Written by Anton Zuiker since July 2000
Why mistersugar? Why a pig?
After nearly 10 years hosting my various websites with Textdrive, it’s time for me to move to a new web host — Textdrive will cease operations on March 14, 2014.
I’m hurrying to transfer my files to my new host. Please be patient if there’s any down time during this transfer.
For a decade, I worked passionately to build a conference, a community and an organization called ScienceOnline. This was in partnership with Bora Zivkovic, a partnership that became a friendship. Last fall, I was blindsided by the revelations of his behavior toward women. In October, November and December, I offered Bora my ear, my help and my compassion, in the hopes that he would make amends and changes. In writing my Jan. 1 blog essay, Roots and Bitters, I was attempting to juggle that compassion with my bitterness for how Bora treated women, how he had treated the community — including Karyn and me — and how our partnership was being pulled apart.
Posting my essay was wrong for many reasons, most especially because I have come to a very different understanding of sexual harassment, professional responsibility and Bora’s actions, which I do believe were wrong. I am sorry for posting my essay, but grateful for the lessons that I’ve learned since.
I deeply regret that my blog post, published without the knowledge of my fellow ScienceOnline board members, shook their trust in me. Scott Rosenberg, Meg Lowman and Mark Benerofe stepped up to assist ScienceOnline at a very difficult time, putting their reputations on the line in a show of support for the community and mission of ScienceOnline.
I wanted to remove the post from my blog in January, but understood that anything I did or said would only distract everyone from the planning of the ScienceOnline Together 2014 conference. The board requested that I keep the post online, so that production of the conference and the interactions of the attendees who had committed their valuable dollars and time were the focus — and not Bora. (Bora had no role or part in ScienceOnline or the planning of the conference after October 16, and from January 1 on, I severely limited my interactions with him; I continue to distance myself from him as I work through my bitterness and anger.) We needed to keep our focus so that ScienceOnline could survive in 2014 and move forward beyond that. I am sorry if this silence further confused you.
Under the direction of executive director Karyn Traphagen and with the guidance and assistance from board members Mark and Scott and Meg, we acted promptly to clarify the goals of the conference (especially that Bora would not be in attendance), review the community’s responses, seek third-party advice, strengthen the ScienceOnline code of conduct and harassment policies, and put in place focused programming on women in science at the start of the conference. We also added the opportunity for attendee-selected topic-driven conversations at the 90-minute Saturday lunch break. We knew that this was only a beginning.
In addition to the serious human issues facing this community, the organization was now at financial risk. Compounding the normal stress of organizing a major event, the timing of the revelations in October happened just after we completed major contractual commitments but conference registration process and sponsor relations were still being finalized. We had intense worries about the financial viability of the organization. My January post, I fully admit, set us back. The stress was palpable, and required us to have a laser focus on making sure the conference was a success.
Thankfully, hundreds of individuals came together last week to enjoy the conference, and confirmed that there’s important work yet to be done to advance the mission of ScienceOnline — to cultivate the ways we (organization AND community) conduct, share and communicate science on the Web. As in each of the past seven years, ScienceOnline Together 2014 was a success because of the many attendees, longstanding sponsors and new supporters, speakers, discussion moderators and volunteers who committed their time, resources, experiences, expertise, talents and willingness to learn. I am grateful to all who helped to make ScienceOnline Together 2014 a success.
Karyn’s efforts were herculean. I want to thank her for her support as a co-founder, a board member and a friend. Her wisdom and leadership skills, combined with everyone who participated and collaborated at the conference, give me optimism for what ScienceOnline can accomplish in the decade to come.
And now it is time for me to remove Roots and Bitters, because I can no longer stand behind those words.
Furthermore, I know this: I am burned out, and I need a break. The stress of the last six months has made it painfully clear that it’s time for me to step back. This includes taking a social media sabbatical, and focusing more intently on my family, my health and my job.
Several months ago, I concluded that it is time for me to make room for others to lead the organization. Prior to the conference, I informed the board of my plan to step away from ScienceOnline at the end of this month. Effective March 28, 2014, I will be resigning my position as chairman of the ScienceOnline Board of Directors, and transitioning to a new (non-voting) role — details still to be worked out — that will allow me to stay involved in an advisory role, and as a founder and champion of the ScienceOnline story.
