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cuban artLast November, I went to Havana with a bunch of HR professionals. We had an excursion to the National Museum of Fine Arts, which houses an impressive collection of Cuban art.

Lots of good stuff in there. If you’re in Havana, check it out. I wasn’t there long enough to truly appreciate the accumulation of Cuba’s greatest artworks, but I enjoyed the tour.

Some of my colleagues were impressed with what they saw and wanted to buy artwork to bring home. Unfortunately, there are strict export laws from Cuba. Americans can’t just purchase a painting and leave the island. You need permission to go home with artwork of any kind.

Weird, right?

I didn’t understand the implications of the law until we toured smaller art galleries and realized that everybody in Cuba is an artist. The government subsidizes an underemployed society where people can explore their creativity, which means that the bad art per capita is off the charts.

We spent a day walking around a colony called Las Terrazas, and another touring ArteCorte, a neighborhood that is home to hair salons that also serve as galleries. Yes, you can get your hair cut surrounded by artwork in Cuba.

It was interesting to see how many of the local artists are influenced by Western European and American “masters.” I can also see how Cubans are trying to reclaim an Afro-Caribbean identity that’s been stolen from them. Makes sense.

But what I really see is how an American embargo left Cuba so impoverished that an authoritarian regime pays its citizens to make art because it’s incapable — and maybe afraid — of making entrepreneurs.

Phew, art! Lots of complicated stuff has been happening behind the scenes to create a culture where people are okay with Fidel Castro, food rations, and bad cat sculptures.

So let’s just say I wasn’t going to violate the export laws and sneak any Cuban art home.

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A few weeks ago, I tried to connect with a woman on LinkedIn. Nothing good comes from being online, but I’m trying to meet new people. She is an accomplished leader who works for a successful venture capital firm. We have many friends in common, and her name has popped up in recent conversations.

LinkedIn seems to know this, too, because it suggested that we connect. So I did what the internet told me to do: I clicked a button and went back to my normal life. I hoped she would say yes. I wanted to follow up with a phone call.

A day later, this woman responded back to my request with a LinkedIn message telling me that she uses LinkedIn to connect with people she already knows IRL. She suggested that we use email to chat. Then she denied my request to connect.

LI FAIL

Uhm, okay.

It’s nice that she responded, but it’s also amazing how people create arbitrary rules for technology platforms and expect others to play along. This educated, talented woman took the time to decline my request, write back via LinkedIn, and instruct me to use email in the future without any consideration as to how I might prefer to connect.

What if I only use email for my personal friends and people I know IRL? What if LinkedIn is my go-to platform for enterprise communication? And is this what happens in 2016? Are we doomed by the biases and preferences we bring to technology? If we only communicate on rigid terms, will we ever communicate at all?

These questions are important to me.

Then I went on Facebook and saw a woman in my network who announced that she just subscribed to Snapchat and was having trouble figuring it out. The comments are something else. Here’s a screenshot.

SC FAIL

It’s a beautiful, elegant, post-modern digital portrait of poor communication run amok.

When you’re on Facebook complaining about Snapchat and almost nobody is being helpful, you should probably put down your mobile device and take a walk outside. Sit this one out. Be excited for the next leap in technology.

So here’s what I know: I’m on my phone reading all this shit and wondering about the impact on communications and interpersonal relationships. And I’m using one platform to watch people talk about another platform while being monitored by multiple websites that listen to me through my mobile device, track my activity, sell my information, and tell me that I matter because I’m connected.

Connected to what, exactly?

What a phenomenal waste of my time and my life. And what a waste of yours, too.

That’s why I’m taking my own advice, sitting out these minor social media iterations, and waiting for the next big thing that isn’t wrapped up in consumerism and behavioral psychology.

And I’m going outside for more walks.

You should, too.

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Working from home can be a lonely and isolating experience if you let it. Here are some ways to ensure you don’t go crazy.

1. Have some animals in your house. It’s easy to sit on your butt for 10 hours, but cats and dogs will bother you for food and attention. Animals force you to get up and away from the computer about 100 times an hour.

2. Talk to somebody new each day. There are periods of time when I only talk to my husband and my cats, which is unhealthy. I can feel my brain grow mushy. Set the goal of speaking to one new person each day to ensure that your conversational skills don’t shrink.

3. Keep the TV off. There’s nothing more depressing and isolating than watching daytime television.

4. Eat lunch outside of your home when you can. Even when I’m eating by myself, it still forces me to interact with the world.

5. Run at least one errand each day during business hours. First of all, it feels good to be out when other chumps are working. Suckers! But, more importantly, run your errands when your productivity levels are low. Get off the internet. Why not make use of your downtime by hitting the dry cleaners or the gym?

