Tag Archives: Facebook

10,000 Characters on Why 10,000 Characters for Twitter is a Bad Idea


From the latest episode of This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: Searching for a new angle to boost declining user growth, Twitter is allegedly looking into ballooning its signature 140-character limit to a whopping 10,000 characters permitted per tweet. Cynically, one might liken this to the corporate version of soliciting extra revenue by placing a gun against one’s head. Twitter’s founders explain that 140 character tweets were born of a limitation of the old SMS service, and that jacking our favorite little bird morsels up to 10,000 seeds will allow for more content, more conversations and more general user pleasure. Apparently no one at Twitter remembers Polonius’ famous line from Hamlet, that “brevity is the soul of wit.” For almost 10 years, brevity has been the soul of Twitter. Taking that away is removing what makes Twitter special. As many have pointed out, we already have a social network for Ulysses-length diatribes from drunken uncles: it’s called Facebook.

Twitter is, paradoxically, a platform to be used quickly, yet one that requires a great investment of time to use properly. It’s nothing to fire off a witty observation on the state of the world or scroll through the exploits of your favorite celebrity as you wait for your coffee to brew in the morning. But obtaining the most value from Twitter involves a painstaking, methodical curating of the perfect tribe: finding and following the people who draw your interest, and attracting the best and most engaged followers for whatever content you’ve chosen to produce as part of your personal brand. Unless you’re an established media personality, or that mind-blowingly awesome, it can take years. But setting the biz-speak aside, Twitter is also a place where friendships that would otherwise be impossible geographically are made and nurtured. It eliminates the pedestal separating public figures from the masses and allows us to interact with them as casually as if we had run into them in a coffee shop. And it allows real-time access to breaking news and unfiltered updates from people who find themselves in the middle of history as it unfolds, not to mention cat pictures. Lots of cat pictures. Certainly there is a lot of chaff (including a great deal of gush about One Direction – seriously folks, Zayn isn’t coming back), but separating out the wheat is part of the joy of using Twitter in the first place. From the beginning, restricting everyone to 140 characters, and refusing to succumb to creating a velvet-roped, more permissive stratosphere for “platinum level subscribers” or some such twaddle, has kept us all on the same playing field, no matter how famous or unknown we are. My tweets have just as much potential to reach every Twitter user on earth as follower champion Katy Perry’s do. (They won’t, but the mathematical probability is not zero.)

Innovation thrives on restriction, just as Twitter sprang and thrived from within its traditional 140-character constraint.  As much as we like to give play to the phrase “thinking outside the box,” figuring out how to express ourselves within that box can also be a stimulating exercise as it forces us to speak with economy to get our message – or our humor – across. The content that people remember most is that which they can repeat to their friends and family in short bursts. Much as a veteran blogger might be loath to admit it, length has certainly never been a guarantee of greater quality. There’s a quote from an old West Wing episode that I’ve always chuckled at: “anyone who uses one word when they could have used ten just isn’t trying.” In social media, the reverse is true. The world is spinning faster, our time clawed at by infinite demands on it, and Twitter’s brevity has been a helpful traveling companion for the age: a readily accessible combination of news aggregator, social updater, inspiration provider and joke generator, yours for the perusal at the touch of a little blue bird on your smartphone screen.

Of additional importance is Twitter’s role as a gateway. The ability to share links to longer material, inviting a user to browse further rather than shoving the entire enterprise beneath your nose, has allowed content generators (like myself) to introduce our work to our audience without feeling like we’re shouting it at them, and preserves freedom of choice: you may have absolutely no interest in whatever I’m writing about today, but at least I can make you aware that I have something new, and you can always ignore it and move on to the next item in your feed. Surfing Twitter is a bit like browsing the spines on a bookstore shelf, plucking out a title that grabs you and scanning the blurb before committing. If you had to plod through each entire novel before deciding whether or not to buy, you’d still be there, and your blood pressure would be spiking at the imposition on your precious time. There are already plenty of platforms that allow long-form content, and Twitter integrates best with them by serving as an easily navigated, self-maintained index of those sites, rather than attempting to compete with them.

One argument in favor is the suggestion that just because you can use 10,000 characters doesn’t mean that you will. I agree. 10,000 characters is an enormous number; you’ll see by the end of this post an example of what that looks like, and who has the patience to crank that out every time we want to send a quick update on how the baristas misspelled our name today? But give humanity a wide open space in which to dump its trash and you’ll be shocked at how quickly it fills up. You know who will use all those characters? Spammers, for one. Every Nigerian prince promising that you too can buy new a million new followers or make $5236 an hour working on your computer from home is salivating at this opportunity to flood Twitter with their auto-blasted nonsense. Racists, for another. It’s bad enough when some asshat’s hateful garbage gets retweeted into your timeline when there’s only 140 characters’ worth to cringe through. Are we prepared for the onslaught of copy-pasted manifestos on white purity that are forthcoming every time President Obama does something they don’t like? Among its faults is Twitter’s ongoing inability to crack down on abuse, and one shudders at the thought of the bigots, misogynists, homophobes and celebrity stalkers of the world being handed broadened canvases they can smear with impunity.

Regardless of how zealously you unfollow, block and mute, you’ll only be able to avoid so much of the incoming debris: insidious marketers, who have been steadily encroaching on Twitter’s turf to the point that almost every third tweet is a promoted one from a company you’ve either never heard of or simply can’t stand (I am wearing out my thumb lately clicking “Tweet is not relevant”), will be able to turn your feed into a stream of constant, bloated advertising, since they can afford to pay their infinite monkeys at infinite typewriters to dream up 10,000 characters of content for them. The effect will be to clutter up what is already a crowded landscape with enormous, garish and inescapable billboards, making the search for worthwhile content that much more frustrating. Upon finding themselves bombarded with ads, traditional users will flee, perhaps in mass migration to other sites where such things are verboten. As for attracting new users, well, when was the last time you watched a new TV show because you heard the commercials were awesome?

Upon deeper reflection, this move to 10,000 characters does feel sadly more and more like an accommodation to the demands of advertisers rather than an organic evolution of the platform based on its users’ needs and wishes (witness the many unheralded cries for an edit feature for tweets that have already been posted). And it’s only advertisers who will be able to exploit the 10,000 characters to their fullest potential, squeezing them for every precious cent they’re worth. Twitter knows that the majority of its users won’t fill all that space. Even 2,000 characters would be a stretch for most. No one wants to dedicate so much time to composing something that will potentially fall out of sight a few minutes after it gets posted. I would imagine too that as part of the Faustian bargain with the advertisers, such elephant-sized tweets will not be allowed to be condensed (i.e. no “click to open full window” button) but rather be foisted upon your feed in frustrating enormity, their inducements inescapable no matter how fast you try to scroll through them.

There are perhaps less radical improvements to be pursued, such as potentially removing links and hashtags from the character count, and adding the aforementioned edit button (although thousands of grammar sticklers will promptly lose their reason for existence) that will serve to open up avenues of expression while preserving the full stop at 140 that makes Twitter what it is. If we want to expend 10,000 characters on a particular topic, we can tweet a link to our own website, just as we’ve been doing all along. Ultimately Twitter is going to do whatever it’s going to do, but removing what seems to be one of its key planks and annoying its users in the name of progress (i.e. more advertising revenue) seems a counter-intuitive business strategy. A bit like Walt Disney World razing Cinderella’s Castle in the Magic Kingdom so they can replace it with a selfie stick store. Perhaps Twitter is counting on the general apathy of the people who use social media: the ones who rant and rave about changes and upgrades only to promptly forget about them after a week. But this change may represent an irreversible tipping point, where Twitter sacrifices its uniqueness on the altar of profit, alienating forever those who have helped make it what it has become.

