Tag Archives: internet

The Advice Guy Is In!

Wikimedia Commons.
Wikimedia Commons.

Anyone who blogs is familiar with search engine spam:  the nigh-incomprehensible, often hilarious terms that somewhere, someone is typing into Google and finding themselves directed to your site with.  Since I’m a conscientious writer who likes to ensure that no fan is left behind, I’m taking this opportunity to address some of the possibly legitimate questions that have gone unanswered.  Let us have at it then, and continue doing our part to bring light to the world’s mysteries.  I should note that according to the WordPress calculamatron, every single one of these searches has been entered more than once, which means somewhere someone waits in vain for a response.  Wait no more, say I!  Behold:

“how to sick solar panel to car bonnet”

Firstly, you should check the solar panel’s temperature to determine whether or not it has as a fever.  If it does, make sure it stays warm and feed it plenty of broth.  Flat ginger ale is always a good option as well, but be sure it’s completely flat because you do not want to have to burp a solar panel.  Once the panel is feeling better you may then go ahead and attach it to the car bonnet.  I recommend a good strong length of rope and a bowline hitch.  Do not drive faster than 20 mph or in southeasterly wind conditions.

“where can I buy graham crackers in london”

Round the shops, guv.

“el final de Breaking Dawn: Part II”

Mucho gusto!  El final is caliente with mucho, mucho vampiros emos attacking el chupacabras with nada shirts on.  Es muy bueno!

“face Stockholm French martini”

This is actually one of my favorite drinks.  To make it, shake equal measures Lillet and Bollinger over ice and pour into a chilled martini glass.  Garnish with an Allen key and then smash your face into it.

“have I displeased you”

Yes.  And you know why.

“what does being forged through fire mean”

I had to check Google Translate on this one but the closest definition I can find is that apparently it involves taking an item, placing it in a fire and hammering it until it’s the right shape.  It is strongly recommended that said item is not any part of the body.

“did john lennon appear in on her majesty’s secret service”

This is a little known piece of movie trivia, but in fact, he did.  About thirty minutes in, he can be spotted hiding behind George Lazenby’s left eyebrow.  The predicament of Lazenby as the only James Bond to ever appear in only one movie inspired Lennon’s later solo unreleased demo, “You Cooked Yer Golden Goose You Naff Git,” which was rerecorded by the surviving three Beatles in 1995 but lost after the master tape was eaten by a passing walrus, goo goo g’joob.

“professor splash sexy picture”

Borat, is that you?

“life lessons learned from Mario”

  1.  Eat every mushroom you can find
  2. Stars are a plentiful source of invincibility
  3. Avoid bananas on the rainbow road
  4. The princess is in another castle
  5. Keep leaping because there’s always another barrel coming

“my little pony dude”

Now that’s a name nopony would self-apply where I come from.

“google coldplay”

Google them yourself.  I’m not your damn keyboardist.  Well, I was, for a time, in the hazy progressive rock band days I don’t like to talk about, where we would eat mushrooms (see above) and spend hours contemplating the collected works of Frank Herbert before attempting to translate them into song form.  Sadly, “Be My Shi-Hulud” never really burned up the charts the way we hoped it would – though it did result in a surprising number of restraining orders.

“snack crackers shape”

Trapezoidal, because five-sided crackers are for posers.

“sequence of events to become president”

Witness:

  1. Make a lot of money
  2. Join a political party (suggested method:  coin flip, depending on weather)
  3. Find someone else who is richer than you to back your campaign
  4. Run for office and don’t say too many stupid things
  5. ??????
  6. PRESIDENCY!

Alternatively, use the Frank Underwood House of Cards method:

  1. Be evil
  2. Convince everyone between you and the presidency to resign
  3. PRESIDENCY!

“conjuring demons through music katy perry”

It’s relieving to know that I’m not the only person out there who thinks “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” is an invocation of the evil power of Our Dark Lord Satan.  I mean really, when she sings about dancing on tabletops, that would be enough to get you burned at the stake in Inquisition-era Spain.  I know, you probably weren’t expecting the Spanish Inquisition.  *loud, ominous note*  NO ONE EXPECTS THE SPANISH INQUISITION!  Our chief weapons are fear, surprise and Katy Perry.

“sean bean 2012”

I totes would have backed that ticket.  Oh well, there’s always 2016.  As long as he can pledge not to be beheaded/impaled/blown up/shot/drowned/stabbed before the end of the term, I think he’s in like Flynn.

“argument for god the devil and the perfect pizza”

I’m for it unless it will make me unpopular, then I’m against it to my dying breath.

“I just wanna spend my life with you lyrics”

You know, some men will search their entire lives to find a really beautiful, deeply understanding and heartfelt set of lyrics they can pledge themselves to until death does them part.  I mean, I’ve had a desperate crush on “Subterranean Homesick Blues” since puberty, when lyrics stopped seeming so icky, but she’s never had any time for me.  Seriously, once you’ve heard that “Johnny’s in the basement, mixing up the medicine/I’m on the pavement, thinkin’ bout the government” couplet, how can your heart ever belong to another?  Though I’ve found as I’ve aged my tastes too have leaned toward older lyrics and now I find myself very curious about “Use your mentality, wake up to reality” from “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.”

“tolkien rips off harry potter a lot”

Please, do the world a favor and just go away.  There are some lovely caves in Canada’s north that you might find appealing.  Unless bitumen is located beneath them, then it might be a bit noisy with all the drilling and fracking equipment moseying about.