6. Volunteer during the day. You have a minute. You can be helpful. Not-for-profits love it when people have free time during business hours.

7. Have a Skype date. Do you hate video conferencing? Do you hate looking at the screen like a hostage victim? Yeah, Skype and Google Hangouts are universally wonky and unflattering. Get on there, anyway, and make eye contact with someone.

8. Join a local association. There are thousands of people just like us — working from home, sitting around, and not talking to anybody. Many organizations host meetings, breakfasts, networking opportunities, and all sorts of structured ways to interact with people without wasting a lot of time. And sometimes it’s nice to have a free meal and learn something new, too.

Working from home is awesome, but being alone all day can manifest agoraphobic behaviors in even the most extroverted people.

Get out, get moving, and get talking to other human beings. Don’t be like me — the kind of unhealthy woman who prefers talking to her cats over people.

Although my cats are awesome and pretty. Just listen. They’ll tell you so!

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I’m giving a commencement speech at my alma mater in London on July 14th.

I don’t think my husband can make it, but Jennifer McClure will join me. And I have enough friends in London that one of them will surely record the speech. I promise to share the video once it’s live. I can’t wait to watch myself say awkward things to a bunch of graduates who are bummed that my college couldn’t score a bigger blogger.

(Sorry, kids, but The Bloggess isn’t an alum of Regent’s University. I’ll do my best to be brief, but I’m compelled to spend at least ten minutes telling you how to live your lives. Welcome to adulthood.)

I have no idea how to give a commencement speech, but there are plenty of inspirational speeches on Facebook. Unfortunately, I took Facebook off my phone during the month of June. So I asked a bunch of friends to tell me where to find the best commencement addresses.

My friend, Ita Olsen, likes this speech by Jim Carrey. Tim Sackett referred me to the always popular Wear Sunscreen speech by Mary Schmich of the Chicago Tribune. And other friends sent me multiple links to Michelle Obama and Steven Spielberg, which were good to watch and read.

I also went back and watched President Obama give the commencement address at Kalamazoo Central High School, which is particularly moving to watch given the fact that we’re nearing the end of his presidency. Boy, he was so young. We really ruined that guy, didn’t we?

Obama talks about personal responsibility, which is boring and safe, but he gives a lot of love to the parents and students in the room. I’m definitely copying that move.

I’m still writing my speech, but I know this much: it’s not in my DNA to be emotionally heavy-handed and deliberately inspirational. At best, I hope to honor the graduates by saying something helpful. At worst, I hope they remember that they had a commencement speaker and she wasn’t terrible.

If I land somewhere in the middle, the day is a success.

Most importantly, I hope to convey that it’s an absolute privilege to share someone’s graduation day. I’m happy to have been asked. It’s been twenty years since I attended Regent’s University London, and it was one of the happiest times of my life.

I’m excited to meet the class of 2016 and hear their stories. Wish me luck!

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I’m not one for sentimentalism — except when I am. You know what makes me sentimental? The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

My husband and I went there before we were married, and we argued about the validity of modern art. For the record, I liked Rauschenberg and Oldenburg. My husband wanted to throw his car keys and pager in the corner of the museum and call it art.

(Then some kid did it!)

The moment when my boyfriend-now-husband made fun of modern art? It was the first time in our relationship when I thought, “This isn’t going to work out.”

I cried my guts out in a parking lot. He consoled me. Then we made out and went over to the Golden Gate Bridge. That was eighteen years ago, and we still laugh about that visit.

So I went back to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, last week, and tried not to be too emotional. The problem with nostalgia is that focusing on the past limits your ability to make new memories. It’s fun to look back on the good times, but it’s important to create space for new adventures.

I missed my husband as I walked through the museum, but I always miss him. I don’t need an art exhibit to remind me of his absence when we’re apart. I sent him a bunch of texts and photos in order to describe the museum’s recent renovation and expansion. He sent me updates about the cats. Life is good.

In fact, I felt encouraged that things were different at the museum. It was a relief to experience something new. Whereas nostalgia is stagnant and lifeless, modern and contemporary art tells a different story every time we approach the artwork.

So you can have your romance with the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay. Go ahead and worship the Dutch Masters and the French Impressionists. I love them, too. But in the confines of my quiet life, I choose the overwhelming uncertainty of modern and contemporary art over nostalgia and sentimentalism.

I want new life experiences. Is that too much to ask?

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I gave up alcohol for 31 days. This is no big deal for most people, but it’s a big deal for me. It’s not like I’m a hardcore alcoholic; however, I think that’s what every hardcore alcoholic has said at one point in her life. Why wait until I hit rock bottom?