(And if you are keeping score, the post plus the headline makes 10,000 characters exactly.)


Fire and Rain and all that jazz

I heard through social media a little while ago that a friend from high school days had passed away.  Her name was Kim.  While we had never been the textbook definition of close, we would chat from time to time through Facebook about family, parenting, and the course of our respective lives.  She wasn’t someone I went out of my way to keep in contact with, and yet, when we spoke online, I was amazed at how her innate brightness would gleam through the flying bubbles of text, and how genuinely interested she was in what was happening with me, despite her really having no obligation to be.  You meet way too many sorts who vibrate visibly with the itch to dispense with the perfunctory required questions about how the job’s going and how the kids are doing so they can start prattling on about the heaps of awesomeness that have fallen into their own precious laps; Kim was most definitely the opposite, remaining private about her own problems while always offering up receptive, sympathetic ears.  That we were friends at all spoke to the depth of her character, in many ways a complete contradiction of what you’d expect.  Someone like her could easily have been Regina from Mean Girls, blessed as she was with talent, popularity and beauty, but instead she saw people for who they were and not where in the social order it was their fate to be pecked.  She cared, with an honesty that could not be faked.  And she’s gone now, a too short 40 years of age, and I wish I’d made a point to talk with her more often, because a special light has gone out.

I met Kim when we were both involved in the production of our 1993 high school musical, a staging of Chicago.  I was the backup drummer in the orchestra pit, hidden at the back of the stage behind a black scrim, while Kim, a year older, was bold and brassy belting out “All That Jazz” as the lead, Velma Kelly.  (Ten years later, sitting in the theater watching Catherine Zeta-Jones have a go at the same part, I couldn’t help smiling and thinking that Kim had done a better job.)  Our school had a reputation for the quality of its productions; we dared to mount elaborate, challenging, Broadway-level material whose raciness gave our more conservative principal his fair share of headaches.  They were great social levelers too:  you could come in to work on them whether you were jock, nerd, princess or bespectacled wallflower, and find yourself among fast friends.  The denizens of the elevated echelons that you wouldn’t dare approach in the halls were throwing their arms around you at the frequent cast parties.  Somehow the social hierarchy that mattered so much in the day-to-day got tossed in pursuit of the grand goal of creating a singular night on the stage.  Kim was a big part of ensuring that happened, and some of my strongest memories of that experience are chatting and sharing jokes (and flirting a little, clumsy as I was at it back then) with her.  One might logically expect the show’s diva to be dismissive of the little people in the back, but Kim didn’t go in for that sort of nonsense.  Instead she made everyone want to up their collective game.  You wanted to work harder and play better because that was a friend up there on the stage counting on you to have her back.

When I first joined Facebook there were quite a few people from the old high school that I made a point of looking up.  I don’t recall Kim being one of them, but as degrees of separation would have it she popped into my news feed after commenting on someone else’s post, and at some point I must have sent her a friend request – or maybe she did for me.  I didn’t put much stock into it other than “I kind of remember you and you’re a decent sort, let’s be Facebook friends, ignore each other’s updates and send half-hearted birthday messages every year when it reminds us to.”  I was content to leave it at that until Kim started messaging me periodically to say hello and see how I was doing.  She was the only one of my 131 connections to do so.  I wondered why.  This may come across as false modesty, but I honestly did not believe I deserved the attention, given that I hadn’t exactly made keeping in touch with her a significant or even a minor priority.  It wasn’t as though we had a rich personal history to look back upon either, just a few shared experiences when we were teenagers, a few chance encounters on the street in the years that followed.  But I was moved by her warmth and the sincerity of her outreach.  After my wife and I adopted our son Kim would check in every few months to ask how things were going.  I’d tell her a little about his history and how he came to be with us, and in her words back to me I could see and feel the opening of a tremendous heart.  I would ask her how she was, and though she was guarded about the details, I could sense that that heart had been wounded many times and was battling on regardless, through illness that had landed her in hospital far more often than she deserved.

Then, after a while, the conversations stopped.  She didn’t reply to the last message I sent, though I did get a note that it had been seen, months later.  Kim tumbled from my consciousness.  Caught up in the ins and outs of my own day-to-day as weeks slouched into months it did not occur to me to check in with her.  It wasn’t a deliberate choice, it just happened, through indolence and preoccupation rather than intent.  When another friend broke the news to me by the cold means of Twitter direct message, I felt my entire body sink as though someone had just doubled the gravity in the room.  It was a twofold reaction:  shock, obviously, coupled with a tremendous gnaw of guilt.  I knew she had been sick, and as I scrolled back through our history of Facebook messages, trees of text bubbles preserved there as though set in digital amber, I could detect hints that things had been far more serious than she had let on, hints that I had let go out of respect for her privacy.  Kim would pivot when I would ask about her illness, assuring me that she was strong and that she was an adult.  She would rather talk about me, this blog, and how I was finding life as a father.  I didn’t push.  I suppose it would have made little difference if I had.

In his classic ballad “Fire and Rain,” James Taylor makes what for me is the quintessential statement about our relationships with our friends and how little time we truly have to celebrate the fortune of their presence in our lives.  In writing this post and thinking about Kim, I echo his sentiment.  I didn’t continue the conversations with Kim because there was always more time.  I always thought that I’d see her again.  That late one night, barred from sleep by lingering traces of the day’s caffeine intake I’d be scrolling through Facebook, smirking at cat videos and pictures of other people’s kids being silly and re-posted rants about the government, and the notification tab would pop and I’d see her name and “Hey Graham, how are you?”  I’d been conditioned to expect that and I never believed it would stop.  Now it has.  There will be no more messages from Kim.  “All That Jazz” will forevermore have a hint of melancholy when I reflect on one very irreplaceable Velma.

By no means do I claim a monopoly on grieving her loss.  I know that I wasn’t her best friend, or a member of her family, or someone with any deep, lasting connection with her but this:  Kim meant a great deal to me for the simple reason that in a world with more than its share of awful people, she was one of the good ones.  I’m glad I got the chance to tell her as much during one of our late night chats.  I’m sorry I couldn’t have said it more, and that I won’t get the chance to get to know her better.  That she won’t get the chance to meet my son whom she enjoyed hearing about.  And I’m sorry that she won’t have the long and happy life that should have been her due.  It has brought into sharp focus the notion of mortality and that we cannot count on any of us being around for as long as we once thought we would be.  The invulnerability with which we greeted the days back then is a fleeting wisp lost on the wind.  And while we may feel as though we are more connected with our friends because of social networks like Facebook, we can’t let those algorithms diminish the value and the reality of the people on the other side of that coldly curated news feed.  We need to talk more.  Really talk, about our hopes and our dreams and our fears and the world we want to leave in the glow of our tail lights.  We need to seek out the good ones that are already in our lives and latch onto them and laugh with them until our sides ache, and weep until we’re all utterly spent of tears.

We always think we’ll see each other again.  Sometimes we won’t.  So let’s see each other as much as we can, while we can, while every precious moment of this life remains available to us.  I’m going to close now by offering a suggestion.  Today, think of someone you haven’t spoken with in a long time and send them a message.  Doesn’t have to be anything elaborate.  Just say hello and let them know you’re thinking about them.  See what happens next.  I think you’ll find the very tiny expenditure of your time bearing positive emotional returns the extent of which you can’t even imagine yet.

Goodbye, Kim.  You were one of the good ones.  And all that jazz.

What Kind of Tweeter Are You?


