Getting my math right

I deleted my Facebook account yesterday — the account that I opened in 2007 when the social media juggernaut was just starting to roll out of its college-only birthplace. It was a place where I posted more than 9,900 times — more than twice a day for over 11 years. It was a place where I met countless friends and shared so much of myself that I often ended up feeling exposed and empty. It was a place where I could be my best self, but often opened doors to my worst.

In the end it had to go because it was the place where I went to for the affirmation that I needed the most. I lived for the likes — and let their pulse become one with my own.

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Dear Facebook, here are some new rules


Dear Facebook,

We’ve had this love-hate relationship for a while now. Just last week, I threatened to break up with you for good. I’ve tried so many ways of quitting you, only to return, IV needle in hand. It’s those bite-sized bits of information and affirmation you’ve got at your disposal, just enough of a hit to make me think I can’t live without you.

I’ve spent so much of my last 11 years plugged into your feed, much of it mindless scrolling. I’ve let you simultaneously command my attention and destroy my attention span. There is always something going on with you, never a breather to pay attention to anything or anyone else. I have trouble reading more than 20 pages in a book without you popping up in the back of my mind. I can’t get through a 30-minute sitcom with my son without wondering if you’ve doled out another like or comment.

That’s where the problem lives. I want my attention back — and you don’t have any intention of letting it go. Your sole purpose is to make it all about you.

2019 is going to be different. I’m reclaiming the intention in my attention.

You probably already know this, but I removed you from my phone. I’m sure it was a bit of a shock to know that you were no longer living at my fingertips, but I have to say it feels better. In just a few weeks, the urge for instant gratification is starting to wane. I’ve checked in once or twice a day via the web, so the withdrawls wouldn’t entice me into reinstalling you. I’ll consider this first step towards a healthier relationship with you a success.

Yes, that means I’m not going to completely break up with you. I’ve been sorely tempted, believe me, but then I’m reminded of the good things we’ve shared. The friends I’ve made through you. The networks you’ve helped me create. There’s still real value in our connection.

But we’re going to have some new rules (yes, just like Dua Lipa).

  • One: You will not return to my phone. We need our space. No more mindless interactions. Period.
  • Two: You’re no longer going to be the chronology of my life. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve found myself in conversation and realize I have nothing to share. I’ve shared it all already with you, and you’ve broadcast it out to the world. The world doesn’t need to hear from me umpteen times a day.
  • Three: You’re not going to be there with me in the moment. I’m going to start living for the experience, not the share.
  • Four: We’re going to spend quality time when we are together. I’m going to use the tools you’ve already provided to see what I need to see and avoid the rabbit holes — and I’m only going to share things I’ve had time to intentionally construct.
  • Five: We’re going to be a positive in the world. At our best, we’ve brought a positive light into the world. The things I share with you will carry that compassion and intent.

I know you’re likely snickering, Good luck, buddy. But here’s the deal. I’m done blindly giving you my attention. I know where the deactive button is and I’m no longer afraid to use it.






Who is authoring your personal checklist?

There’s something about the human brain and lists. We crave order, delineation, and bite-sized chunks of information. A decade of social media exposure has only intensified this natural urge in us. We’re bombarded with bullet points and listicles by which we can judge our lives.


I’ll often find myself falling into the judgement trap. We’re doing great. We got 8 out of 10 on this one. Our relationship passed the test! But …. wait … that’s only 80%. That’s a B-. That sucks. Nobody wants a B- minus relationship. Here’s another list, we got 90% on this one. Whew!

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To be or not to be … yourself


My Instagram feed is filled with affirmamemes, the embellished quotes that remind us to be kind to ourselves and not listen when the world insists we conform to some idealized notion of living. Many a day, they show up at the perfect time to provide a shot of emotional tonic.

They’re right — to a point.

We should live our lives as authentically as possible, and not let others define who we are or how we should live.

But taken to an extreme, the attitude they exude — this is me, take it or leave it — tips toward an arrogance that denies the possibility of a better version of us waiting to be created. We buy into their simple affirmations, feel good wrapped in their forgiveness, share them out into the ether as our flag planted in unshifting ground.

There’s a danger in drinking too much from the stream of affirmation, without taking a hard look in the mirror, having honest internal conversations, and making the course corrections we need to be better versions of ourselves.

Focusing through the social media noise


I sat in a small dark room. My ears were covered, creating an unnerving silence almost too loud to bear. A little bit of claustrophobia crept in, broken only by the sound of her voice. The contralto of Cruella de Vil, sliding into my ears.