(But I mostly gave up alcohol because it was time to kickstart my fitness goals.)

The verdict? It was harder than giving up coffee but less complicated than giving up meat.

Here’s what I learned.

1. I haven’t learned a goddamn thing. That’s what the experts say, anyway. The first 31 days are all about adjusting to a new version of normal.

2. It helps to talk about it. I’m sure my family and friends are sick of hearing about this process, but I needed to share my experiences and be held accountable. My friends were supportive and instrumental in my success.

3. Alcohol makes me anxious and tense.  Everybody in my life is like, “You don’t say?”

4. Alcohol makes me hot. More specifically, feverish. My head gets sweaty. It’s a common complaint among women, which offers some comfort. I’m struggling to metabolize sugar.

5. I’m sleeping better without drinking. Full stop.

6. I lost some weight, although that’s not a goal. This is a future reminder that I need to stop weighing myself.

7. Dependence on anything is tedious and boring. If I need alcohol to attend a party or networking event, maybe I shouldn’t go to that party.

8. The journey never ends. Maybe I’ll have another drink ASAP and maybe I won’t. The key is to be mindful. (Too bad I hate being mindful.) Overindulging in anything — books, food, people, technology — leaves me feeling bloated and disoriented.

So, yeah, I have a new list to tackle in June. I’m removing the social media apps on my phone. My husband is joining me in quitting cable news for thirty days. These goals won’t change the world, but we might elevate our communication in the house if we start paying attention to how we use our time.

I wonder what you’d give up for thirty days if you had a solid support network and a safe space to talk about it? What’s the first thing you’d quit?

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I’m just back from a few days in San Francisco. A friend asked, “Want to do SoulCyle?”

My first reaction was to blow off the invitation because I’m not the kind of woman who does SoulCycle. In my head, people who take spin classes are super-fit and positive. They’re tall, confident, and know how to get tickets to Hamilton.

Then I was like — Oh my God. I’m a moron.

While my friend is amazing and sets goals and achieves a lot of cool things in her life, she’s not going to ask me to do something that I can’t do. She doesn’t want me to die of embarrassment and shame.

I stuck with my original answer of no, but I sorta faced my anxieties and went to SoulCycle by myself in a neighborhood called Cow Hollow. There was an Equinox gym, a Lululemon store, a Lucy shop, and a few other fitness-related businesses on the same street.

(I did not fit in, but I persevered.)

The process of getting started at SoulCycle is easy. You give them $30, and they are nice to you. They smiled and said a lot of encouraging things about an experience that looked like it might kill me.

(If only everything worked that way!)

Doing a spin class like this can be intimidating because the class is held in the dark, and the room is heated to about 85 degrees. It’s hot yoga with loud, trendy music. I hauled myself up on a bike, and I was given one rule — if you can’t do something in class, just keep pedaling forward.

So that’s what I did for forty-five minutes. I tried to follow the class, and when I couldn’t, I just sat back down in the saddle and kept pedaling. The instructor kept telling me that I’m beautiful and fucking amazing, which always feels good to hear.

(I am beautiful. Perfection is a lie. I am fucking amazing. Here’s another $30. Tell me again.)

At the end of the class, the instructor asked us to do some yoga stretches on the bike. It’s choreographed beautifully. I’d like to think my pilates and yoga practices paid off, but I was wearing some fancy bike shoes and couldn’t get my left foot out of the clip. So I just let it go and sat there for a few more minutes. Nobody died.

Anyway, I’m glad I tried SoulCycle. We don’t have one in Raleigh, but we do have FlyWheel. It’s a competitor founded by one of the original owners of SoulCycle, so that’s on my list of things to try.

It felt good to try something new and not entirely suck. Thanks for asking, Sarah-Beth. Next time we can go together!

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Visiting Chicago is a challenge for me. I was born and raised in the area until I was seventeen. Then I moved back in my twenties for a few years.

I know so many fun people in my life and have good memories in that city. On the other hand, I have a lot of misplaced anxiety that serves no purpose and makes me weird.

If you’re a basic bitch, you take all that negative energy and make poor choices. If you’re me, you’re still a mess; however, you try to create new memories to replace the old ones.

This past weekend, I flew into Chicago for 30 hours to see my girlfriend and walk through Frank Lloyd Wright homes. We had been planning this for at least six months, although we’ve been talking about this event forever. And it was an excellent cultural experience, although it was initially stressful. Beyond the fact that I’ve been on the road too much and wasn’t excited about cramming in a weekend in Chicago, I also had to prepare my marathon (also in Chicago — October 2016) by running for 1:40 minutes before our home tour.