“things people do not know about graham crackers”

If you eat 100 of them in a single sitting you will attain superhuman strength.  (Editor’s note:  DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME, IN A CAR, AT WORK OR REALLY, ANYWHERE YOU MAY FIND YOURSELF WITH OCCASION TO TRY EATING 100 GRAHAM CRACKERS AT ONCE.  THE MANAGEMENT BEARS NO RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR INABILITY TO DISTINGUISH SATIRE FROM ACTUAL THINGS THAT ARE REAL.)

“the parent trap the end”

The twins realize life is a meaningless existential hell and tragically accept a teaching post in Australia.

“youtube videos of sweet honeys tied and gagged in inexorable bondage”

I don’t… I can’t even… heavens, where to even begin.  I’m not sure what’s more perplexing, that such a query would lead to my site, or that the person searching for said videos was literate enough to include the word “inexorable” in their search string.  Admittedly, it is possible that each one of those words has appeared in a different context somewhere back in the archives of my 262 posts, but that the mysterious forces of the algorithm should see fit to mesh them into a giant arrow that points here is, honestly, an argument for the existence of the fickle finger of fate, or at least, the conclusion drawn by the twins at the end of The Parent Trap.

This post is humbly dedicated to all those who have ever penned a “sarcastic advice” piece, because Zeus knows I didn’t come up with the idea.  And to all those who continue to fuel our biting wit with their comical inability to use the Internet properly.  We salute you.

Advertisements

Son of a preacher man

apostle

I’m fighting through a fog today; one of those insidious, creeping mists that slithers through your ears into your brain and blurs the connections between the synapses with shrouded fingers.  Maybe it’s choosing to give the nervous system a day off from the habitual double espresso poured into a concoction of milk and caramel.  Maybe it’s the gray sky choking out all the blue, and the persistent drizzle draping the morning in damp.  Whatever the reason, my gaze turns inward and I find myself unsatisfied with what I’m looking at.  I’m feeling like one of those old-timey salesmen drifting from town to town in a creaky covered wagon pushing miracle cures.  Like a prettily painted canvas being eaten by moths on the other side.  It’s the bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, two out, and I don’t have a bat.  Yet that doesn’t stop me from telling you how everything should be, how you should do this and that and why these things should be more like these other things, and if we would all only do more of this the world would be so much better.  The saying goes, a cynic is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing; I’m claiming in my arrogance that I know the value of everything, and I’m damn well gonna tell you about it.

I’m a preacher reading from a Bible of empty verse.  And this morning we’ve hit a point of critical mass where the contradictions are crushing me, smelling like that unfortunately familiar odor of hypocrisy.  Who the hell do I think I am, and where do I get off?  I have no business telling you how to write a novel, I’ve never published one.  I have no business telling you how to make a movie, I’ve never directed one.  I have no business telling you how to run a country, I’ve never stood for office.  Robert McKee, the well-known screenwriting teacher who has never had a screenplay produced, is fond of remarking that the world is full of people who teach things they themselves cannot do, but I find it difficult to stand comfortably in those ranks.  I’m much more inclined towards the ones who merely prove they can do the work without crowing about it or trying to pass the divine secret onto a host of others.  People who lead by example and not by lecture.  Because when you stand up to the microphone and start your diatribe, there is every possibility that someone in the audience is going to yell back, “Fraud!” – and be bang on.

There are as many opinions as there are stars in the universe, and the democratization of media through blogs and the Internet has ensured that every single one will have its day, regardless of weight, validity or even coherence.  The op-ed, once the realm of what might loosely be termed “learned elders,” is now ubiquitous and available to all comers.  The result?  A veritable cacophony of voices in self-constructed pulpits telling you how things should be, how you’re living your life wrong, that if only these ten specific events would occur then all would be milk and honey, and you’re all idiots for not doing exactly what I say you should have started doing fifteen years ago.  It is not even to suggest that such opinions are always offered from a place of malice or spite – in fact, a great majority are genuine and selfless offers of help.  But there is a line when we cross over from teacher to preacher.  It’s porous, foggy, and easy to miss, and I’m worried that too much of my work falls on the wrong side of the DMZ.  And that my pulpit is a balsa wood facade, and it’s crumbling under the weight of empty words.

In the 1970’s, after the split-up of the Beatles, John Lennon wrote a song called “How Do You Sleep?”, which was a thinly-veiled attack on Paul McCartney, featuring such accusatory lyrics as “the only thing you done was ‘Yesterday'” and “those freaks was right when they said you was dead.”  At the time it was thought to be in response to some like-minded sentiments found in Paul’s solo work directed at his former bandmate.  Yet in years following, Lennon had a change of heart as to who his song was really about.  He offered:

It’s not about Paul, it’s about me. I’m really attacking myself. But I regret the association, well, what’s to regret? He lived through it. The only thing that matters is how he and I feel about these things and not what the writer or commentator thinks about it. Him and me are okay.

I found the first part of the mea culpa intriguing, particularly as dovetailed with one’s perception of John as a contradictory man full of anger who preached peace.  Beatle-weary wags might suggest that it was a half-hearted chickening out in the face of bad press, that if you watch the profanity-laced performance of the song in the movie Imagine you can see for yourself how pissed at Paul John really was.  As I’ve often been reminded, however, the criticisms that sting the most are those we know are about genuine failings within ourselves.  Perhaps John took Paul’s songs personally because he knew on some level that Paul was correct.  And that the wrath flung back towards the man he once stood beside on stage and in the studio was indeed meant to be directed inward.  “You must have learned something in all those years.”