Oh, dear, dear Twitter, how I love thee.  Since I never have time for television anymore, movies are too expensive and regular social gatherings terrify me, Twitter has become a combination news/ entertainment/coffee shop packaged conveniently in the smartphone belted to my hip.  After having been on it for almost three years and with an eye to noticing patterns that I’ve been told by experts that I possess, I’ve managed to categorize the users of Twitter into twelve distinct types, eleven of which are itemized here for your reading pleasure.  Group Twelve is celebrities, i.e. those privileged to be blessed with the Blue Checkmark of Twod (Twitter God), and the rules are a bit different for them, even though you might find that some of them do indeed fit snugly into a few of these.  I should attempt to weasel my way out of potential controversy even further by saying that with some exceptions, none of these are absolutes.  On our best and worst days we tumble into each of them, yours truly included.  I offer the list instead as observation and a little bit of warning.  Shake it up.  Don’t ever be a type – be a human instead.

So have at it then – and let me know if there’s another category you’ve noticed that I’ve missed.

The Shill

Apparently you have a novel or product of some sort you’d like me to express some interest in?  Your following/follower count is about equal and in the high thousands, suggesting that you’re a pretty popular fellow.  But your interactions are minimal and your tweets are variations on a theme of asking the rest of us to click on/review/ purchase your wares, implying that you’ve accumulated your flock merely by following every single person who promises that they follow back.  You have sacrificed what little remains of your humanity on the Great Altar of Commerce and your tweets appear with the tedious inevitability of television commercials.  You have essentially turned yourself into Vince, the Slap Chop Guy.  How’s that working for you?  (I’m guessing it’s not leading to record sales figures.)

The Preacher

You have a keen, unique (self-applied description, of course) insight into what ails the world and you know exactly how to fix it, if only you could get more followers to listen and spread your gospel.  It irks the hell out of you that you’re not already president/emperor/ generalissimo of your chosen realm as the ones presently in charge are irredeemable dingbats who couldn’t gather the leadership necessary to wipe themselves without peer-reviewed studies by four different executive committees.  But rather than doing something about it in the real world, you’ll settle for being a sanctimonious cyber-complainer to a sparse flock of like-minded folks.  Note of caution, however:  decisions are made by those who “show up,” not “log in.”

The Stalker

Harry Styles is your homeboy, or at least, you’d like him to be, in the tweet you sent to him 58 times today.  Though your chances of marrying him are about as good as Dick Cheney’s for winning Man of the Year from Greenpeace, you press on with dogged determination, forever believing deep inside that the next tweet will be the one he favorites.  You should be proud in some respects, in that you’re the latest in a subspecies that emerged with those people who used to hang around outside Abbey Road waiting for the Beatles to show up.  But why not do something with your life instead of devoting the entirety of it to worshipping others who’ve done a hell of a lot more with theirs?

The Oversharer

Guess what I had for breakfast?  None of your followers ever have to wonder since you provided eighteen different pictures of it, along with a detailed rundown on the quality of the service, the décor of the restaurant and your dining companion’s complaints about her BFF.  You are convinced that you are the most fascinating person to walk the planet and damn, you’re gonna strut your stuff whether or not anybody asks.  Your tweet count is up into the hundred K range already and you’ve only been on Twitter for a month.  Because nary a single moment of your mind-bendingly amazing life can slip by without you having to comment on it, leading to a veritable plethora of banality flooding a platform which was already drowning in it.

The Smartarse

Groucho’s got squat on you as you say the secret woid and weave your incisive Saharan wit through the foibles of a mediacentric universe rife with comic potential.  To you, Twitter is a personal standup comedy club, and headlines, celebrity musings, even the matter-of-fact comments of your friends can’t get past you without some kind of wisecrack.  Those you’re following dare not misspell a single word lest you jump in with a cheesy pun.  And your insecurity about wanting to be as off-the-cuff funny as Patton Oswalt is beginning to show as you wear out the screen beneath your notifications tab from rushing to check out how many times your zany zinger “Duck you, Autocorrect!” has been favorited and retweeted.

The Curator

You aspire to become a living embodiment of The Huffington Post as your feed is naught but link after link to article after article in your chosen area of expertise (usually social media, which everyone claims to be an expert in but nobody fully understands), offered for consumption without comment or original take.  I guess some people may find it helpful to have a single go-to for that latest BuzzFeed piece about the ten ways Miley Cyrus is annoying the world this week, but if you are choosing to act as endless advertising for other people’s material, shouldn’t you be getting paid for it?

The Misanthrope

The world is a bleak, nihilistic pit of darkness and despair, and anyone who follows you is bound to learn this lesson quickly.  You have taken to Twitter solely to vent profanity-filled spleen against whatever politician or celebrity has irked your delicate sensibilities lately, resulting in your achieving a record number of blockings and abuses reported from your Proustian-length list of targets.  To be fair, you do warn people in your bio that you’re mad as hell and unwilling to take it anymore, but as you have never learned the lesson about attracting flies with honey, I fail to understand how this is supposed to help you in your life’s work – which, if your employers discover your feed, will be quite short, or at the very best limited to asking about fries with that.

The Cheerleader

You are a supernova of sunshine in everything you tweet.  You provide inexhaustible encouragement, your #FF list is longer than the Great Wall, and you always retweet and have great things to say about your friends’ posts and comments.  Whenever a follower has a bad day you’re right there to perk things up with a tweetbit of timely wisdom.  Stay gold, Ponyboy, don’t ever change.

The Parrot

You, pickle, are the reason the “Turn off Retweets” button was added.  Barring anything of your own to say, you spam everyone else’s feed with a barrage of your friends’ trite banter about how they literally can’t even the latest episode of Sherlock because arghasdgawouhgs, or the latest in profound insight about the nature of creativity from that one D-list celebrity you love but nobody else can stand (see “The Stalker,” above.)  Or you decide that what your followers really need is a ten tweet-long stream of pics from all the weird sexual fetish accounts you enjoy.  Because what you really want in life is a bunch of strangers thinking I didn’t sign up for this s@#$.

The Guru

You’ve got lots of inspiration to share, either of your own creation (awesome, keep it up!) or cribbed hopelessly from the same dozen or so bastardized bromides incorrectly attributed to the Dalai Lama, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther King we’ve already seen shared on Facebook twelve million times since 2004.  The irony is I don’t think you actually believe you should shoot for the moon because you can miss and still land among the stars.  The Apollo astronauts might have had an issue with that.

The Grammarian

most of ur tweetz read liek this becuz yur 2 kewl fer roolz or speling, so U end up soundeng liek a maroon.  But hoo cares, cuz YOLO!!!

Criticizing the critics

"What's the best part of this blog post?"  "It ends!  HAW-HAW-HAW-HAW-HAW!"
“What’s the best part of this blog post?” “It ends! HAW-HAW-HAW-HAW-HAW!”

Did you know “hate-watching” was a thing?  I suppose it’s been around for decades, an extension of the phenomenon that makes everyone slow down to gawp at an accident on the freeway despite the same everyone complaining about rubberneckers (i.e. everyone else).  We have this weird fixation/fascination with things that repel us, and in the same way we will gravitate towards stories in the news that piss us off, so too are we drawn to watching shows we don’t like so we can… well, I’m not exactly sure what, other than write snarky columns about them, gloat about them with friends and continue to wallow about in our own high-mindedness, supremely confident of our genius turns of phrase.

