recommendation).

You want to get someone’s attention.

Good Reasons to Follow Someone on Twitter
You like what they have to say and want to hear more.

They provide important information that’s useful to you.

They’re important to you.

You both follow some people of mutual interest already.

They’re so different from you in so many key ways you’re certain to learn a lot about yourself and each other in the process.

Bad Reasons to Avoid Following Someone on Twitter
You don’t find their avi attractive.

They’re not a member of a group with which you strongly identify as a member (e.g., political party, nationality, religion, race, gender, sexuality, social class).

Their tweets force you to think or feel things it is not unhealthy for you to think or feel.

Good Reasons to Avoid Following Someone on Twitter
A representative sample of their tweets does not interest you in the least.

You can easily imagine scrolling past or ignoring their tweets if you did follow them.

You can easily imagine getting very anxious, depressed, or enraged if you read their tweets on a regular basis.

They repeatedly engage in twitter behavior that’s distasteful or repugnant to you.

Bad Reasons to Keep Following Someone on Twitter
They’re part of an important social circle you want to be a part of.

You want to unfollow them, but are afraid of upsetting them if you do.

You want to unfollow them, but are afraid of what others will say or think if you do.

Good Reasons to Keep Following Someone on Twitter
The thought of unfollowing them just never occurs to you.

They keep providing the information, perspective, relief, or good cheer you’ve come to expect from Twitter.

They engage you in good conversation.

They make you laugh, smile, or feel good about yourself.

They make you think or feel things agreeable to you.

They provoke you in ways that feel comfortable and respectful of you as a listener or conversation partner.

Bad Reasons to Unfollow Someone on Twitter
They didn’t follow you back.

Their tweets start making you think or feel things it is not unhealthy for you to think or feel.

You discover they’re a member of a group about which you have very strong negative feelings.

You’re angry at them and want to send them a message.

Good Reasons to Unfollow Someone on Twitter
They begin to engage in twitter behavior that’s distasteful or repugnant to you.

They post the same message over and over.

They use Twitter primarily to proselytize a religious, scientific, medical or other point of view.

They seem unwilling or unable to criticize positions rather than persons.

You’ve been filtering out their tweets for some time in the effort to avoid unfollowing them.

You discover they’ve lied about themselves or done something that undermines your trust in them.

Their tweets constantly make you unhappy or bring you down in a way you did not expect and/or do not like.

You try to engage them in conversation, feeling confident there’s a reasonable expectation that they do so, and they don’t reciprocate.

Their tweets, having captured your interest once, no longer do so.

So that’s my short list. As with anything I post, expect emendations and alterations. 🙂

Attention

Life is full of inconvenient truths. Galileo. Darwin. Climate change. The parts of our personal, national, and cultural history we barely admit to ourselves, would much rather forget, and never, ever talk about.

In every case, the core argument is the same: “thus-and-such couldn’t possibly be the case because what’s being proposed is simply an outrage.”

Now this is not to delegitimize outrage as a whole but simply to caution against using it as an epistemological device (are you listening, Tea Party?). To put the matter somewhat differently, things can’t be propelled into a state of inexistence by the intensity of the offense we take to them. If they could, they’d disappear each and every time someone got furious at them.

It follows from this that arguing against magical thinking of this sort isn’t the same as saying that something offensive should exist and/or that this is a good thing. No.

It’s simply, in the case of climate change, acknowledging the mountains of scientific evidence that point to the earth currently undergoing a major fluctuation in temperature that is not the result of a natural process and threatens the existence of humans. Of course the oil companies are up in arms about this, and of course they’re working round the clock to call it a “myth.”

In a similar way, neurologists, pediatricians, educators, and parents have been putting their heads together for a long time around something rather important. This is something that continues to gain definition, and something I argue is worth taking seriously instead of dismissing as based on a myth or exaggeration.

This is ADHD. What is it and why is it so controversial? In order to answer that question, we have to look at what the diagnosis is based on (what the aforementioned article disparages, diminishes, and dismisses): attention.

At least this way, if and when someone is still inclined to reject the notion of an attention span, they’ll at least have a better idea of what it is they’re rejecting.

What is Attention?
Science is full of analogies. Light is like a particle; no, it’s like a wave; all right, it’s like a wavicle. Same with attention: science is always looking for newer and better ways of describing a set of phenomena which have drawn a particular kind of interest. When your primary concern is helping a particular kind of child navigate through school and life, you ask certain questions that lead you to look at certain things with greater precision.