When we’re preaching, ultimately it’s for a congregation of one.  The only person we’re trying to convince, cajole, persuade, motivate, shake out of their complacency or even knock off their immaculate marble Doric-columned pedestal is ourselves.  Even the most rage-filled screed against the unfair world is us picking away at our own flaws, burning off the fat, tearing away veneers of falsehood to get at the kernels of truth hiding in the innermost layers of our soul.  So we can be okay with occasionally having no real ground to stand on; we don’t have to feel like complete phonies.  Posting about how a story should or shouldn’t be written is my own inner Robert McKee giving myself a stern lecture, because I’m the person who needs to work harder at his craft.  Musing about how the world should operate is a challenge to myself to do something about it instead of just voting and complaining.  If someone else happens to agree, wonderful – but I’m the one who is meant to benefit, if, naturally, I choose to get off my duff and take my own advice.  I can be okay with sermonizing from time to time because I can shoulder the responsibility of calling myself out if I think I’m full of it.  That doesn’t make me a hypocrite, or a fraud – just a soldier in the cause of trying to figure out the big mystery with the limited tools at my disposal.  As expected, mistakes are inevitable and necessary, but hell, man, every stumble is still forward motion.  The exercise is a lifelong endeavor that ends only when the lungs breathe their last.

So shine on, crazy preacher man.  Those freaks was right about you.

Taming the Rage Monster

hulk

The Troggs had it wrong:  love is not all around, rage is.  At least that’s what it seems when dialing into any form of media of late.  We’re a perpetual powder keg, frothing at our keyboards to spew a storm of digitized incendiary rhetoric into the nearest available outlet given the merest hint of provocation.  It’s about as ludicrous as that old Simpsons gag where a guy taps another on the shoulder and says “Hey you, let’s fight,” and the other replies “Them’s fightin’ words” and takes a swing at him.  We seem to be spoiling for it in our interactions, seeking out opinions (or venturing them) designed to raise blood pressures and elicit profanities and threats of bodily harm.  And yet it’s not as though you’re seeing fistfights break out in shopping malls on a regular basis, or a global “Red Hour” – if you remember the Star Trek episode “The Return of the Archons” – where the collective agrees on a time and place where they may just as collectively lose their shit.  Day-to-day society proceeds apace, unencumbered by the simmering monster apparently lurking under everyone’s skin ready to Hulk out at the slightest shift in the breeze.

Why are we so angry all the time?  One of the most intriguing arguments is that popular culture, the glamorization of “fame” and the gradual dumbing-down of the education system are to blame for creating a perpetual sense of false expectations amidst the great majority of the world’s population who are fated to live quiet and largely unrecognized lives (not that there’s anything wrong with that).  Our concepts of “success” and “failure” have been altered to a state where they barely resemble the truth of what they once were.  We’ve seen failure removed almost entirely from schools lest the fragile feelings of the precious snowflakes inside be hurt.  (As a parent, I don’t mind when my kid flunks a test, because I’d rather he learn that he needs to try much harder to pass rather than know that no matter how little effort he puts in, he’ll always get by.)  Consequently you have a generation of children believing for the first eighteen years of their lives that they are perfect and infallible, and when adulthood arrives and they don’t ace that first job interview, or they come up against any task that is beyond them, they implode, as reliably as a calculator attempting to divide by zero.  Failure does not compute.

Success, on the other hand, is defined again and again, in a manner resembling brainwashing, in terms frankly unachievable by 99.9999999% percent of the population:  seven-figure salaries, a constant stream of supermodel companions, jetting to the Riviera for the weekend to win the Formula One while top-lining the latest blockbuster action movie.  You are invited constantly to compare the dregs of your life with the riches and wonders of the lucky few and find yourself forever wanting, while being indoctrinated with the lie that the only thing you need is belief in your dreams (that doesn’t hurt, but it is most definitely NOT the only ingredient).  How many people were in that record-retweeted Oscar selfie, versus how many millions more were only wishing that they could have been standing to Bradley Cooper’s right?  Is it realistic to think that we can all be movie stars and sports heroes and retire to Malibu mansions overlooking the sea?  Yet ask any kid what they want to be when they grow up and the number one answer is “famous.”  The purveyors of celebrity gossip have become rich themselves convincing the rest of us that we’re just a happenstance discovery away from the big time.  We don’t actually have to do anything to merit it; we’re owed it.

Yet that golden ticket is not going to arrive, and millions grow increasingly impatient for it.  And to paraphrase Yoda, impatience turns to anger, anger turns to hate.

Once again, the boys seem to be the greater offenders here.  Given that we are prone to insecurity as it is and the media’s far-fetched depiction of what constitutes “manhood,” it is unsurprising to see that fireball into unrestrained fury.  I was made aware of a hashtag that circulated Twitter a few days ago, that blissfully I missed out on, #LiesToldByFemales.  Basically, a venue for a cabal of misogynists (who would not dare say any of these things to a real-life woman, naturally) to whine about the endless ways women had done them wrong, either in actual fact or perception (I chance to assume the latter).  It hearkens back to the redefinition of a successful relationship for a man by countless movies, music videos and men’s magazine articles as:  scoring a smokin’ hot chick who will do whatever he wants and subsume her will and personality to his desires, only as long as he deigns to keep her around.  A prurient fantasy, which of course does not exist in the real world, but doesn’t stop men from wanting it anyway.  They’re entitled to it, the magazines have told them, and the movies have shown, in any number of stories where the beautiful goddess eventually succumbs to the persistent charms of the unwashed, inadequate nerd.  Fade to credits before the inevitable consequences of such an ill-gotten romance take hold.  But no matter, the lie has been pre-packaged and sold, and the men who fail to replicate it in their own lives have a perfect justification to assist in brewing their lifelong resentment of reality.  The perceived “safety” of anonymous online posting of same then entitles them to let it out, so the like-minded can holler “Right on!” and retweet and feel vindicated for harboring the same sentiments.  Regardless of how much damage it may do – and how little in fact their lives will change for the better.