When I look back on the history of ScienceOnline, I am immensely proud. At the outset, I wanted to believe that individuals who connected online could come together for meaningful face-to-face conversations, and that our interactions about science would further strengthen online connections, civility, conversations and collaborations. And we have done that. Nurturing a community and building ScienceOnline over the last decade has been hard work, but I am glad to have dedicated these years to ScienceOnline.
Thanks to all of you who have been so supportive in pushing ScienceOnline forward and helping us in this difficult year. I hope you will continue to do that as ScienceOnline goes on the road — to southern California this summer with ScienceOnline Brain, and then to Atlanta next February for ScienceOnline Together 2015 — and on into the future.
I’ll be off the social web for awhile. If you wish to reach me sooner, please send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This post has been retracted. Please read A retraction, stepping back, and looking forward for an update. — Anton 3/5/2014
I want to write and record a song. I don’t know how to write songs, but I want to learn. I like to sing, and my children sing and dance all the time around the house. We’ll have to find a musician to work with us — maybe my Uncle John, the bluegrass fan, or David Kroll, who recorded Minister of Ether. Or maybe there’s a class or a workshop I can attend. I’m starting to take notes and outline ideas for a song. Stay tuned.
Met a friend yesterday, over at his home. First time I’d been there. I went with Erin and the children, and spent a lovely morning with my friend and his wife and children. Didn’t want the morning to end.
My friend and his wife recommended the new Ben Stiller movie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. They suggested we see it on the huge Extreme Digital screen at the Cinemark at Valley View. So we went today with the kids and cousins and my father-in-law. I enjoyed the film and its homage to film photography and magazines and imagination and adventures and making a moment last. I like Stiller’s humor, and I loved the huge screen.
At breakfast with another friend this morning, a discussion about the Cedar Point Chaussee, a causeway that goes out to the roller coaster-heavy amusement park an hour west of Cleveland. We wondered about the word chaussee, but of course Wikipedia has the answer
… an historic term used in German-speaking countries for early, metalled, rural highways, designed by road engineers, as opposed to the hitherto, traditional, unpaved country roads.
Meanwhile, I’ve spent the past week trying to locate another Cleveland friend, but I can’t find him, and I’m getting worried. I’ve listened to his answering-machine message a dozen times. Hope he returns soon and allays my fears.
Another friend is back home in North Carolina. I’ve been working on a long post about our friendship for more than a month now, and I rewrote it yet again today, hoping I can find the right message and tone and timing to share my observations.
UPDATE: Found my friend. He’s alive.
This week, I mentioned using Medium, and noted the nice way that writers, editors and readers can add comments to each paragraph, instead of comments at the bottom of a post.
I’ve encountered footnotes in other ways this week.
I was reminded of a class I took in college, on Latin American dictators in literature. (I mentioned the class in this previous post about One Hundred Years of Solitude). One of the books on the reading list was I, the Supreme, by Augusto Roa Bastos. It was a novel, but used extensive footnotes to tell another perspective to the fictional story. I went looking for my copy of the book, but I think I actually got rid of it this summer.
The book I’m reading now, The Telling Room – A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World’s Greatest Piece of Cheese by Michael Paterniti, is nonfiction. Paterniti uses footnotes to add additional details and commentary to his story/travelogue/profile/food-writing. The other night, I came upon page 180, where a footnote begins, then spawns eight more footnotes within, spanning the bottoms of three pages. I think Paterniti was having a laugh on his readers, but we get the joke, because it fits his tale of a Spanish storyteller supreme.
I would endow ScienceOnline so that the organization would continue — far into the future — to gather and support all those doing, sharing and promoting science on the Web. (Until then, your donations are most appreciated. Please give $20.14 today – start here and click the Donate button.)
I would fund the BlogTogether Community Service Awards, and give them every year, celebrating those individuals and groups using blogs and social media to advocate for honesty, integrity, fairness and justice, and who make our communities (online and in the world) better places to live and interact.
I would help Jeff and The Monti, and my colleagues at Duke Medicine, make Voices of Medicine a national program that gives patients, their families and their medical caregivers ways to share stories of life, healing, loss and tenderness.
