Tag Archives: The Huffington Post

What Kind of Tweeter Are You?

whatkind

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!!!

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By any other name

anonymous

I came across a blog post in my Twitter feed the other day that asked one’s opinion on pen names.  When I first got started online back in the early aughts, the mere thought of using my own name was verboten.  OMG, went the reasoned analysis, what if they don’t like what I’m saying about the newest Bond movie and find out where I live?  And it wasn’t even like I was trolling or otherwise comporting myself like an ass and inviting that kind of retribution.  My name was a part of my identity I didn’t want to give up to the nebulous strangers on the other side of the AOL dial-up connection (yep, I’m that much of a fossil).  Even when I started my first, short-lived blog in 2006, it was under the pretext of absolute anonymity.  I wasn’t in the greatest of places emotionally at the time and it seems, reflecting on it now, that I wanted somewhere I could vent without thought of consequence.  To tell the world what to go do with itself and flee, like deliberately passing gas in an elevator and hopping off at the very next floor.  In retrospect, a paper diary would have been preferable.  Unfortunately I have long lost the ability to log into that old site, and it still lurks online like a scrawl of graffiti on the last lingering pockmarked concrete wall of a long-demolished building (link not included for obvious reasons).  It’s a good reminder to me, though, of the misguided approach I once had.  If you are reaching out and hoping for connection, you have to provide something tangible for the other to connect back to.  An open hand won’t embrace a forbidding fist.

Interacting online, even under our own name and image, is still much like creating a character for an audience, and it is fascinating to see how quickly impressions become entrenched based only on a few facts.  Moreover, it is equally as compelling to see the level of trust that is offered through those impressions, which speaks fondly to those who keep faith in an innate human goodness.  Because we have no reason to believe, at all, that the character we’re seeing is genuine, that it isn’t a flight of someone’s fancy.  Who is Graham Milne, truly?  For many of you, he’s just the words and images that appear here and on Twitter and The Huffington Post.  He is only knowable to a certain degree, that degree being what he chooses to share or, perhaps more importantly, not share.  And yet, he is still me.  I didn’t make him up.  WYSIWYG, as the tech guys put it.  You can trust me on this one.  It’s simply easier to be truthful online because I’ve never been good at lying.  It’s easier to be empathetic to others because I don’t fancy putting those others down, nor being thought of as a bastard.  It’s easier to be me because that’s the role I was made for and I already know all the lines.

At the same time, there is a curiosity, morbid perhaps, as to what it would feel like to cut loose and lash out, to playact as one of those people who trashes everyone and everything that doesn’t align with his narrow worldview.  We all have those moments where we want to break the self-imposed identity bonds and run the @#$@ away, not that more than a few of us ever do.  One can see the appeal of authors who have been pigeonholed in one genre choosing to write under assumed names to jettison the preconceptions of their fans; of why J.K. Rowling had to become Robert Galbraith to write The Cuckoo’s Calling.  I certainly don’t enjoy the idea of being boxed in.  My first novel is a fantasy, but as much as I enjoy playing in that sandbox, I don’t necessarily want to write fantasy my entire life.  Assuming (hopefully – queries are ongoing) it gets published and garners some admirers, will they want to follow me when I venture into sci-fi, or political thrillers, or YA love stories, or musicals about beings made of cotton candy who just want to eat root vegetables?  What is the nature and what are the limits of the contract with my projected image of myself that I offer in exchange for a few moments of your time?  Am I expected to always be the same old Graham, and how far along the rickety, windblown tree limb can I expect you to follow me?  Will you hold onto me when it snaps and we both fall down?

It is not to suggest that there is an element of bravery to using your real name in your writing and your online interactions somehow lacking in those who prefer to remain anonymous when they publish.  Instead, it goes back to that question of what part we want in the play, if all the world is indeed a stage.  I suspect most of us are comfortable with what we’ve got because we don’t need to Method Act ourselves into someone else’s skin.  When we allow ourselves to show, when we expose our vulnerable spot, it’s a risk, absolutely – but the connections we’ll find as a result will be more lasting.  We won’t even question clinging to each other when that bough breaks.  We’ll find, to our delight, that we’re both wearing parachutes.