A focal point for hate-watching is Aaron Sorkin and The Newsroom; in fact, I hadn’t heard the term until it surfaced in more than a few snotty articles about this particular show.  For the life of me I can’t find another program that is so piled on by sniping television critics both amateur and professional, steering clear of the low-hanging fruit of reality shows and looking instead to take one of Hollywood’s most successful writers down a plethora of pegs.  It has not escaped my notice that the tone of many of these pieces resembles retribution for a past slight, as if Sorkin’s dog once soiled their lawns.  The counter-argument is that Sorkin brings it on himself in how he deals with things he doesn’t like – either depicts the advocates of his bêtes noire in his fiction as inarticulate, uneducated simpletons begging to be schooled at every turn by smug know-it-alls, or just attacks them outright in the public sphere (you don’t need to be an English major to see the irony at work here in the writings of those who respond to him in kind).  Back when his ire was focused singularly on the Republican Party – the West Wing years – we were happy to play along, but when he turned his pen on the media (Studio 60 and now Newsroom) the knives came out.  As for his public persona, I can’t comment, except to remind us with a nod to Citizen Kane that the perception of the man through the filter of other people’s words is not the same as knowing him.  Maybe he’s a great guy, maybe he’s a jackass.  I’ve never met him and have suffered no injury to my person or property from him, or any of his works.  The worst I can say about him is that there have been a few of his projects I haven’t cared for as much as the others.  I am not going to then write a series of “10 Reasons Why Aaron Sorkin Sucks” articles while continuing to DVR The Newsroom obsessively and live-vent my spleen in 140 character bursts every time one of the actors delivers a cadence of familiar patois I might have once heard on West Wing.  I’m a fan.  Every time I fire up the newest episode I want to be blown away.  If I’m not, I may have some modest suggestions about where I felt things went off the rails.  I’m not approaching the show from the perspective of “well, let’s see how he disappoints this week.”  I am, and remain, a love-watcher.

Drew Chial wrote a fantastic piece yesterday about the glut of ridicule in our culture and why it’s foolish for anyone to think it needs a supply-side solution.  You can blame the spread of snark on any number of factors both socioeconomic and not, but ultimately, snark succeeds because it’s the comedy of apathy; that is, it’s cheap and anyone can do it without expending much effort.  Why bother trying to write a thousand words of reasoned analysis when you can just follow the lead of the Ain’t it Cool News comment section and dismiss something as a “crap-spewing donkey abortion oozing from a gangrenous sore on Satan’s left ass cheek”?  It reminds me a bit of that famous comedian’s joke that they made the documentary about, “The Aristocrats,” which is a can-you-top-this exercise in inventing examples of inconceivable raunch, sleaze and gore.  The same goes for the state of criticism, in which the object is not to offer suggestions for improvement but to find the most incisive way to reduce the subject to the tiniest, most pathetic, withering shell of its actual self, something we can all have a good guffaw at while it cries in the corner.  How dare they even try.

As has gone political polarization, so has criticism.  Moderates, the ones who do it because they’re fans and they want the best for the genre they love, are an endangered treasure.  Rather, the critical mass (pardon the pun) has split, with the intellectuals twisting themselves into polysyllabic, pretentious knots to fly above the fray (the nadir was The New Yorker’s review of the Vince Vaughn-Owen Wilson comedy The Internship, which for no discernible reason managed to include a paragraph about the collected works of Michelangelo Antonioni) and the lowbrows hiding behind online aliases acting like a thousand monkeys on a thousand keyboards flinging verbal feces, yet both self-tasked with the singular objective of tearing down instead of building up, as though validation for a life misspent can be achieved only in annihilating the accomplishments of others.  The late Roger Ebert was lambasted in many circles along with partner Gene Siskel for reducing the nuances of film criticism to a binary “recommend/don’t recommend” state, but one of the things I always appreciated about Ebert was that he always evaluated a movie for what it was.  He didn’t attack Dumb and Dumber because it wasn’t Schindler’s List.  He was not above succumbing to snark once in a while (as his famous “I hated, HATED this movie” rant about North proved) but he was first and foremost a movie fan and hoped each time, as the lights went down, that what he was about to see was the greatest movie ever made.  This I think is a sentiment that has largely been lost, perhaps in the wake of the tsunami of disappointment the planet felt as the words THE PHANTOM MENACE scrolled in front of us and we learned about the galactic dispute over taxation of trade routes.  Our primary instinct now is expecting things to suck (and then, ironically, raging about them even though all they’ve done is meet our lowered expectations).

It’s telling, and fortunate, that Facebook and its social brethren (like WordPress) don’t have a “Dislike” button anywhere, as we hardly need to make being a snarkily dismissive asshat more convenient.  But we need to get away from the whole “hate-watching” concept, where we aren’t just saying we don’t like something but are instead devoting hours of our time to viewing and then regurgitating and ripping apart every single flaw, in furtherance of whatever the endgame is – proving ourselves better, smarter, wittier?  What, truly, is the goal in hate-watching The Newsroom:  getting it canceled or making Aaron Sorkin cry?  And will either of those (one a little more likely than the other) outcomes result in a substantial improvement in our lives or the lives of our fellows?  Criticism for the sake of itself misses the point.  How do we get better?  We improve upon our mistakes.  At its best, criticism is how we help each other do that, by pointing out the missteps the subject may not see and giving them the opportunity to address them or ignore them as they see fit.  The key to good criticism lies in the nobility of its motivations, and if the motivation is the aggrandizement of our own egos, then We’re Doing It Wrong.  And anyone who thinks otherwise is a crap-spewing donkey abortion oozing from a gangrenous sore on Satan’s left ass cheek.

“How I Got A Literary Agent by Being A Passive-Aggressive, Bridge-Burning Ass”

Author’s note:  This is a (satirical) response to a gauntlet thrown down by literary agent Jessica Faust in response to a tweet I sent her.  So I guess really it’s a convoluted response to myself.  Anyhoo.  Any resemblance between this person and myself is purely coincidental – well, there is in fact NO resemblance between this person and myself – and not at all reflective of my own opinions of literary agents, who are really quite delightful people, except for the scammers who soak up thousands of dollars in “reading fees” before changing their names and moving out of state.  Those ones suck and should suffer significant chronic foot pain.

My name is Hedley Norris, and I’ve always wanted to be a writer.  Well, I guess I’ve wanted to be a writer ever since I realized there was serious money in it.  I mean, look at that 50 Shades of Gray lady!  All those millions for changing the names in some Twilight fan fiction she wrote?  It seems to me that if she can do it, anyone can.  I mean, I’m not really much of a reader; the last thing I pored over in detail was an Ain’t it Cool News article about the crappy special features on the director’s cut DVD of Chopper Chicks in Zombietown.  But that doesn’t matter.  I’m in this for the money.  I figure I just need to write one successful book and I can retire to that island where the topless waitresses serve you drinks in coconut shells with little parasols sticking out of them.  Sounds simple, right?  Hells yeah!

First thing I needed was an idea.  Vampires are hot right now, so I figured I could just glom onto that trend and bash something out in a couple of days.  But it needs to be different, to stand out, so I thought, what if there were backwards vampires who actually go around injecting blood into people instead of sucking it out?  Then you could do this whole allegory thing about sexually-transmitted diseases and stuff.  Cool!  (note to self:  my friend Phil keeps telling me about a Simpsons episode I need to check out.  Maybe next Thursday.)  So for about two years I worked away on my story.  I had a pretty solid writing regimen:  open the document, stare at it for five minutes, surf YouTube cat videos for an hour, harass celebrities on Twitter for the second hour, then finally do about ten minutes of writing before bed.  And one snowy December evening, as soon as I typed the final word of the first draft I started looking for publishers.  I was shocked to find that NONE of those fascist, soulless corporate jackholes would even look at my manuscript.  I don’t know what entitles them to think they have any business deciding what gets onto bookshelves.  I mean, if they’d just take one look at my novel they’d know right away it’s a guaranteed mega-smash!

