Research #7: Why I quit Google Alerts (which seemed a very good idea at the time)

Every morning for the past few months I woke to find links to about 30-50 recent news articles that related in one way or another to homelessness.

If I didn’t get through them all in the morning – bookmarking some, printing out others, and trying to read through all the selected ones at least once – I tried to get through the rest of them in the late evening before bed.

I started and ended my day with lots of hard information – and harder news. And sometimes – surprisingly often – some good news, too.

(And in between, I was juggling the actual work on the book with my job at the shelter. )

Every day, all day was about homelessness.

But it started taking its toll. I dreaded turning on my computer first thing in the a.m. And found I was not sleeping well at night.

So I’ve quit. Not the job. Nor the book… as the deadline inches ever closer. But I have taken back control of what I read, download and absorb. (This on top of other materials and information that comes my way by other means.)

Now I do it on my time. With a break of some sort either before or after. 

I have cancelled the four alerts. Instead, every few days I very intentionally do a Google search, using one of three subject headings. I spend 45-minutes max. scrolling through, picking out the items that either reflect most closely the topic I am writing about or researching right now, or those that grab me because they offer something new I have not yet delved into.

Then I don’t do it again for another few days.

I have taken back control of what I read, download and absorb. And when.

Over the past three months there has been a lot of repetition in what Google Alerts have  thrown up. Homelessness resisters rally. Shelters get closed. Or open. People speak up. Businesses pitch in. Government set priorities. Researchers publish reports. Campers get moved on. Helpers step forward. Homeless people get fed, clothed, provided with medical attention, food, showers when they need it. Or not. People talk. Individuals tell their story. Or state their case. Children show compassion. Bureaucrats agonize or patronize. Funders provide money. Or withdraw it. Neighbours get up in arms. Or take up arms to help. People collect money. Videos get made. And panned or praised. Newspapers publish letters to the Editors…

I can’t get it all. I can’t read and absorb everything, and still have the energy to keep going.

I no longer dread opening my mail. Instead of being burdened by alerts, almost every day I am buoyed up by responses to my queries and requests. Yes. Please use our photos. Certainly, give me a call. Of course, I will connect you with the person you need to speak to. I am happy to forward that piece of information, study or contact info. Or you can find it here. Do let me know if you need anything more. Keep me posted. Keep going…

Google Alerts proved to be really useful, as long as I needed them

But I’m glad to be done with them, for now. So I can get on with my job, my book, and my life.


Working hard vs hardly working


Sometimes it’s just bloody hard work.

But that’s no reason to stop. 

I’d rather do something hard that was important to me, than drift on doing the easy stuff that just does not matter – to me or anyone else.

Even so. Sometimes this project is just bloody hard work. So I recall – once again – Anne Lamott’s story in her wonderful book Bird by Bird. 

“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. [It] was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said. ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'”

And I take her father’s advice to heart.

These days, when I sit down to work I don’t tackle the whole thing at once. I pick a topic, a section, just one simple fact I need to research or write about. And I ‘just get on with it,’ as my own mother might have suggested. 

(Building the book will come later, once I’ve had a chance to review all its various parts and figure out the best spot for each one.)

So today I’m reading up on street newspapers. 

There are more than 100 worldwide, I learned from the International Network of Street Papers’ website. The first one documented was in New York in 1989. But others in other cities may well have started earlier.

Street newspapers usually serve three purposes.

  1. The provide a small income for the sellers who buy them from the publisher at cost, and sell them at a small profit.
    (In the case of the Vancouver publication Megaphone, sellers pay 75 cents a copy and sell them for $2.00. Most of them working regular patches somewhere in the city, where their customer get to know them, and they get to know many of their customers.)
  2. They offer a voice for low-income and homeless people who get to contribute writing and artwork that documents and explores their own lives.
  3. The publications themselves serve to share information about homelessness and poverty-related issues, and advocate for change.

So today I read a few pages of research, wrote a few hundred words, contacted three street newspaper publishers and associations for pics, and in the process set one bird free. 

Excuse me now. I’ve got to fly.

birds