I would invite you all to The Long Table for dinner and slivovitz and long, leisurely conversation.
And I would take care of mom and dad and my brothers, and my wife and my children and my friends.
And I would share the rest with those who are hungry or lonely or homeless or in need.
In fact, I’d probably end up with just this dollar coin in my pocket, but I’d be satisfied.
I’m working on a very long essay now.
Then I used iA writer to expand those ideas into a first draft.
Then I copied that first draft into Draft, and edited and rewrote a couple more versions.
Then I copied the essay into Medium. Medium has a new update, with some new formatting options.
I previously posted two essays to Medium, about dengue fever and Lucky the Cow. But, I’ve kept my distance from Medium, for one reason I won’t go into, and for another reason: I want to own and control my own content, and so I keep most of my blogging here at mistersugar.com.
But I was tempted by the full-width image placement, and using the updated Medium has actually been kind of fun. It’s easy to format my writing with photos and pullquotes and section heads. This reminds me of being a high school editor of the literary journal New Pennies, and learning to cut and paste galley pages.
It also reminds me of learning to use Pagemaker on Macintosh computers in the back-room computer lab of the Carroll News, my college newspaper. I’d be there late at night, joined by a young English professor named Mark Winegardner, who used the Macs to design posters to promote the writers he was bringing to campus — Tim O’Brien, Robert Stone and John Edgar Widemann, among others — while I designed pages of the newspaper or my latest Zuiker Chronicles (Anton Edition) newsletter to send to family and friends. It also reminds me of learning HTML to create Zuiker Chronicles Online and the Coconut Wireless.
All of these experiences, and tools, have helped make writing easier and design fun. Yeah, I know professional designers do it better, and that in Medium we’re not really designing, since the company has structured it to their design styles. But even these limited tools for text formatting and image layout give enough options to make an author feel in control of the product. Oh, and the ability to place comments alongside paragraphs, and to invite friends and colleagues to review and offer editorial advice before an essay is public, are also very nice.
I hope to have this new essay in Medium ready to be public in a few days.
I’m also putting the essay into a self-hosted Ghost blog to see how that new blogging tool compares.
I’ve just read that the makers of iA Writer have a new, more powerful writing-and-editing tool available. It’s called Writer Pro. I’ll buy it in the morning (not available for U.S. purchase until midnight) and try it on another set of ideas that I’ve outlined in Fargo.
btw, Om Malik’s reflections on how blogging has changed over the 12 years he’s been doing is quite insightful.
I had the honor and privilege of participating in a social media panel discussion — Academics and Unseen Publics: Approaches to Putting Yourself and Your Work Online — at Duke University earlier this month.
As the room filled and people ate their free lunch, I chatted with my longtime blogger-friends Cara Rousseau, Jeff Cohen and Jean Ferguson, and briefly glanced at the monitor in the side room to see that the World Cup 2014 draw was taking place. (I learned later that the U.S.A. drew the Group of Death. Go Netherlands!)
When it was time to start, and since I was seated at the end of the table, I got to speak first, introducing myself and sharing a few minutes of my online story. But the best part was listening to the other panelists: Gary Bennett, Kieran Healey, Caitlin Margaret Kelly, Robin Kirk, Ava Lowrey and moderator Paolo Mangiafico. Each has been online for a long time, and each has used blogs and images and social media tools to do good: Kelly featured photos of women living with HIV, Lowrey as a 15-year-old in Alabama created the Peace Takes Courage website for her 120+ videos about the war in Iraq, Healy found Paul Revere, Kirk advocates for human rights, Bennett explores and expands our understanding of obesity, and Mangiafico encourages open-access publishing. Listening to their stories and experiences was humbling.
As Paolo and others in the room asked their questions, and we panelists answered with more reflections, our comments kept touching on issues of identity and online persona, and of juggling professional, academic and personal interests. I had been taking notes throughout the discussion, and I started to jot an outline of something to say about online codes of conduct (yes, as usual, I was going to mention the points in my 2006 essay, When blogging, face the conversation.) But then I found myself thinking — Who do I want to be? and How do I want to be? — and I realized that, from my earliest days blogging, my approach to those two questions has been the heartbeat of my online activities. So I mentioned that to the room, trying to explain that I’ve consistently wanted to represent the fullness of my self and interests and experiences (the Who), and that it is the second question (the How) that is the one I most focus on, because I want all my words and actions, online or off, to make me a person of honesty, integrity, fairness and justice. This goal, I said, is reflected in my version of the golden rule: I want to blog about others as I would like others to blog about me.