I was mentioning all this to a friend and he pointed out that most writers sign with literary agents before approaching publishers.  I didn’t really like the idea – somebody getting 10% of all the money that rightfully belongs to me for what, making photocopies of my book to send out?  But if the big companies weren’t going to look at me without one, I guess I didn’t really have a choice.  I did some research and found that you’re supposed to write these “query letters” when you’re looking for an agent; again, I don’t see why, the book should just stand on its own.  Anyway, here’s the one I wrote for mine:

To Whom It May Concern:

This is my query letter for my 223,000-word YA fantasy fiction novel, THE DARKENING DARKNESS™.

What if there were backwards vampirs who instead of sucking blood actually had to inject it into people instead?  The government is really concerned about this so they put together a team of cracck secret agents to take them down.  The team is led by LT. MANNY ABRAMSON, a hard-boiled former detective with nerves of steel and attitude to match.  His partner is the beautiful and sexy ELIZA GOODBODY, who he used to date in high school before he was sent to the military by his parents.  After three tours in Iraq and Affgaanistan he’s back to finish the job, only fighting monsters instead of enemy soldiers.  Eliza still loves him but cant bring herself to tell him.  There’s also three other men on the team and their equipped with the most high-tech weaponry money can buy to face this new threat.

They’re enemy is VERUSHKA KOROZOV, the beautiful and sexy head of the backwards vampires whose master plan is to inject all the world’s leaders with her blood, turning them all into zombies under her permanent control.  She is assisted by her second-in-command, the beautiful and sexy ANGELA, who used to be Elizas best friend before she was turned into a backwards vampire.  Now Manny has his hands full as he fights to stop the spreading plague and save the world.

In the meantime, down in Lubbock, Texas, the government sceintists who first developed the backwards vampire gene are struggling to find a cure.  Through hexachromate mapping and genetic alkylating techniques, they manage to resequence the backwards vampire RNA but by accident turn it into something much worse.  All of a sudden there are REGULAR vampires to deal with and when they suck the blood of the zombies created by the backwards vampires that turns them into uber-backward-regular-zompires.  And the battle has just begun.

THE DARKENING DARKNESS™ is the first of a proposed 11-part series and has the potential for blockbuster movie adaptation.  My writing has been called a cross between J.K. Rowling and Stephen King with touches of Dan Brown and James Patterson.  I have been published in The New Yorker, The Wall Stret Journal and The New England Journal of Medicine and I come recommended by agent Lisa Jordan of Literary Treasures Agency who you know.  I feel this book will appeal to fans of vampires, zombies, romantic comedies and Tom Clancy technothrillers.  The entire manuscript and the outlines for the remaining 10 installments are attached to this email.  I really hope you have the time to consider this book for your representation as I really admire your profile and think we would work well together.  I also think this book would be of interest to Oprah Winfrey for her book club (she still does that, right?)  Please respond within 24 hours so I know you’re interested.


Hedley Norris

You gotta cast a wide net, so I sent it out cc’d to every agent I could find.  I may have even sent it to a few real estate agents by mistake (which explains that one reply saying they didn’t want the book, but had an upscale brownstone outside of Teaneck, N.J. I might be interested in purchasing).  But after two days, nothing had come back.  Not a single reply.  I started getting nervous.  What if they had stolen my book and were going to publish it under somebody else’s name?  I decided to send a follow-up just to be sure.

To Whom It May Concern (if it concerns you at all):

I sent you a query last week for my book THE DARKENING DARKENSS™ and requested a reply within 24 hours.  Now you may get off on letting us aspirng authors dangle in the wind on puppet strings as we wait to hear back from you, but there’s such a thing as common courtesy and profesionalism, ever heard of it?  Please respond to this email immediately or I will take necessary next steps.


Hedley Norris

A week went by, and then two, and two more.  I was really steamed now.  I just KNEW that those conniving charlatans had stolen my book.  I could just see them sitting around smoking cigars on piles of money and laughing at stupid, naïve little Hedley Norris.  And then this arrived in my inbox one fateful morning:

Dear Mr. Norris:

Thank you for submitting your manuscript, The Darkening Darkness.  Unfortunately it is not a good fit for our agency at this time.

Good luck in your future writing endeavors.


Rhianne Phillips

Thornhill McCabe Literary Agency, Inc.

I hit the roof.  All this time, all that effort, all that blood and pain and sweat poured into my life’s work and all I could get in return was one stinking form rejection letter???  Well, you can darn well bet I wasn’t going to take that lying down.

Dear Miss (I’m assuming not Mrs. because God knows who would want to marry you) Phillips:

You people have got some real nerve.  I suppose you think it’s funny that you can get someone’s hopes up and then crush their soul into so many fragments of peanut shells.  Here I send you a GUARANTEED best-seller and you toss it aside like the wrapper from yesterday’s hamburger (which I presume you ate with extra large fries and a super-sized drink since the fact that you don’t have a picture of yourself on your website must mean your too hideous for the world.)  You are a horrible, horrible person and I hope you never sleep soundly ever again knowing the many innocent people whose dreams you’ve ruined forever.

Go @#$@ yourself,

Hedley Norris

Not only that, I posted my response on my blog and spent the next couple of days bad-mouthing this Rhianne Phillips on Twitter.  Every tweet, it didn’t matter; even comments on basketball found a way to include a slam against this harridan who dared call herself a literary agent:  “Wow, the Knicks sucked last night.  Rhianne Phillips must have been coaching.”  I even started a Twitter account called @RhiannePhillipsIsEvil and used a Facebook photo of her that I found and photoshopped devil horns onto as its avatar.  It got 22 followers within the first week and only 14 of them were spambots.  Sure, perhaps some might consider this a bit of an overreaction, but damn, they hadn’t put two years of their lives into crafting this masterpiece only to have it dismissed in a mere 32 words that some frickin’ INTERN probably cobbled together.  Man, was I bitter.

And one afternoon, this email shows up:

Dear Mr. Norris:

Thank you for your thoughtful and insightful response.  Upon further consideration, I admit that I may have been hasty in my initial judgment of your manuscript.  I had failed to note that it was a guaranteed bestseller, as you so adroitly pointed out, and admit that it was perhaps indeed my insecurity about my appearance that led me to the unfortunate conclusion I drew about your work’s suitability for representation by our agency.

I believe The Darkening Darkness may indeed have potential and would be happy to discuss it with you further.  If you have not already secured representation elsewhere, please advise me of your interest by meeting me on your porch in five minutes.

Best regards,

Rhianne Phillips

Thornhill McCabe Literary Agency, Inc.

My reaction was akin to the opening credits of CSI: Miami:  Yeeeeeeeaaaaaahhhhhhh!!!!  It worked!  My merciless bullying had forced the imperious forces of literary agentdom to knuckle under!  I was on my way to fame and fortune at last!  I bounded to the front hall, my smile cramping my cheeks, and flung the door open to behold the glorious sight of the uniformed officer with the warrant for my arrest on charges of harassment and making threats.  I’m currently doing two to three years in minimum security with no Internet access.  I had to bribe a screw to get him to send this out wrapped in a towel.

Well, on the plus side, now I have the time to work on the next 10 volumes of my series, beginning with The Darkening Darkness 2:  Dark Getting Darker.  And guess what?  I got a letter the other day from a literary agent who’s interested in shopping my autobiography once I’m released.  All I need to do is send her a $1000 advance representation fee and I’m good to go!  See, what they say is true – all you have to do is believe in yourself, persevere and threaten when necessary, and your dreams will someday come true.  Now I gotta go as it’s my turn in the laundry and Spike tells me I owe him a pack of smokes for protection duty today.  Catch you later, haters!