While the analogy isn’t perfect (no analogy really is), one of the best ways I’ve found to describe attention is as a beam of light. To use a light effectively, there are a few things you have to know or learn how to do in short order. They are: turning it on, keeping it on, holding it still, switching it from one thing to another (and back), and turning it off.

Initiate
Attention first of all has to be initiated. That means getting started with a task: taking the first step, sitting down at your computer, getting behind the wheel. This is easy enough for most of us most of the time. However, all of us know what it’s like to be so overwhelmed by a task that we don’t know where to begin.

Imagine looking at a messy room, messy house, or driveway full of snow. It can be dispiriting enough to postpone any action taken to make it better, and the more we postpone, the bigger the task becomes in our mind. The garage. The tax return. Ugh.

Now imagine that life itself felt like a messy room. Imagine everything feels like a chore, but not so much because you’re depressed (although you may also be), but because you have such a hard time identifying a time and place to begin.

Imagine also that, as for most of us, once you get started things flow smoothly. Once someone sits you down in front of the computer your novel or dissertation pours out; it’s just getting to your desk that’s the problem. Imagine that your taxes or billing do themselves once someone forces you to do them.

In many cases, you may even forget how burdensome the task seemed once you’re on a roll. What’s up with that? Why is it that all you seem to need in life is a nudge, a more or less gentle push to get going? Why is it that, in order to focus your attention on something, someone or something has to direct it for you?

You start to wonder, at whatever age, what makes you so different from everybody else.

Sustain
Once you’ve turned the attentional light on, your next job is to keep it on. For most of us, attention is like a flashlight with a full battery: once on, stays on. Recharge every so often, but no real effort is required to keep it going once it’s going.

Now imagine that instead of a solid-state battery you have a manual one. You know, the kind with a crank you have to turn by hand to charge a battery. Imagine further that your battery only holds charge for a few seconds, which forces you to crank and crank and crank just to be able to see where you’re going on a dark night.

All of us know how hard it is to keep focusing on a boring lecture, passage, or person. Now imagine the whole world felt like a boring lecture. No, you’re not sleepy, but everything seems to require so much mental effort.

Let’s say starting tasks isn’t hard, it’s just slogging through them that kills you. At any time of the day there’s any ton of things you’d rather be doing. Problem is, once you’re doing them, you want to be doing anything else.

You have a hard time explaining an odd paradox to yourself, to say nothing of everyone else: while just about every task feels odious enough to avoid at all costs, you’re not at a state of mental rest. Quite the opposite, you feel deeply restless inside.

And despite society’s reasoned judgment that you must be lazy, you know you have mental energy. How else would you, in many cases, have such a rich fantasy life?

What you don’t understand is why life gave you a crank-operated cell where everyone else seems to have a battery. Your task, growing up, is to find some explanation for this that doesn’t cost you your self-esteem.

Inhibit
As if things couldn’t get more complicated, you sometimes come into places where they tell you to turn that (at times bleeping) attentional light off. Don’t look! Or at least don’t be obvious about it.

Worse, there are times and places where you’ve not only managed to start a task, and are off and running with it, when along comes someone telling you to stop. Pencils down. Our time is up. Sorry, but I forgot to mention that I’m married.

Ouch. That’s when we find ourselves hitting the brakes, and surprise, surprise: not all of us have the same brand and kind of brakes. Some of us can bite our tongue better than others, not blurt out the answer or secret to the magic trick, keep from telling the semantically or socially inappropriate anecdote, or get dressed and shimmy down the fire escape faster than others.

People call you “impulsive,” and wonder why you can’t be like everyone else. You may or may not be fidgety. Depending on how old you are when people start noticing this, and depending on how much neuropsychology they know, you might start wondering what’s wrong with you, as well.

Shift
Let’s say you can do everything else with your light – turning it on, turning it up, turning it off – but moving it back and forth really kills you. Over here, no, over here – why are two people trying to have separate and simultaneous conversations with you in each ear?

For most of us, dichotic listening tasks are something we only encounter at parties or in laboratories. But imagine life being a series of relentless, contradictory, and incommensurable demands for an attention of yours that’s in constantly short supply.