For want of One Great Phrase

Untitled

We hear a lot about what writers need, about their obsessive, soul-shaking compulsion to empty their brains of neatly arranged consonants and vowels in as many media as possible, in pursuit of the phenomenon of connection.  Author Layla Messner has a nice, simple, resonant line about it in her Twitter bio:  “Words have been known to come out of my fingers” – they pour, unfiltered from the tap, emptying onto the page in sometimes messy, sometimes poetic splashes.  If we couldn’t type our stories, we’d talk them, if we couldn’t talk them, we’d resort to mime, gesticulating wildly until someone got the idea.  Every moment spent not writing only aggravates the junkie’s craving and fills one with the sense of precious, elusive time misspent.  Family night?  Stuff that, I’ve got eighteen pages to edit and the problems of a fictional unemployed karaoke-obsessed spot welder from Scranton, Pennsylvania to wrestle with.  Few outside “the profession” can comprehend it; those of us on the inside share our compounding frustrations with secret winks and nods and commiserations offered in the digital cafe.  And when we find ourselves without anything substantial to say, we write about what’s wrong with the plumbing, trying to dislodge the creative clog, to rediscover the reassurance of free flowing literary neurosis.

With so much energy expended on exploring writers’ need, what then of what the writer wants?  Not a subject that gets discussed with nearly as much fervor.  Perhaps no one can articulate it in a way that doesn’t sound like the selfish, capitalistic, materialistic desires for fame and fortune and universal acclaim – the seven-figure book deal, the gushing reviews and self-indulgent television interviews, the gala premiere of the movie adaptation, the legions of followers begging to be sated by the next volume in your ongoing saga.  And all that is outside the art itself; fleeting external validation that does little to advance the craft, sharpen your skills or contribute to a legacy that will outlive your just as fleeting mortal shell.  What then, is the want, stripped of the external trappings, boiled down to its essence?  What aspiration keeps the writer awake late at night when the world has gone to sleep, the caffeine has metabolized into ether and the glow of the laptop saturates his face with a cold blue veneer?

Greatness.  Not, I think, the notion of being a great person, but of creating something that takes figurative flight and soars far beyond your little fragment of the world.  Something that becomes.

There’s no such thing as the perfect novel, or even the perfect sentence, hyperbolic critics to the contrary.  There is, however, the ineffable quality of a phrase well-turned – the witty line, the fragment of repartee, the utterance of a slice of wisdom that lasts through generations.  We all harbor memory banks of quotations we can rely upon to spice our own work with a fragment of someone else’s literary manna – the ubiquitous sayings of Shakespeare, Wilde, Twain, Parker, Churchill, Hemingway, Fry, Hitchens, Sorkin (naturally), even Marx (Groucho) and Lennon (John), to name but the merest few.  One need not even be exceptionally well-read to draw on one’s betters – websites like BrainyQuote are an ample buffet, whatever’s on the verbal menu.  How too, do we long to be included in that pantheon.  To one day have high schoolers begin essays with, “As Milne once wrote…”  There’s a reason they call these immortal phrases.  The heart yearns to birth one of its own.

It’s amusing, as a contributor of the occasional column to The Huffington Post, to see which sentence is plucked from the piece by the blog editors to characterize its tone and message on the sidebar.  Which they feel is most likely to draw the maximum amount of click-interest.  I don’t get a say.  Sometimes it turns out to be one that was labored on intensely; others were tossed off in fractions of seconds and result in embarrassed cringes.  When Tony Bennett shared the review I wrote of his performance on his Facebook page, he included this extract as a teaser:

From where does that intensity, that passion, that sheer emotional dynamite come?  If only the man could bottle it and sell it…

Is that the greatest thing that I’ve ever written?  It’s probably not even the greatest sentence in the whole piece.  And did I spend a lot of time and thought and energy creating it or did it just kind of tumble out of me onto the ground to be bypassed like a rusty mile marker on the journey to a more scintillating conclusion?  Regardless, Tony Bennett liked it.  And because he shared it, a great number of people saw it.  But it still fell short of that maddening goal of crossing into the zeitgeist, of tearing itself away from my humble custody to bequeath itself into the care of the ages.  Truthfully, it was never worthy of that honor.  It was of a singular moment and nothing more.  We shall have to try again.

Speaking of attempts, Twitter has become a terrific venue for the creation of quirky, real time bon mots.  Inspiration strikes – we think up something amusing, either on our own or in reaction to somebody else’s comment, we send it out, we eye our Mentions tab for retweets and favorites (and pretend that we don’t, because who wants to admit that we crave the attention).  And it becomes a popularity contest, a battle of digits, with champions determined less by intrinsic and lasting value and more by whose thumbs typed it.  The most I’ve ever had anything retweeted – 19 times – was a snarky castigation of Mitt and Ann Romney during the 2012 presidential election campaign, and hardly something I’d want to be remembered for, nor will anyone else remember it.  Indeed, the tearing down of others has never been the path to the light of universal inspiration.