Hope you enjoyed that!  Now it’s your turn.  Can you find all the mistakes our intrepid Mr. Norris makes in his misguided quest for a literary career?  (Apart from forgetting to take his meds, of course.)  Let me know in the comments!

O Privacy, Where Art Thou?

This is your life.  Credit Vassilis Michalopoulos / Flickr Creative Commons
This is your life. Credit Vassilis Michalopoulos / Flickr Creative Commons

On Twitter today, Joyce Carol Oates shares a quote from yesterday’s New Yorker about privacy, in which artist Heather Dewey-Hagborg opines, “we are probably the last generation that will realize what we’re losing.”  You can’t help thinking that she’s right.  An entire generation is growing up with their lives chronicled meticulously for the world’s perusal through Facebook, Instagram, blogs, what have you, either by proud parents or by themselves, seeking connection in the digital space.  For the vast majority of the population, these connections will be benign, the consequences minor or nonexistent.  Traditional media is certainly keen to hype up the instances of social media gone wrong, and certainly the latest revelations about the National Security Agency are cause for justifiable alarm at what is being collected and by whom for what purposes.  To me, it seems that privacy has become a malleable concept.  People are okay with sharing to a certain degree, but there is usually a line they won’t cross, and that line differs from person to person.  Yet everyone is happy to abdicate at least some of what is uniquely theirs to the great unknown masses; the absolute recluse is soooo last century.  (Even Thomas Pynchon lent his voice to The Simpsons a couple of times.)  Is Joni Mitchell right, though?  Will we not know what we had until it is gone?  Or is the march to a completely open community inevitable and privacy a willing sacrifice?

The flexible line intrigues me.  A while back, I read a post (I don’t remember where, sorry, or I would provide the link) in which the writer suggested that the level of detail provided in certain “mommy blog” posts about children encroached on the territory of potential libel litigation once the child reached maturity – tired moms calling their kids “little shits” online, and so forth.  As a blogger and a new adoptive parent, I too had a choice to make about how much or how little detail I would include about my son in this space.  Mindful of my own rule that you should never put anything online that you wouldn’t carve in concrete on your front porch, and not wanting to burden my son with a digital legacy not of his own making, I chose to be quite spare in the amount of information I reveal about him.  Where I do post about parenting it’s about my thoughts and feelings – which I can control – and my son is more of a relatively anonymous factor influencing me.  You may have noticed I haven’t mentioned his name, and if someone who knows me personally accidentally drops it in the comments, I delete it post-haste.  (I have not mentioned my wife’s name here either, for the same reasons, though if you really want to find it, it’s not that difficult.)  The siren song of the Internet is calling to him with increasing volume, and he’ll have plenty of time to forge his own footprint his own way, when he’s ready (you know, in about 30 years or so).  He doesn’t need me blazing an embarrassing trail with catty remarks about cranky moods or off-color remarks spoken in innocence that will come back to haunt him in his first job interview.

Even if you are cautious about sensible things – not posting your address or phone number, or photos of your house or of you blistering drunk in a pair of your mother’s underpants and so on – you are still giving up an aspect of your privacy when you share your thoughts, whether they be in short bursts of anger at the latest dumb thing done by right wing politicians or long, carefully-reasoned pieces like this one.  If someone was a diligent reader of the preceding 200-odd posts here they’d have me at a considerable disadvantage were I to meet them in real life.  (Honestly, at any given time I don’t remember half of what I’ve written here.)  You don’t know where I live or where I am this very second, but one could argue you know a much more intimate detail about me.  You know how I think.  That is, assuming you trust that I’ve been truthful and I haven’t been pulling your leg for almost two years with the old unreliable narrator gimmick.  And that raises another interesting question.  Given the absolute tabula rasa of the digital space for the creation of an online identity, why the presumption that the majority of folks who use it are being absolutely honest about who they are and what they think?  I could have created a completely opposite alter ego just for fun and gone to town.  But I wanted to be me.  And I wanted the digital me to be consistent with the real me, otherwise Lucy would have a lot of ‘splaining to do at dinner parties.  So I have in fact given up an integral component of my privacy.  I’ve opened my mind to you.  There’s an implicit contract then that you are not evil incarnate and you’re not going to find some way to use it against me in a future I have not yet conceived.  And even if you do there’s not hellish much I can do about it.  I’ve handed over the mallet willingly and it’s your choice whether or not you want to bludgeon me with it.

When you think about it in that context, sharing online is an enormous gesture of trust, and an encouraging one, for it speaks to a deep-rooted optimism that our fellow human beings are good people who can be relied upon to be responsible caretakers of the information we’re providing them.  Is it possible that the desire for community, connection and having our voices heard outweighs the wish to protect privacy?  For it seems that today, you cannot have both.  Certainly, those who shun the digital space wind up missing out on a heck of a lot.  There are terrific people I’ve met through blogging and through Twitter that I never would have known about had I chosen to retract my head into my little turtle shell and keep my own counsel.  My life, then, has been enhanced by forfeiting aspects of my privacy.  In her TED talk, Brene Brown talks about how the people who are the most willing to be vulnerable are those who experience the richest love in return.  Yet there’s that catch – being vulnerable.  Putting it out there.  Extending your hand knowing there is a possibility (however remote) that it might be bitten off.  What is worrisome to many, as Heather Dewey-Hagborg suggests with her quote, is that in the future, there simply may be no choice anymore.  We need to know if we’re okay with that.  The reward of a closer-knit human race is a tempting carrot indeed, but the trouble is, no one knows what it will feel like to be hit with the stick.

My Canada


Patriotism is a word that seems to be more ill-defined than defined of late.  What is ostensibly a concept of some nobility is usually hurled in a threatening manner, to suggest that one is lacking in it if one does not support without reservation whatever controversial policy is being advanced by the government of the day – often the call to arms.  The redoubtable Oscar Wilde called it the virtue of the vicious.  I’ve always thought of patriotism as loving your country more than you love the dolts who are running it – a sentiment most pertinent when the party you support is out of power.  Yet what does it mean to love a country?  We can love a song, a great work of literature, a beautiful painting, our life partner, our children.  What are we saying when we say we love our country?  Since we’re going at this from the point of etymology, apparently, what is it that constitutes a country insomuch as something capable and worthy of being loved?  Is it a mere delineation of territory, is it a system of self-governance, is it the character of the people who inhabit its boundaries and the society they have crafted for themselves?  What is it I’m saying I love when I say I love my homeland of Canada?

As is true with almost any place on the planet, most of the stereotypes about Canadians aren’t true, as endearing as they may be or as useful to the creation of soundbites.  And I’m not talking about the lazy “y’all live in igloos, don’t you?” redneck view of Soviet Canuckistan.  Are we unfailingly polite?  No more so than anywhere else I’ve chanced to visit, and I have in fact encountered some stunningly rude Canadians in my time, folks who’d just as soon deck you as look at you, and not apologize for it afterwards.  Are we peacemakers, honest brokers to the world and friend to any and all to the point of effusiveness?  Again, not really – Canadians fight just as hard in wartime as anyone else, and lately our record of living up to our international obligations has been sullied by ideological maneuvering.  What about our pristine environment and our unflinching need to protect our natural resources?  Hmm… have you chanced to look at the moonscape around northern Alberta recently?  Or the rate at which we’re paving over our arable land to build strip malls, big box stores and cookie cutter suburban neighborhoods?

