Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Guest Post: Beyond the Bubble

This morning Tom Coale of HoCoRising wrote a post that stopped me dead in my tracks. Entitled "The Bubble" it is a frighteningly accurate indictment gentle reminder to those of us who live in The Bubble, which he describes as follows:

The Bubble is "us". It is the 500 to 800 people across the County that pay attention to hyper-local politics, talk about hyper-local politics, and can name at least three members of the Board of Education (if we were a club, that would be the pass-code). We pay attention to each and every move a candidate makes and will look at campaign literature more than once after it arrives in our mailbox. If you're reading this, you are at the pinnacle of the bubble - you cannot get enough of this stuff.

The gentle reminder is that the Bubble isn't everything, and that it can distort reality. This post really made me stop and think. I had plans for what I was going to post today but suddenly I wanted to stop and rethink.

Shortly afterwards my friend Ian posted his own response to Tom's post. It is such a perfect companion piece that I asked permission to share it here today.


Tom says it's 500-800; I usually say 500; and a very knowledgeable observer I talked to last week said 200. Regardless of the exact size, there is absolutely a "bubble" of people who are deeply versed and invested in local politics—this is true everywhere, though Howard County's idiosyncrasies make our bubble its own beautiful, one-of-a-kind snowflake.

The bubble can be good and bad, but Tom nails the fact that, especially during elections, the bubble distorts our perspective. Have you ever looked through an actual bubble? Sure, everything you see exists, just not in the way the bubble makes it appear.

I spent a lot of time about as deep in the bubble as you can get, but despite continued involvement in community matters—both personally and professionally—I've moved to the fringe of the bubble recently. I think some folks in the bubble have noticed; others may have not. This movement has been, I think, both conscious and sub-concious.

I obviously still care deeply about our community and our opportunities but what I've found myself doing is trying to separate my work and my ideals from my emotions. The bubble makes that hard. The bubble asks you to pick sides; to engage in small matters that seem big because the bubble is a grind; the bubble is non-stop.

The fight about Verona last year tore me up, and on some level it still does today. Some might say "fight back!" But fighting requires an emotional investment that I can't or won't give.

I don't know if it's age or fatherhood or spineless retreat, but I want to invest less of my emotion in things I have little to no control over (except, of course, the Orioles). I don't want to fight about sports or politics or technology or other people's decisions that don't affect me. I'm tired of the constant need for winners and losers on an on-going, weekly/daily/hourly basis.

A big consequence I face is guilt for not getting more engaged, especially in the elections. I have many friends involved in campaigns, great candidates and supporters alike who are working their asses off while I'm out riding my bike and goofing off with my kids.

But it's a trade off -- live with the guilt or get caught in the grind. And that's the thing about the bubble, it's easy to get deep and engage, especially if you're someone like me (i.e. "passionate").

I hope this doesn't come off as judgmental or preachy, because that's not my intent. I've spent a decade-plus in the bubble, and have a lot to show for it. And so do a lot of folks who are or have been in this bubble. I don't mean to question the importance of the bubble or the validity of the effort and emotion of those more fully invested.

But while I may have moved to the fringe recently, I'm sure I'll be back in deep some day. I'm also not going to stop working on or talking about community stuff; I just want to do so as dispassionately as possible (which is not actually dispassionate because I'm not actually capable of that).

In some ways I've replaced one bubble with another. This one's at the end of a cul-de-sac in Columbia. It's a bubble full of life and love and energy and tons of emotion. We hug, we fight, we laugh, we cry, and we go on adventures near and far. Sometimes it's a grind and our perspectives get distorted, but that's just life in a bubble.

Like all bubbles, this one won't last forever, at least not in its current form. So we'll cradle it as gently as possible and float along as far as it takes us.


Thanks to Ian for letting me share his words, and to Tom who inspired both of us today.


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