That’s the saddest part of this.  Where is all the rage getting us?  You have a tremendous irony in that profound dissatisfaction with the status quo has fired some of the most expansive changes in our history, and yet, 21st Century rage is an end unto itself.  We are furious, yet benumbed.  We’re not starting riots in malls.  It is enough now to be angry for the sake of being angry, to make a few heated comments on a message board, and go back to the drudgery of the day.  We’re addicted to indignation, seeking it out like junkies who can’t abide the space between the highs.  The result?  A climate where everyone is on edge at every moment of the day, a perpetual chill where many are afraid to speak up because it’s like lighting a match to see how much gas is left in the tank.  Reading highlights from the CPAC conference (for the enviably uninitiated, it’s an annual gripe-fest for conservative politicians and celebrities to blame the world’s woes on liberals and their Kenyan Islamofascisocialist president) I can’t help but be reminded of Woody Allen’s character in the 1967 Casino Royale, whose master plan was to detonate a bomb that would render all women beautiful while simultaneously killing all men over four-foot-eleven.  I don’t know what pipe dream of a regulation-free, rootin’-gun-totin’ right-wing utopia where anyone with less than a billion bucks in the bank is deported to Mexico drives these folks, but they seem awfully pissed off that they don’t have it, and that they’re getting no closer to it no matter how many veins they burst in their forehead while they rail about Benghazi at the podium.  Sponsors are raking in advertising revenue from the anger that Fox News foments, but those in whom it is fomented are no further ahead.  In fact, the stress they’re accumulating is shortening the remaining days they have to get angry in.

So much misdirected energy out there.  Just imagine what we could do with it if we could find a way to direct it somewhere else.

As always, dear reader, the fault lies not in our stars, but in ourselves.  So we need to take a page from the Serenity Prayer – accept the things we cannot change.  We need to let go of this idea that we have a divine right to sit at Brangelina’s table, and that Gisele Bündchen only stays married to Tom Brady because she hasn’t met us yet.  We need to cement in our minds the idea that a relationship with a real person is infinitely more rewarding than empty fantasies about surgically-sculpted, spray-tanned hot bods.  We need to stop thinking that we deserve jobs, fortunes or even people that we haven’t gone out and earned.  We need to remember Captain Picard’s one-time advice to Data:  “It is possible to make no mistakes and still lose.  That is not a failing; that is life.”  So yes, we need to accept that by virtue of birth, talent or plain old dumb luck there will always be those individuals who have things better than we do, and that choosing to resent them for having it is truly like that old saw about drinking poison (or ingesting gamma radiation) and expecting the other person to die.  They won’t, no matter how many times we swear on Twitter about it.

What if we tried living life to our own standards instead of what is foisted on us by marketing reps who are trying to sell us things?  If we were able to take the energy misspent on rage and resentment, pull it out of those bottomless pits and refocus it like a laser in furtherance of working on ourselves and our lives, we’d find the reasons for those feelings diminished.  We wouldn’t envy Tom Brady because we’d know what an incredible partner we have standing right next to us and holding our hand at each step.  We would not need to be on movie screens entertaining anonymous masses because the people we know, closest to us, would never question how much we value them.  We would find ourselves replenished with accomplishment and joy – the kind of deep inner assurance that cannot be bestowed by thousands of screaming fans.  Let’s not forget the cautionary tales of those who seemingly “have it all” yet drown and lose themselves in drink and drugs because standing ovations can’t fix pain.  No matter where you go, there are you are.  Instead, change how you feel about yourself and realize you could have a pretty amazing life if you just started living the one you have and not the imagined one that everything you read and see is telling you that you deserve.

Endless rage will never get us what we really want in life – namely, to stop feeling so angry.  It is the very definition of self-defeat.  So no, Hulk no need to smash.  Hulk need to calm down, be nicer to wife and kid, plant tree and take up productive hobby.  Hulk might find he happier and other stuff not bother him so much.  And everyone get along better.

Shut up and Write

womanwriting

As is obvious to anyone looking at the picture at the top right of this page, I’m lodged solidly in the average white male, 18-49 demographic.  Homer Simpson would say, “everyone listens to me, no matter how dumb my ideas are.”  More to the point, my average white maleness (let’s add heterosexuality to the mix as well, why not) endows me with a certain level of immunity to criticism.  I invite you to take a look at the post published by Emmie Mears in which she talks about the inevitable onslaught of Internet misogyny that is the bane of any woman who dares to express an opinion on anything with the slightest hint of controversy, and how it has stifled her voice in the past.  It’s been telling, too, that as Toronto Star reporter Robyn Doolittle’s star has risen with the release of her Rob Ford book Crazy Town and the slew of media appearances that have followed, so has a tremendous backlash from men, not to mention threats against her life.  Doolittle herself points to a Huffington Post blogger (no relation) who all but accused her of being an opportunistic Barbie doll, and then whined in a follow-up that she was overreacting because but… I said you were pretty!!!  As women’s voices have spread far and wide, so too it seems has the proclivity of certain men to want to tell them to get back into the kitchen if they know what’s good for them.