(On a long phone call the other night, a colleague and I got to talking about a single word that, to me, is so hard to define but that beautifully describes a life lived in honesty and integrity and fairness and justice: grace.)
(My focus on honesty and integrity and fairness and justice predates my online activity, because those values have been the foundational values of my entire existence, instilled in me by my parents and grandparents, my pastors and coaches, my friends and my spouse. And these values, and a life of grace, are what I hope I’m teaching my own children.)
After I shared my thoughts, I sat back and continued listening to my co-panelists. Still, part of me kept processing the idea of integrity through words and actions. (Nelson Mandela, who died at age 95 the day before, was on a lot of our minds.) Still further, a part of me for the last couple of months has been grappling with the question of how silence and inaction might undermine integrity, because, as I explained in my spoken This I Believe essay, my online voice has been shaken by the travails of my friend Bora and an ensuing discussion about the trials of women in science — and, really, women in general — who are not treated with honesty or integrity or fairness or justice.
To be honest, I want my actions — including and especially my interactions with women, minorities, those in need or persons who get missed — to speak louder than any words I might utter or write. Not that I don’t know the power of words. When I was in high school, twin cousins of mine, who were a year ahead of me and explosive wrestlers, joked that I might not be as physical and fearsome as they were, but I did have the ability to “hit ‘em with a verb.” Since before high school, though, I’ve strived be a pacifist, in word and deed. As I’ve written before (in my essay about wanting to be a priest and a father), I wanted to use my voice to teach and tell stories. When Erin and I got married, the gospel reading at our wedding mass was Matthew 25:31-46 (“I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat…I was a stranger and you invited me in…”). Words to live by. But the Christian gospels are also filled with examples of doubt. Naturally, I ask myself, often, Am I doing enough?
Anyway, a woman in the room had asked about strategies for dealing with online comments and abuse, and Ava Lowrey was telling about the sexist comments and death threats she got as a teenage blogger, and I was writing at the top of my notes: “women online, society – injustice – must fight this.” Then, Kieran Healy was adding that a strategy of thick skin and ignoring the trolls can work for some, but for others dealing with hostile online commentary can have a real personal cost. I recognized the anodyne life I’ve lived online, yet I also understood immediately and intuitively that Kieran and Ava and the other panelists were highlighting (for me) a challenge to act on the opportunities to stand up, speak out and make way for others.
And at that point, I realized that what I had told the room at the very beginning — that what I do and say online is intended to get people having face-to-face conversations that build stronger and more peaceful communities — is a way of being that I must continue. And through this, and the people I meet, I shall strive to find the words to advocate for justice and fairness, and the actions that help others to find grace that makes beauty out of ugly things.
At one point during the panel, Robin Kirk mentioned that she goes offline each Friday evening and Saturday for an internet sabbath. Last month, I’d urged something similar, at least for the day after Thanksgiving. On that day — the National Day of Listening — I went to the cafe with my father so that I could listen to him tell me more about his life and the lessons he’s learned. The next day, he and Dot (they were married soon after they visited me and Erin in Vanuatu) watched our children so Erin and I could go across the Triangle for a night away at the luxurious Umstead Hotel and Spa. Erin challenged me to unplug, and I must say, being offline — and dripping in the steam room — was very nice. An internet sabbath seems like a very good ritual.
At work, I’ve (finally) completed an annual report publication for the Duke Department of Medicine. The report features numerous examples of collaboration and scientific partnerships that drive much of the Department’s success, and yet only scratches the surface of daily activities there.
I feel so lucky to work at Duke, and I am grateful for the opportunity to work as communications director for the Department of Medicine, serving Dr. Mary Klotman and the 1250 other physicians, researchers, medical residents and fellows who care for patients and explore and extend biomedical science.
I thanked Dr. Klotman for my job at the start of my May 2013 Voices of Medicine story, about malaria and acute dystonic reactions and reading all of the fine print of the medication insert. Listen below.