No, we’re not the hosers you think we are.  In fact, we’re not entirely sure what we are.  For a long time we’ve started our national identity conversation from the point of “not-Americans” and latched on to the quick and simple traits – hockey, Tim Hortons, bilingualism, universal health care – to try to distinguish ourselves on the world stage.  Remember those “My name is Joe, and I am Canadian” commercials that were so popular back in the 90’s?  While it was amusing to poke fun at the silly questions we’ve all coped with at one time or another while abroad (my personal favorite, my wife being asked about Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding plans while at Disney World three years ago, as if she and Kate were BFF’s), the ads still ended with the same laundry list of “Canadian” traits, packaged into five seconds for easy digestion.  They made me restless.  Surely being Canadian is much more than that.  Does my not caring about hockey and preferring Starbucks mean I have to turn in my membership card?

I wanted to write something for Canada Day and I’ve been struggling with it, turning over the question of what it means to be Canadian in my mind all day.  It occurred to me, in one of those lightning bolt moments, that I was missing the mark – because the answer lay within the question.  Our current federal government has been earnest, if not obnoxious, about pushing symbols of national identity onto the populace – playing up the importance of hockey and Tim Hortons and the monarchy to “honest, average, hard-working Canadians,” positioning the idea of their party and their party alone as the arbiter of Canadianness.  Encouragingly, the reaction to these moves, at least from what I’ve seen, has been one of collective indifference.  Canadians refuse to be defined; not by their government, not by foreigners, not by anyone.  We define ourselves.  Because figuring out what it means to be Canadian is, in fact, what it means to be Canadian.

There is no “Canadian Dream,” at least not like its American alternative.  Put rather basically (if not overly simplified), the American Dream is about financial success in the capitalist model:  starting from nothing, working hard, becoming rich and famous.  Does your average Canadian dream about being rich?  Sure, a great many do, but the acquisition of massive wealth is not a universal motivator. What does a Canadian want?  That is left up to each of us to decide for ourselves.  I think about my list of Facebook friends, most of whom are people I went to high school with.  From that level playing field they have each followed in some cases wildly divergent paths in life.  Some run their own businesses.  Some are devoted to charity causes.  Some are academics, some are artists and musicians, some work in the trades.  Some work for the government, or in health care.  Some are attorneys, police officers, computer engineers, teachers, some are stay-at-home parents raising wonderful kids.  Some love hockey and follow with religious devotion the trials and tribulations of the Leafs, the Canadiens, the Canucks, the Senators.  Some could not care less.  They are as diverse a group of people as any random focus group you could gather together, and I would defy anyone to say that a single one of them is any less Canadian than the others.  They are the epitome of Canadianness, because each of them is discovering it on his or her own, without feeling any compulsion to conform to a standard.  And there’s no group of folks I’d rather stand up and be counted with.

Canada is not without its challenges.  We are 37 million people of probably just as many different cultural backgrounds clinging to the border we share with a sometimes very noisy neighbour, one whose influence permeates our daily life (and even our spelling, as my father-in-law would doubtlessly remind me).  Often the folks on one side of the country are peeved at the folks on the other (and almost everyone is either peeved at or in love with Quebec at some point).  The reason why this grand experiment continues to work, in my humble opinion, is that there is no single destination that can be pointed to as the ultimate objective.  Each Canadian is free to follow his or her own path.  The objective, as it were, is to discover who you are and make that your Canada.  And that is an idea I can get behind and fall in love with.  I love this country for allowing me to find myself within it.

Happy birthday, Canada.  Bonne fete, Canada.

Seriously, what the hell is wrong with you people?

Amanda Todd.  Steubenville.  Now Rehtaeh Parsons.  When declaring one’s opposition to bullying seems to be the most in vogue catchphrase nowadays, why is the act itself still happening?  Why do young people continue to think that assaulting girls, sharing photographic evidence of same to Facebook and then tormenting the victim relentlessly until she takes her own life is within a galaxy’s reach of acceptable?  Why are wealthy libertarian op-ed writers continuing to excuse this utterly reprehensible behavior in the guise of “freedom of speech,” “boys will be boys” and “she was asking for it”?  Joseph Welch famously brought an end to Senator Joe McCarthy’s career by saying “At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”  In a similar vein, I am left to ask, “seriously, what the hell is wrong with you people?”  Truly, what in the name of God has gone cockeyed in the wiring deep in the cobweb-strewn recesses of your addled little misogynist brains?  How many more young women are going to have to suffer before you grow your ass up and act like a goddamned man?

I don’t understand it.

I went to my share of house parties when I was young.  I was intoxicated at a few of them.  I was surrounded by intoxicated women.  Some of them were very beautiful, and being near them in that kind of environment would stir the expected physical reaction.  Yet never once did I or any of my friends take advantage of a girl in her most vulnerable moment or try to document the act to laugh at later on.  No matter what might have been aching down below or how much beer was flowing through my veins I never forgot about the humanity of my fellow partygoers, and never failed to treat them with the respect they deserved.  Perhaps it was how I was raised.  What I don’t get is why respect for women by men seems to be considered in many circles effeminate; that the way to get on with “the boys” is to describe in nauseating detail the perverse sexual acts one would like to perform on the stunning blonde who just sauntered by (that is, if, in reality, the one doing the boasting could manage to get his pants off before an, um… early finale.)  No one is telling any man that you don’t have to enjoy the sight of a beautiful woman or relish the desire that she makes you feel.  But you’re not a hulking, lumbering cro-Magnon who has to stick it in every available hole and then publish the evidence to the Internet while your buddies giggle like glue-sniffing hyenas.  You are better than that.  Despite what you may believe, the brain in your head can actually overrule the one in your boxers.  You can tell your pals that “that’s not cool, bro,” and see that the girl who’s had too much to drink makes it home safely and unharmed.  You can tell classmates who mock her to shut their filthy mouths.  That’s being a man.  And I wish so desperately that someone could have been a man for Rehtaeh Parsons.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece about International Women’s Day in which I stated that I was ashamed of my gender for some of the things men have done.  An anonymous commenter whom I imagine was short of a few IQ points (not to mention the cojones to use his real name) suggested I should seek therapy, and whatever happened to personal responsibility?  That is the essence of the problem, right there.  We don’t take responsibility for each other.  We watch acts of misogyny and femicide on the news and shrug.  We let our governments slash funding for social programs that help the less fortunate so we can buy a new iPod with the few bucks we save on our tax bill.  We have “professional,” highly-paid mouth-breathers with massive bullhorns like Tom Flanagan polluting our discourse by asserting that looking at child pornography is a victimless crime (because for him it’s a question of individual liberty, or some other “don’t tread on me” bullshit) or Barbara Amiel claiming that had only the girl in the Steubenville case been wearing something like a burqa, the jumped-up little cretins who attacked her might have been able to resist their primal urges.  We reduce everything to right versus left and shun compromise and common sense in favor of ideological purity.  I am sick to death of society washing its hands of crimes like this one with the cop out that “it’s not my fault.”  We are all at fault because we don’t challenge each other to better ourselves.  “I’ve got mine, to hell with all of you” is going to be the epitaph of humanity.  Homo sapiens may endure for some time yet, but humanity will be lost in a flood of apathy and indecency if we don’t start working to correct this right now.  Let’s not lie to our kids that it gets better and then do jack to actually make it better.