As f@#$ing insane as that sounds.

It would be easy, perhaps, to dismiss a large portion of these latter types as cretinous, small-membered rubes who can barely spell the dirty words they’re lashing out with, but what is equally troubling is when ostensibly intelligent people wield more polished knives in service of the same end.  The tactics by which female writers are attacked resemble those used by attorneys to discredit witnesses, or by politicians to sabotage opponents – looking for the slightest perceived crack into which can be wedged a huge bootful of doubt.  “You once stole an apple from your neighbor’s tree and then lied about it, so if you were lying then, how are we to assume you’re not lying about seeing Mr. Smith murder his brother?”   Attacking not the message, but the messenger.  Gender is usually the wedge of choice, as if words and opinions generated by a brain attached to a vagina are automatically of lesser worth, to be questioned to the last crossed T and dotted I – no matter how factual, no matter how incontrovertible.

The fans of Rob Ford, angered by the inconvenient truths Robyn Doolittle has exposed about their hero, have gone to typical lengths to cast aspersions on her motivations for pursuing the story, and slammed her for posing for the photo in the Flare article linked above as well, because how dare she have the temerity to be good at her job and attractive at the same time.  (Do actresses get dinged with the same charge when they appear in hundreds of these spreads every year?  Or do they get an exemption because looking good is part of their career, and that the rest of us peons are expected to be homely?)  In the end, it matters not, because were Doolittle of more average appearance, you’d get the same men saying she was tearing down Ford to compensate for her dissatisfaction about her looks and her inability to land a man.

There is a deliberate intent here, one of distraction – for Ford Nation, making Doolittle the story shifts the question away from why it’s considered acceptable to them or to anyone for the Mayor of Toronto to be an unrepentant crack smoker.  Just as a decade ago, publicly shaming the Dixie Chicks for their comments about George W. Bush got everyone’s mind off the thousands of people dying in the war he started in a blaze of testosterone, swagger and unresolved daddy issues.  Apparently, a decade later, Robyn Doolittle’s legs are more horrifying to the public than the thought of a crackhead controlling a $9 billion city budget and rendering Toronto a laughing stock to the world – you know, things that can cause actual damage to real people’s lives, the same real people Ford claims to be workin’ hard for.  It is hard to see the same attitude taking root if Doolittle’s first name was Robert.  They’d still be after “him,” of course, but probably for being once photographed having a beer with a Communist or something equally trivial, but pointedly non-sexual.  (Unless “he” was gay, of course; then all bets would be off.)

I’ve had the mildest taste of harsh online criticism for things I have written that have rubbed certain people the wrong way (the most, oddly enough, for this post about air travel.)  Even in the lowest doses, it can be incredibly dispiriting.  At times I have refrained from submitting certain pieces to HuffPost because I wasn’t certain I wanted to put up with a predictably irate repsonse.  I went almost six months without submitting anything last year for the headache of it all.  But never have even the nastiest comments to me come within a parsec of the visceral, flesh-tearing, bile-spitting hatred endured by female writers.  I’ve never been insulted for my appearance, or had some sick bastard suggest that I should be sexually violated for my opinions.  Which begs the question, why don’t I and my male contemporaries see that kind of blowback when we speak out?  Why is it somehow open season on all aspects of a woman’s being, including her sexual identity, when she pens a robust challenge to the status quo, but men’s looks and personal lives are off limits?  Why is a male writer a bold thinker and a female writer a feminazi pain the ass?

In one of the most eye-opening sections of Emmie’s post, she talks about needing to have a strategy ready to deal with the anger she might encounter in response to her works, and rightfully resenting that.  It certainly is not something I or any other white male 18-49 heterosexual writer has to contemplate.  We are free, it seems, to publish whatever we want, largely without fear of being attacked on such a level.  No one is going to “mansplain” us, declare that we just need a really good f@#k, call us ugly and unworthy of love, tell us we’re being silly and hysterical and fascist feminists and that we’d be better off producing babies than attempting to string words together.  No one’s going to suggest that we must be using our bodies to sleep our way to fame and success.  No one’s going to tell us to “shut up and write” columns on hair products and nail polish, you know, the stuff we’re the real experts on, and leave the serious business to the grown-ups.

No one is going to threaten to track us down at home and rape us.

It behooves male scribes to acknowledge the reality of writing life on the other side of the gender aisle, that women have a tougher job of making themselves heard and believed, and feeling free to even try.  We need to remember the women who choose not to speak up about issues where their opinions are sorely needed, because they’re afraid of violent reprisals from addle-minded douchebags.  Thousands of voices are missing from the conversation or are being silenced through the ugliest of reactions from anonymous cowards.  We should be commending courageous women like Robyn Doolittle and Emmie Mears and all their contemporaries who won’t let themselves be intimidated.  We should remember that it is entirely permissible to disagree with them and that we don’t ever have to make it personal – just as we wouldn’t with some other guy whose opinions made us seethe.  Finally, we should be using our privileged positions as “untouchable” males to call out and shame the behavior of those who are contributing to the fear.

There’s a saying I heard on The West Wing, though it may have been borrowed from somewhere else, that “if they’re shooting at you, you must be doing something right.”  That is probably where a lot of the hate comes from – the conscious or unconscious belief that female writers are indeed hitting too close to home with their observations about a patriarchal world.  I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that the ultimate objective of writing – the pursuit of truth – is better served by more women, not fewer, getting it right and refusing to shut up about it.

Regardless of how many fragile male egos get bruised in the process.