I glanced at her from the corner of my eye, as beautiful as her voice is smooth. She sat behind a pane of glass, with a warm but distant smile.

“If you can hear the tone, please raise your hand.” Read More

Sharing of the little moments

We’ve had a string of nice sunrises and sunsets lately, but none of the drop everything and grab the camera variety.

I sat drinking coffee on Friday morning, enjoying the calm before I woke my son for school and I prepared for a day at work. Bright orange sun streamed through my apartment kitchen window, silhouetting the coleus cuttings I’m rooting in a water goblet.

Even from a distance, I could see the sky reflected in the bowl and stem of the glass, despite the windows being fogged with condensation. Read More

An eager soul, ready lens, and perpetually dirty gloves

Light from the dining room creeps a few feet into the darkness outside, revealing a smattering of soggy leaves on the back deck. It’s been raining here for about 24 hours. The calendar says October, but the air smells distinctively of spring. There’s no fooling me, though, for my internal clock strikes autumn.

In this part of the country, October is the beginning of the end. Within a few weeks, we’re sure to have a killing frost that will drag a pall over the growing season. Some gardeners dread this event. Not me. I relish the metamorphosis of autumn. Sometimes it’s far too abrupt, as if summer is ripped from our not-yet-satisfied fingertips. But change is good — a reminder that we should never become too accustomed to the status quo.

Autumn makes me reflective, my birth month of October especially so. This year, the changing season mirrors the change that has occurred in my life — a significant career move, more involvement in my son’s scouting and baseball activities, and stepping down after a ten-year stint on our neighborhood association board. There have been times this year where my garden — and this blog — felt like an afterthought.

I began 2012 with ambitious goals for this blog. You know what they say about the best laid plans? Mine certainly went astray, and I know why. I made plans — and a schedule — full of ambition, but not of passion. In doing so, I ended up imposing a have-to mentality on my photography and writing. I took a passionate hobby, one that has given me great satisfaction and afforded me the opportunity to meet amazing people and experience phenomenal places, and turned it into a job. By mid-summer,  the drought taxed my persistence in the garden and my blog posts felt increasingly like chores.

If I look back through the years of posts here at From the Soil, my favorite posts are spontaneous — inspired by a unique view of my own garden, the smell of fresh soil, a breathtaking sunset, a friend’s words, a family memory, or a simple expression on my son’s face. Spontaneity is not work; it has no schedule.

I believe that most writers and photographers have an innate need to share their experience of the world — and connecting with others through common inspiration. Both avocations are internally and individually therapeutic, but they have a necessary external component to them. From the Soil is my outlet, my way of describing and sharing those moments that inspire me — with the hope that those it reaches will share a little of themselves in return.

Spontaneity doesn’t punch a clock. Inspiration doesn’t post at the same time every day. Mine comes when I live life with my heart, mind and eyes wide open.  My promise to myself: Get back to living life. My promise to you: When inspiration graces me, I’ll do my best to share it with an eager soul, ready lens, and perpetually dirty gloves.

On the floor at the Independent Garden Center Show

I spent the last two days as a social media communicator at the Independent Garden Center Show on Navy Pier in Chicago. IGC is an annual trade show where owners and employees of independent garden centers (IGCs) have the opportunity to see what’s new in plant development and garden product manufacturing and place orders with the vendors for the upcoming sales season.

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Of hope and daffodils

A few weeks ago, we instituted a rule in our house where no one is allowed to use electronics between dinner and the time our son goes to bed. We had slipped into a pattern where the kid would play his Nintendo DS all evening, and my wife and I would cuddle up with our laptops, her on Hulu, me doing some form of social media. All of a sudden it would be bedtime, and we’d barely spoken a word to each other.
The no electronics rule has been a wonderful addition by subtraction. We are playing games together, reading books, and generally interacting more than we have in a long while. Despite the kid’s occasional “I can’t think of anything to do” or the serious temptation to pick up my iPhone just “to check in” with Facebook or Twitter, it has completely changed — for the better — how our family weekday evenings function.

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Comments and crickets

Life is a difficult thing to assess when you’re in the throes of it, so the painful and uncomfortable moments serve as a non-so-gentle reminder to gather yourself, step to higher ground, and gain fresh perspective on who you’ve become and where you’re headed. Last week, one of those moments made me realize that I needed to step back from a lifestyle that has completely dominated my existence of late. Social networking had become far too serious of an endeavor, and as a result, I had become acutely sensitive to nearly all my human interactions, online or otherwise. I was on edge, overreacting to the simplest nudge, tease or criticism. It was time for a serious break from active, almost real-time participation in Facebook and Twitter — my social networking drugs of choice.

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