I’ve written things that I’ve thought were pretty good, I’ve written things that I’ve despised with unbridled bile that rivals the contempt in which I hold certain members of certain political parties in certain parts of the world.  I have yet to write what I consider to be my One Great Phrase, my lasting entry for the Big Book of Quotations.  As usual, what my audience thinks of my work never matches what I think of it.  And I could point to the work of acquaintances of superior skill for examples of what I might consider to be their One Great Phrase which they would scoff at and then ask me for a helping of whatever I might be smoking.  The object of the pursuit remains then an ever-rising mountaintop, the Holy Grail teetering on the edge of the precipice, the Ark you daren’t open lest your face melt off (and any other Indiana Jones metaphors you can think of.)  I suppose it’s just as well – the day you’re satisfied is the day you stop.

Say, that’s not a bad line.  Use it if you like.  But don’t call it great.  We’re not there yet.

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?

Twitter bios: Who are you, really?

@MobyDick.  Whale.  Love eating krill and plankton.  Not fond of one-legged captains.  #GetOverItAhab
@MobyDick. Whale. Love eating krill and plankton. Not fond of one-legged captains. #GetOverItAhab

On Twitter, we are what we say.  We have the opportunity to craft a complete online identity through what we talk about, who we talk with and what we share.  I have met some amazing people through Twitter and had some engaging, thought-provoking and downright hilarious conversations, with folks I might otherwise be terrified to approach were I to see them out on the street (Russell Crowe, looking in your direction, mate).

Disappointing on occasion though are the Twitter bios people write for themselves.  A mere 160 characters to sit on your Twitter account permanently and try to encapsulate who you are and why people should be interested in you.  Folks who are using Twitter strictly as a marketing tool are the worst, describing themselves as flatly and as soullessly as the plastic widgets they’re attempting to push on you.  And some traits are dropped in so commonly and so lazily as to lose all meaning – “coffee drinker,” for example, which is about as distinguishing as saying you’re an “oxygen breather.”

I’m also puzzled as to why some Tweeps waste characters with “Tweets are my own,” “Retweets are not endorsements” and “I follow back!”  I understand that if you want to mouth off about how badly last night’s Stanley Cup playoff game went, you don’t want anyone to possibly infer that your profane criticism of the refereeing reflects the official views and positions of the ABC Company.  I think most people are smart enough to understand that although we all work, we all have private lives as well.  My Twitter life is entirely disengaged from my work life, even though there are people I work with who follow me (and I follow them).  But I don’t talk about work.  EVER.  I don’t say where I work and I don’t bitch about work.  Look, I’m at work all day, every day, and I have enough of it on my mind without it spilling into my social media life too.  Saying “Tweets are my own” is just dumb though.  Of course they’re your own.  They’re not Phil’s, and they’re not Uncle Frank’s, and people get that.

“Retweets are not endorsements” is another one that to me, is a waste of space.  I mean, I suppose there’s the fear that you might retweet somebody’s joke about airline travel only to find out a few weeks later that he once got arrested for masturbating in a park, and suddenly you’re a supporter of public self-pleasure by association or some such nonsense.  Look, I can think Braveheart is a great movie and no one would ever accuse me of sympathizing with some of the reprehensible views that Mel Gibson has espoused publicly.  When you retweet something, it’s because you thought that particular statement was worth sharing again.  You’re not suddenly a staunch enthusiast of everything that person has ever said.  I think this is one we just need to agree on collectively and then, just as collectively, remove it from every single Twitter bio on earth.

Finally, announcing “I follow back” or using the hashtag #TeamFollowBack is, as Ricky Gervais has said, a little bit sad.  It pretty much guarantees that people will only follow you to bump up their own numbers, and not because they are truly interested in hearing what you have to say.  I know I’m going against the advice of every single Internet marketing specialist here, but I think of Twitter as what the cable companies will never offer:  an opportunity to pick your own channels, a la carte, without having to pay for or suffer through programs you don’t want.  You can very easily build up a massive following by just following everyone you can and unfollowing those who don’t follow back, but what does that get you in the end?  An awful lot of noise.  I follow people who will add value to my day, and that’s my sole criterion.

So, what should you put in your Twitter bio?  Well, I’m not saying mine is the epitome of awesome, but I think it’s pretty good, and here’s why.  When you click on my profile, this is what you’ll see:

Writer, novelist-in-waiting, HuffPoster, Anglo, James Bond and Aaron Sorkin-phile, happy liberal, lover of martinis, women and song, preferably all at once.

1. Writer, novelist-in-waiting, HuffPoster:  Chuck Wendig has a great line about how you’re either a writer or you aren’t, the word “aspiring” sucks, and that you shouldn’t differentiate just because you may not necessarily get paid for your words.  Right now, I don’t make money for anything I write.  I hope that will change soon, but it doesn’t stop me from writing.  Ergo, I am a writer.  I say “novelist-in-waiting” because I do have one finished novel, but to me, “novelist” suggests that you have more than one.  I don’t yet.  When I do, the “in-waiting” will fall off.  And again, just because I haven’t published it and no one’s paid to read it doesn’t mean a thing.  It’s a novel, I wrote it, it exists.  Finally, I should think it’s fairly obvious why “HuffPoster” is there.  23 articles and counting, so yeah, that one I can back up with solid evidence and the hateful comments that go with it.