UPDATE:  Emmie responds and includes some links to terrific posts on the same subject, including Chuck Wendig’s.

“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.

Hopefully,

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.

Angrily,

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.

Sincerely,

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.

The followers game

Western Bluebirds by Julio Mulero. Creative Commons license.

“How to get more followers fast!” is the 21st Century equivalent of “How to make money in real estate with no money down.”  In social media, we measure success not by dollars earned, but by reach – by the size of our audience.  Given that the vast majority of those who use social media are looking for bigger numbers, it’s unsurprising that the vultures would swoop in and begin releasing endless volumes of “how-to” schemes.  Though widespread, the advice is more or less the same – use some variety of app to follow large numbers, unfollow people who don’t follow you back, rinse and repeat.  Presto, tens of thousands of strangers hanging on your every word, a massive untapped market ready to lap up whatever variation of widget you want to push on them.

Or is it?

What these “get followers fast” folks won’t tell you is how many of these new people are truly engaged with you – if they care about what you have to say, or if they just followed you because they have a similar app building a following for them.  I’ve posted before about what I look for in people I choose to follow, and when I see someone new following me who has almost identical following/follower numbers, my red flag is raised (especially if their feed is nothing but requests/pleas/desperate cries to buy their book).  Often I won’t follow back, and a few days later I will react with not a shred of surprise when that person disappears from my followers list.  Sayonara, nice to know ya, sorta.  The question I would ask is, what is ultimately more worthwhile:  100 engaged Twitter friends or 100,000 “followers” who never retweet you, never click on your links and never reply to anything you put out there?  100 people who like and care about you or 100,000 who consider you nothing more than a digit?

By any measure advanced by every social media “guru” or “ninja” (aside, isn’t being a ninja antithetical to the concept of social media?  I mean, you want people to know you’re there, right?), my Twitter presence is a failure.  I have been on Twitter for over two years and I have just over 400 followers.  Not exactly Lady Gaga numbers (she probably garners that many every twenty minutes).  Yeah, we love the electric charge we feel when we open it up one morning and see an uptick, and we loathe the disappointment of watching the counter tick down.  I can point to three incidences when I’ve seen a surge in new people coming on board – two of them involve being retweeted by famous people (Justin Trudeau and Russell Crowe respectively), while the third was tied to a Huffington Post article of mine about airline travel that was featured as a headline.  Other than that, it stays pretty steady.  One wonders from time to time if there’s something one is doing or not doing that is keeping the digits immobile.  Am I not funny/irreverent/profound/snarky enough?  What do I have to do to mimic the example of Megan Amram who started from nothing and parlayed a massive Twitter following into a professional TV writing career?

The truth is, nothing.  You can’t be anyone but who you are, as people will be able to smell phoniness ten miles away.  And pretending to be something you’re not is exhausting.  It will suck you dry, because you’ll be forcing yourself to live up to an unnatural standard, and you’ll begin resenting having to fake it day in and day out.  Twitter shouldn’t be a duty, it should be entertaining, thought-provoking, and fun.  Because Twitter has no societal strata barring entry, you can jump right in and chat with whomever you please (of course, customary manners still apply, or you’ll find yourself on a lot of “blocked” lists really darn fast).  Thus you get a chance to befriend and talk with people you might otherwise never meet.  I look back on my Twitter experience and I think of some of the amazing, generous people I’ve encountered, some of the stimulating conversations I’ve had, some of the fantastic writing I’ve discovered, and above all, the quality, not the quantity, of these interactions.  The enrichment of one’s life through being able to communicate with kindred spirits far and wide.  That is Twitter to me, not a race to ratchet up a follower count.

I cringe every time I see one of these automatic updates about someone’s day on Twitter that consist of nothing other than an accounting of their new followers and unfollowers (in the past, I have unfollowed otherwise interesting people who’ve overdone it with these waste-of-Tweets).  It’s plain old boasting, and the height of narcissism to assume that anyone else cares about your self-applied sense of awesomeness.  What I would consider to be a successful day on Twitter consists of more intangible statistics.  If I’ve made someone laugh, if I’ve moved someone to tears, if I’ve helped someone to think differently about a difficult situation, if I’ve provided a little bit of inspiration, or I’ve motivated someone to make a positive change in their life, that means more than numbers ever will.  So the gurus will cluck their tongues, the ninjas will fling throwing stars at me and tell me I’m Doing It Wrong, but truly, just as everyone is meant to find and follow their own path in life, so too is everyone’s social media experience whatever they choose to make of it.  Mine works for me.  How’s yours going?

Paying it forward – part deux

Confession time:  I’ve been negligent again.  In the middle of my somewhat obsessive trip through Bondage of late, the ever-awesome Samir from Cecile’s Writers was kind enough to nominate me for the One Lovely Blog Award.  It’s always terrific to be acknowledged in this way by our fellow scribes; as I’ve observed in the past, what else is blogging or indeed writing but the cry into the lonely wilderness hoping for an answer?  Samir and his colleagues over at Cecile’s are really quite amazing; you should check them out, and often – there is always something different to peruse, a new, insightfully crafted exploration of this mad journey of stringing together words to form images and ideas we have chosen to undertake, whether for the love of language, the desire to reach or simply because we were intoxicated at the time.

I’ve also observed that the words matter more than the man behind them, and so in that respect it’s difficult to come up with seven random things about me that would garner any interest beyond that of my immediate family.  Most of what I would consider important to understanding who the guy behind the glasses is has already been divulged in the course of the 175 essays that precede this one.  But I shall give it the old college try:

1.  I have a crippling addiction to red velvet cake.  If there is ever an “RV-Anon,” I could easily be its spokesperson.  Assuming my arteries haven’t been completely clogged by cream cheese icing first.