As the father of a son on the cusp of his teenage years, when hormones he can’t control start flooding his body with feelings he can’t manage, it is my responsibility to teach him the importance of respect and what it really means to be a man when it comes to how he treats women and indeed anyone who is vulnerable.  As long as I’m breathing he will never be one of those fratboy douchebags who would stand idly by while a girl is being violated, or worse, record it and share it with the world.  He’s going to be the guy who escorts her out of danger and threatens to kick the ass of anyone who gets in his way.  So help me, he’s going to be a crusader for girls and women, the way real men are.  And he’s going to pass the same lessons on to his friends and his children and everyone else he meets.

I mourn Rehtaeh Parsons deeply.  A light in the world that should have shone for decades has gone out.  And I fear that unless we change our ways she won’t be the last.  One looks at the U.S. and how even after schoolchildren were massacred by a gunman, outraging the world, they still can’t pass any kind of sensible gun control legislation because of too many powerful people whining about “personal liberty.”  In a world where children’s bodies can be shredded by a legally purchased firearm, and where a young woman is driven to kill herself by a pack of hormonal cowards shaming her on social media for something that wasn’t her fault, no one is free.

We should all be ashamed.  What the hell is wrong with us?

Fishing for the little pellets of love


Some depressing Graham’s Crackers statistics to start off with.  Total posts, March 2012:  26.  Total posts, March 2013:  2 (including this one, 3 if you include the piece I did for HuffPo about International Women’s Day).  And the frogurt is also cursed.

Yes, I know, oh mighty gurus of blog, you’re not supposed to post about how you haven’t posted in a while.  But this is my sandbox and my rules and prithee, I shall beg indulgence while I raise a kerchief to my brow and lament in plaintive tone the lack of productivity shown these past fortnights.  It isn’t as though there’s nothing to write about, after all.  Nay, verily, my literary cup runneth somewhat over.  I do admire though, those who can juggle the heavy spheres of work and family and simply keeping up with the pace of life and still churn out a few thousand words each day.  Something one should aspire to as well, if one were not such a piss poor scheduler of one’s time (guilty, Your Honors).

To that end I am raising a metaphorical glass to my friend Tele Aadsen of Hooked for her much-deserved accomplishment of landing a publisher for her memoir.  Now, Tele and I have never met or spoken to one another and our interaction has been entirely in reading each other’s writing and exchanging comments and tweets.  But ours, I think, is a kinship of letters, of recognizing and appreciating the power of the written word and how we can use it to connect across otherwise impassable chasms of time and distance.  Would I, a dude of a somewhat insular urban upbringing in the Greater Toronto Area, have ever assumed that I would have the slightest thing in common with an Alaskan fisher poet?  Yet I do, and I’m grateful, and my life is the better for it.  Anyway, there was a Twitter hashtag that was trending a few days about people you’d most like to meet, and predictably, the most common answers were celebrity names (Bieber again?  REALLY?)  Tele’s at the top of my list.  Someday soon, I hope – that is, if I haven’t now come off sounding like Creepy Stalker Guy™.  If for nothing else than just the chance to say thank you.  And get a personalized, autographed copy.  It’s not for me, it’s for my friend of the same name.

Onwards and upwards then.  Amongst my pursuits I am occasionally fortunate enough to attend digital media conferences.  Toronto held its second annual Digital Media Summit last week, gathering a roster of experts and thought leaders from across the industry of ye olde cyberspace – names like Don Tapscott, Erik Qualman, Cindy Gallop, Amber Mac and Neil Shankman among dozens of other luminaries delivering informative addresses to hundreds of lanyard-wearing, smartphone-tapping digital worker bees.  I was there on behalf of my employer, of course, but I still view things through the filter of writing and how what they were all saying could be used to further a writer’s reach (who are we kidding – my reach) in this rapidly advancing age.  You know, sometimes one can get a bit cynical as one carefully strings his words together and hits “publish” and… nothing much happens.  Admit it; on the surface, we’re all happy for the blogger who rejoices “I got Freshly Pressed on my very first post!” while inside we seethe that our own 189 pearls of literate wisdom usually go unnoticed by all but a select (if wonderful) few.  If you can take your ego out of the equation, it’s not difficult to understand.  Time is precious, an individual’s time is even more precious, and in order for them to grant you even a few seconds of theirs in between bathing the dog and walking the baby, you have to touch them with something that inspires real passion.  There was an interesting statistic revealed at DMS that on Facebook, even posts by the most famous, highly-liked brands only reach about 15% of their followers.  (That’s why, even though in between Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, G+ or whatever else you’re linking your blog posts to you may have a thousand connections, hits on your latest and greatest might not top a hundred.  At least, that’s how it works for me.)  And just because you get them, it doesn’t mean you’ll keep them.  I’ve received a couple of (relatively) huge traffic spikes that have come from famous people tweeting links to my blog.  But they don’t last – after a few days the hits drop to their usual, more stable level.  Maybe you retain one or two, but the vast majority treat you like a cheap motel along I-75, moving on once the new day has dawned and the open road beckons.  And that’s cool.  I mean, how many blogs have I looked at once because they posted something I wanted to learn more about only to forget about them thirty seconds after hitting the red X?  It’s life, and if you want to be loved, adopt a golden retriever.

Those moments when you do tap into something and really connect with people, well, I suspect there are few varieties of crack cocaine that can measure to the high.  Someone at the DMS called them “little pellets of love”; you know, the tiny charge that you get when you open your Facebook and see the little red number in your notification section.  “People are interested in me!  Yay!”  Same goes on Twitter when we get a retweet, or a new follow, or a reply from a celebrity we really admire, or on WordPress when we get the notification that somebody liked, commented or shared our work.  When one finally does cross that fabled Rubicon from giving it away for free to receiving the first cheque for something we penned, does that vindication truly compare to the spiritual fulfillment of knowing that someone, even a stranger, really digs us?  I suppose in those cases by contrast when we’ve written something that really pisses people off, the money compensates for the death threats.

What then, is the lesson for today?  It’s karma, sports fans.  Ya gotta put it out to get it back.  And as my learned better half is wont to tell me when I sink into the occasional bout of self-pity, you need to write to touch people, not to prove how smart you are about things no one cares about.  You’ll see, I’m sure, when Hooked is released, how Tele does it.  Hopefully as I continue along here I’ll get better at it.  And we’ll see where the ocean takes us.

Woohoo! 2012 in review!

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; etcetera, etcetera.  Thanks to the WordPress helper monkeys for providing this handy little summary.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 28,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 6 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

On a personal note, I want to thank everyone who stopped by to read my ramblings, whether you came here accidentally in search of naked pictures of Carice van Houten (a very popular search engine hit, and sorry to disappoint – although you should follow her on Twitter, she’s funny), you decided to browse further because of my contributions to The Huffington Post, or you’re a personal acquaintance and you feel obligated out of guilt to click that link that shows up in your Facebook news feed.  A special thank you to Justin Trudeau and Emilie-Claire Barlow for using their celebrity clout to send more than a few readers my way.  A very special thank you to the Fabulous Five (you wonderful folks know who you are) and three in particular for proving that friendship in the digital age doesn’t require face-to-face meetings, although some day it sure would be nice to shake your hand and buy you a drink.  Who knows, maybe 2013 will offer up that chance.  An extra special thank you to my father-in-law, whose comments have done much to bolster my confidence, and who’s unfortunately spending New Year’s Eve in the ER.  Faigh go maith go luath, Dave.  Copious thanks to his daughter, my better half, without whom this wild and unpredictable enterprise never would have begun.

As I look to “lucky” 2013, I look forward to a year of chances taken, opportunities seized, fortunes made, friendships solidified and most importantly, words written.  Hope everyone out there has a very happy New Year.  As one of my favorite singers, Richard Ashcroft, once opined, see you in the next one, have a good time.