It was rough.

I woke up at the ass-crack of dawn. I accidentally packed my husband’s running socks, so I wore them. I didn’t bring my stash of running snacks, so I grabbed some Twizzlers from the hotel gift shop (in case my blood sugar levels felt sketchy). And I ran the best I could for a woman who’s been in three hotel rooms in four days.

It’s like — exercise? At this ungodly hour? Please. Let me sleep in this stuffy hotel room for twenty more minutes.

But running is one of a limited number of ways that I can live with my general anxiety disorder and not stab someone in the face. And if there’s any place that makes me feel stabby, it’s in Chicago. So I woke up and found some peace in the woods.

Beautiful morning for my first long run of the marathon season. #chicagomarathon #runchi

A photo posted by Laurie Ruettimann (@lruettimann) on

Next time, I’ll pack better socks.

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government of the peopleI’m just back from Philadelphia, a scrappy Midwestern city on the east coast of America.

Philadelphia is known for art, and more specifically, sculptures. So I took a walk and tried to take in as many sculptures as possible in a few hours. It was raining and very dreary, which was a challenge, but I was determined to see some art.

One of the weirdest sculptures I saw was Government of the People by Jacques Lipchitz. It was created in 1976, and you can tell that it’s a product of the 1970s at first glance.

It’s ugly.

I’m not a fan of surreal art, which means I’m definitely not the audience for this piece. Call me old-fashioned, but I dislike protruding limbs and heads. I’m not a fan of detached body parts that are weirdly sized, and I’m not alone. I read that the mayor tried to withhold the funds for its final commission back in 1976.

(I also read that the mayor was a jerk, but I don’t know anything about that.)

But here we are, today, with a lumpy bronze sculpture near Philadelphia’s city hall. I spent some time trying to figure out what I might like about the sculpture if I weren’t so freaked out by the bulges and the body parts. Turns out, I just don’t like anything about it. That’s okay. I’ll just go look at something else.

So thanks but no thanks, Philly. I like much of your other outdoor art, but Government of the People wasn’t for me.

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There’s a conspiracy theory out there that the CIA has been involved in drug trafficking since the 1960s.

Starting with America’s involvement in Southeast Asia (remember that old war?) through our current conflict in Afghanistan, people on the internet believe that the CIA moved drugs across the globe to impact political outcomes while simultaneously working to distribute crack cocaine in African American neighborhoods in Southern California and providing big pharmaceutical companies cover to hook middle-class Americans on painkillers.

So that’s a lot, right?

Those highly coordinated efforts by the CIA helped to install politicians, boosted the military industrial complex, and made billions of dollars for fat-cat corporatists whose for-profit prisons disproportionately imprisoned African American and Latino members of our society.

Seems crazy, does it?

That’s how I feel about social media.

I don’t think the CIA created social media to continue its historic and covert oppression of American citizens, but I don’t not think it.

Over the past decade, I’ve watched social media spread through our society like Nicaraguan cocaine in the 1980s. What was once exclusive and independent is now mainstream and interdependent. Through a highly sophisticated and coordinated dissemination of mobile devices, we’re all on our favorite social media channels trying to feed the addiction we have for ourselves.

That’s some seriously impressive CIA-level work.

Social media makes a lot of things worse, especially HR.

You know how there’s one really drunk or high person at a party who thinks she’s interesting but is really just a moron? That’s HR on social media. Anybody who tells you that Snapchat is the future of recruiting is high — and she also happens to be wrong. That’s the same lady who said LinkedIn was the future of recruiting. And before that, the fax machine.

While it might be true that today’s job seeker wants to learn more about your company on Snapchat, it’s also true that today’s job seeker might prefer to be paid in a brick of cocaine.

Just because you want something doesn’t mean you get it. Even El Chapo finally understands that.

So am I a social media conspiracy theorist?

I don’t think Twitter and Facebook are tools of the CIA, but I don’t not think it.

Power concentrated is power abused, as crazy-lady Carly Fiorina tells us. Hegemonic power loves people who are dumb, slow, and addicted to drugs and narcissism. That’s true when it comes to CIA drug trafficking or the executive leadership team of Snapchat.

So even if you’re not fully on board with my social media conspiracy theories, I hope you can check yourself before you wreck yourself. Social media changes our brains like heroin. Part-time browsing on Instagram and Pinterest probably won’t kill you. Reading posts on LinkedIn and Medium won’t harm the world. (Well, TBD.)

But nothing good comes from overindulgence and addiction, whether it’s an illegal substance or Snapchat.

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