2.  The only accent I cannot mimic well is Afrikaner.  I can usually spout off a few brief phrases before it starts to devolve into pidgin-Australian meets effeminate German.

3.  I was once chased away from near the exterior set of Days of Our Lives at the NBC lot in Los Angeles because I was wearing a Universal Studios jacket.

4.  Over 90% of my music collection is movie soundtracks – and not those half-assed packages of unrelated pop songs that are released purely for marketing purposes, but genuine orchestral scores.

5.  On a related note, when I am really in a serious spot of writers’ block, the album that has never failed to save me from it is U2’s The Joshua Tree.

6.  Queries for my novel have (finally) gone out to literary agents.  More to come and good news (if any, hopefully) to be shared here first.

7.  I currently (for November, at least) sport a moustache.  Squint your eyes at my gravatar pic and imagine the horrors.

Writing is about breaking rules sometimes too, and to that end, I’m going to deviate from the last requirement of this award just a little bit.  You’re supposed to nominate an additional 15 blogs that you think merit consideration as well.  But I find myself unable to do so.  For one thing, ashamed as I am to admit it, I don’t read that many blogs that regularly – I have the “fabulous five” that are linked on my front page which I of course recommend heartily to anyone in search of wordly (not a misspelling) fulfilment.  I have a few more that I follow and enjoy from time to time.  However, stretching the list to fifteen – arbitrarily slapping a few extra names on there just to reach an artificial threshold would be unfair to the authors of those blogs, and would serve, I think, to diminish the worthiness of their efforts.  WordPress is a vast and welcoming sea, and the task should be not for me to point you hither and yon based on what could very well be a fleeting fancy of mine, but for you to plunge in without a lifejacket and discover the many sumptuous treasures for yourself.  So instead of hyperlinking fifteen blogs, I’m going to nominate every WordPress blogger who dedicates his or her words to improving our human condition, to expressing positivity and hope.  To everyone who wants their work to create a smile somewhere out there in the world – to everyone who wants the words they etch in the unforgiving cement of the Internet to be an enduring message of joy and celebration of all we are and all we can achieve.

This award is for every last one of you, and that’s the best part – you already know who you are.  You don’t need me or anyone else to tell you.

Putting your best click forward

The quote kind of says it all, doesn’t it?  There are days when the sheer mass of dumb zipping gap-mouthed through cyberspace makes one long for the days when the reach of a person’s stupidity could be contained to his immediate family and circle of friends (or, if he was a politician, to his discouraged constituency).  For a sobering majority, Internet access has emboldened us to act like the digital equivalent of a chimpanzee flinging his diaper against the wall.  I suppose certain individuals can be so incredibly lonely and frustrated that negative attention can provide a temporary relief from the emptiness – that someone acknowledged their existence, even if it was solely with four-letter words.  Trying to picture oneself in that position, one tends to wonder why it wouldn’t be more productive and ultimately satisfying to seek positive reinforcement?  Wiccans believe in the principle that whatever you put out into the world you get back threefold – accepting that as a starting point, does the aforementioned chimpanzee relish the prospect of three times the volume of excrement flying back at him?

It’s been observed that in the 21st Century we are all living two lives:  our “real” life and our digital one.  Employers are keen to evaluate the online activity of potential hires as an equal measure of a person’s character (if a promising, experienced and brilliantly-credentialed candidate interviews well but spends his nights harassing celebrities on Twitter, is that someone you want as a representative of your company?)  I don’t see the distinction in how we should act in one or the other.  We are both – why do we want to be a jackass in one of them?  The digital life gives you the chance to create a strong identity for yourself, particularly since we are all much wittier when we have the chance to think about what we’re typing before we post it.  The digital life must be lived consciously, and as a result lets you simply be, free of the hesitations, embarrassments, second-guessing and split-second gaffes that can accompany real-life interactions.  You can be clearer, more erudite, more thoughtful and more engaging.  You have a clean slate, especially when you choose to be anonymous.  My blogging friend East Bay Writer doesn’t post her name or any details of who she is, and tales of her workplace are related with clever pseudonyms.  You’d think that without the burden of identity, she has license to be as brutally snarky as she wants, cutting enemies down left and right and railing against the world with little fear of consequence.  But she doesn’t.  She still crafts a thoughtful, engaging and positive persona, and readers respond to this positivity in kind.  Blogging pals Tele, Samir, Pat and Evan use their real names like I do but still, like EBW, remain true to the goal of creating a positive online identity.  Contrast this approach to that of any number of anonymous Internet trolls who opt for the darker path and then think about who you’d rather spend time with – I guarantee it won’t take longer than a second to decide.

Our society has come to measure success in decibels, resulting in a level of discourse that makes Beavis and Butt-head look like Rhodes scholars in comparison.  The example being set by many of those in the spotlight is that you need not be correct, learned or even particularly interesting, so long as you can yell insults at just the right moment.  Naturally, people who don’t have nationally syndicated television shows want a piece of this action too, even if it’s as “trollguy69” on an obscure message board devoted to the third season of Stargate: Atlantis.  The trouble is, a flurry of “LOL” responses are the most fleeting of acclaim, forgotten the instant they are posted, and certainly not anything you can build on.  Ideas resonate and linger; background noise is just that.  Given the option I’d rather try to put something out there that raises the bar, even if it’s to a limited audience, and even if I’m occasionally just wrong.  If people are going to hate my guts for what I have to say, I’d rather they hate me for a reasonable point I articulated with intelligence instead of being able to dismiss me because my grammar was all over the map or I mistook a basic fact of existence (otherwise known as the “OMG Lord of the Rings is a total rip-off of Harry Potter!!!” fail).