Imagine you’re at the amusement park and you have to hit the clown’s nose with a water pistol in order to blow up your balloon. Now imagine you have to blow up three balloons: yours and your two neighbors’ and that time is running out. Ugh! You missed! You dropped the ball!

Imagine life being like that. Imagine that since you were a kid, you’ve hated transitions. One classroom to another, one car trip after another. You’re fine once you get used to it, but you’ve come to loathe the words “change of plans!”

Since you can remember, you’ve loved nothing more than sitting in a quiet, dimly lit room with a book, a phone, or your thoughts, but never the company of more than one. Imagine loving people but hating gatherings because being around more than one person at a time just drives you nuts.

Imagine being furiously jealous of and despising the person who can’t stop switching their gaze from you, the TV set, and the other people at the bar.

Imagine having to explain this to people over and over throughout your life. Imagine the toll it takes on you if this fact is brought to your attention by a teacher or parent in a less than compassionate way, at an early age.

Stay
Ok, now imagine you have the opposite kind of shifting difficulty. Instead of being unable to peel your light off one thing and attend to another, you can’t hold your light on one thing for more than a few seconds.

When you can’t, or have trouble doing so, here’s what you hear: “look at me, please,” “where is your mind right now,” “pay attention,” or “am I really that boring a date?”

All you know is that your mind is a grasshopper jumping around, and that it takes every effort on your part to keep your eyes or mind on one thing. You may or may not have figured out, or been told, that it helps to sit in the front row or take dates to the quietest, least visually stimulating places possible. You may or may not have found your way to nicotine, which really helps you focus, or to meditation.

You’ve known all you life you have a restless mind, but you wonder what could ever be done about it.

So here’s your handy-dandy acronym for the attentional functions: Initiate, Sustain, Inhibit, Shift, Stay = ISISS (n.b.: many folks leave off the last S for savings). Think light beam or spotlight and you’re off to the races. 🙂

Why is ADHD controversial?
Criticism of the diagnosis comes in many flavors. There are concerns about pathologizing ordinary differences between people, thus stigmatizing them, and an overreliance on medical solutions to everyday problems. There are also understandable concerns about the influence of the pharmaceutical industry in generating the science that medicine is based on.

There are also concerns about unfairly demonizing the video game industry. Today you may also encounter the belief that the diagnosis is entirely the result of poor teaching or classroom management, which suggests that its symptoms should disappear outside of the school environment.

ADHD can show up as impulsivity and/or one or more of the forms of inattention I described above. There are medicines one can take, as well as therapies that involves training the mind through meditation, mindfulness, or brainwave biofeedback.

So what’s the big deal?
The most common thing people face with attentional conditions is being labeled “lazy,” or “inattentive” as if it were a moral failure instead of a clinical condition. Of course the earlier this happens in someone’s life the greater the chance it will work its way into the self-esteem and become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Here’s a typical scenario: you’re told you’re of average to above-average intelligence, but that you don’t “apply yourself” in school. Nobody knows why they have to tell you or push you to do everything, or why everything overwhelms you. You don’t know why mental tasks that seem so easy for everyone else – reading a book all the way through, paying attention in class or in a conversation, revising an essay, checking your work – are all so much harder for you.

You don’t know why you can’t sit still, focus (unless you have a cigarette), keep from interrupting or blurting out the answers. All you know is that you act first and think later, and that this has cost you dearly throughout your life.

You may or may not get mad, at others, society, and/or yourself, and channel that rage in more or less appropriate ways. You could turn it outward and become an political leader or educator. You could also turn it inward and think less of yourself or your abilities.

Now because your society is still learning about all this, you’re at especially high risk for making the awful and incorrect assumption that your attentional challenges have anything to do with your overall intelligence. You may or may not act in accordance with what you’re being encouraged to believe about yourself, often by the people closest to you.

The easiest thing for your culture and you to do is assume your failure to meet cultural expectations with regard to output, efficiency, or focus can be remedied through exhortation and blame. The harder thing is to peel the pejoratives away, look at what’s happening, and suggest a solution.

A change of classrooms, some timely teaching tips administered in a non-threatening way, a more structured work or learning environment, medication, meditation, or a really cool new app for your phone all could be part of the solution and an end to your suffering.

But only if you believe that what’s happening to you is real, not a moral failing, and not just an inconvenient truth for someone else.