The world simply would not function if the level of idiocy represented in the digital space was an accurate measure of the intellectual capacity of our entire species.  Somehow the trains still manage to run on time and people still live healthy, productive lives.  The only conclusion one can draw is that what we see online is certain people acting out of character, indulging their id for some unfathomable sense of gratification.  What is somewhat reassuring is that in the grand scheme the Internet is still a technological baby, and accordingly, we tend to act like babies on it.  Eventually what amused us as babies is embarrassing to us as teens and positively unthinkable as adults.  We will grow, and graduate, and get better at using it to advance our collective humanity.  Isn’t it preferable to be one of the ones leading the way?  Nothing to LMAO about that.

With a great audience comes great responsibility

Herrick Memorial Library at Alfred University.

The one-year anniversary of Graham’s Crackers is fast approaching and it’s been quite the ride.  As you’ll have noticed I also thought that in honor of this momentous occasion a new look might be in order.  Sorry if things aren’t quite where you left them; I’m still working out the kinks in this new theme.  Patience, Daniel-san, it’ll right itself in due time.  Anyway, I find myself in reflective mode, ruminating over the last year; posts that I’m really proud of, others that probably could have stood a good solid re-edit before they went up, some I wish I’d never written at all (and you’d be surprised at some of my choices, not that I’m going to reveal them to you.  U2 always pisses me off when they introduce a new album by saying their last one wasn’t any good – well what does that mean to the people who really connected with that stuff?  Are they then meant to feel stupid for liking it – and spending money on it – in the first place?)

As much as I enjoy being able to write this blog, in many ways it is just as restrictive as it is liberating, for the singular reason that it’s public and people read it.  When you’re writing a new post, you can’t put anything on here you wouldn’t be okay with your worst enemy knowing about, because posting to a public Internet forum is the equivalent of draping a banner on your house announcing your thoughts to the world.  You’d best be able to stand behind what you say, even if hundreds of people are throwing tomatoes at you.  More simply, you must be able to accept the consequences of your free speech – even if those consequences aren’t necessarily negative; often they’re not.  But in an age where privacy is fast becoming an outdated concept, how much of ourselves are we truly comfortable with sharing?  Many things we go through might benefit from literary self-analysis through a similar forum – how we feel about work, our families, our partners.  Experiences our readers will relate to and empathize with.  But should we lay them out boldly for all to see?  It’s often safer to try and explore those issues allegorically, in the context of reviewing some celebrity’s latest mediocre album.

The futile recall attempt in Wisconsin on Tuesday made me want to put my fist through the wall – I know, it’s not my country, but I hate seeing liberals fail and douchebag conservatives triumph no matter where they live, especially since what happens south of the border invariably trickles north.  (Also worthy of punching drywall was an idiot MP here screaming that we should drop out of the UN, and his government abolishing the section of our Human Rights Act that bans Internet hate speech.)  When stuff like that happens I want to vent with a vindictive fury in a blistering torrent of profanity that would embarrass David Mamet.  But then I take a moment, and a breath, and remember that you wonderful people don’t deserve to hear me in my worst moments.  The question is, however, is not letting you see me at my worst somehow dishonest?  Should Graham go utterly crackers and spew what he really thinks across these digital pages?

The obvious answer is of course not.  People I love read me.  People I work with read me.  Friends old and new read me.  Even people I can’t stand and wouldn’t piss on if they were on fire probably read me.  And I am responsible, as Aaron Sorkin says, to captivate you, whoever you are, for as long as I have asked for your attention.  Consideration of the demands of our audience is what makes us better writers – even if it arguably makes us less truthful.  There is a tremendous difference in how I write versus how I speak – I am much better at organizing my thoughts on paper, but that also means I’ve censored myself at times and rearranged arguments for a more logical flow, so I come off like an erudite scholar with all his literary ducks lined up.  When I speak without prepared material, I can occasionally sound like I could benefit from Lionel Logue’s help.  But is that more who I really am?  And am I lying to you by not letting that guy post here?

Maybe, but I’m also saving you some irritation.  A writing class I took once included an exercise where you were forced to write continuously for a pre-determined period of time without thinking about the words or stopping to edit them.  You basically let go and let the words take you wherever they were headed – it was raw, unshaped, unfiltered creativity.  What resulted was honest, pure and truthful.  The trouble was it wasn’t terribly readable, or even particularly interesting.  And I think we can agree that the Internet is saturated with that sort of material already.

Self-expression is freest when no one is listening.  As soon as a monologue becomes a dialogue, the dynamic changes into something else entirely – a conversational game of Pong, with words and feelings evolving and morphing into new ideas and concepts with each volley and return.  I’ve always been a bit uncomfortable with the idea of publishing the diaries of noted individuals after they’ve passed on – while the insights we garner into their eras are valuable from a strictly historical perspective, for the most part these were never intended to be seen by anyone else.  They were intimate confessions with the sole purpose of giving the writer the opportunity to heal their wounded soul in private, away from the judgment of others.  To that end I wonder if perhaps it’s better to accept blogging for what it is, and continue to explore the truth within its limitations, the yin and yang, give and take with the audience.  Ironically, I find something liberating in that.