2. Anglo, James Bond and Aaron Sorkin-phile:  A small sampling of my popular culture interests.  I have been enamored with all things English since probably the first time I heard someone speak in an English accent, which, given the second item in the list, was probably in watching a James Bond movie.  It also covers Monty Python, the Beatles and the majority of my taste in music, movies, books, the lot.  And I’m an Aaron Sorkin fan because his writing helped me find my own writing voice.  (Which reminds me, I must get to that in another post sometime as I believe I did promise it a while back.)

3. Happy liberal:  I don’t talk about politics on Twitter (or here) as much as I used to because the anger and hate that it stirs up on occasion (read: constantly) is becoming a bit stomach-churning in my old age.  But in a way, this is a shorthand message to politically inclined folks who might like to follow me that this is where I start from.  If you’re a worshipper of all things Ronald Reagan, free market libertarianism and neo-conservative warmongering, I don’t think you’ll find me very interesting; in fact, I may make your blood boil.  I certainly won’t be seeking you out so I can crap all over your home feed with bleeding heart, namby-pamby communism.  Let’s just agree to disagree and leave each other alone then.  On the other hand, if you think we should base decisions on science, ensure that the rich pay their fair share, stop paving planet Earth indiscriminately and live in a society where we look after each other and help boost each other up, if you believe that government can be a force for good when the best people are involved in it, if you believe that a small group of committed citizens can change the world because it’s the only thing that ever has, then sign on up, glad to have you, I might even follow back.

4. Lover of martinis, women and song:  Yes, I do love me a martini.  All kinds – dry, fruity, decorated with chocolate shavings or plastic parasols, doesn’t matter.  It’s a drink of sophistication that makes a man feel comfortable in a jacket and tie – a throwback to the era when class and erudition was the real swag.  I’m old-fashioned that way, I suppose, but in a time when being a man seems to be a race to the bottom of a beer and nacho-cheese soaked barrel, I’m proud to be an anachronism.  A lover of women?  Yes, dear goddess yes, in all facets.  Not a day goes by where I don’t ponder a particular woman or women in general with awe and admiration.  I love them for their indomitable strength, their ability to take every setback life throws at them because of their gender and say, “is that all you’ve got, little man?”  I love their minds, I love their senses of humor, I love their ability to see right through us, to strip away our phoniness and our pretend selves and force us to figure out who we really are.  I love the music in their laughter, the poetry in their tears.  I love their connection with who they are and the world they live in.  I love the scent of their hair, the softness of their skin, the tone of their legs, the elegance of their hands.  I love that I’m married to the most incredible woman on the planet, that I’m the brother of the second most incredible woman on the planet and that I’m privileged to know so many of their sisters.  And I love to celebrate women in the words I write – which, I suppose, is the meaning of the “song” here.

5. Preferably all at once:  Because a perfect evening is listening to my wife croon Ella Fitzgerald while I sip a Vesper.

There you have it – not saying that it’s perfect or that it won’t ever change.  But if you want to get to know me, it’s a good place to start.  Then you have to let my words do the rest.

Putting it out there then:  How do you describe yourself on Twitter?

The last good fight

“Well sir, I guess there’s just a meanness in this world” – Bruce Springsteen, “Nebraska”

“Ernest Hemingway once wrote, ‘The world is a fine place and worth fighting for.’  I agree with the second part.” – William Somerset (Morgan Freeman), Seven

“Nothing baffles the schemes of evil people so much as the calm composure of great souls”Comte de Mirabeau

Warren Kinsella is a former advisor to Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien and continues to assist the Liberal Party of Ontario during its election campaigns – to put him in West Wing terms, he’s a wartime consigliere.  I read his blog frequently and don’t always agree with him (not to sound like the Dos Equis guy here) but respect him for several reasons:  one of which is that he says liberals should always be full-throated go-for-the-gut liberals, and another is that he believes in the nobility of always fighting for what is important.  (He is the lone liberal voice on Canada’s pathetic Fox News clone Sun News Network, which gives you a sense of his willingness to take the fight to the enemy’s turf.)  The other day he posited that he thought the human race was evil and beyond redemption.  He cited the examples of the Syrian massacre and a particular website which offers video of disturbing violent acts (which I’m not going to link to for obvious reasons).  Clearly, if you want to go down that route, there are thousands of examples more.  It’s one of those arguments that you’ll always find more evidence to support if you need it – like “politicians are corrupt,” “democracy doesn’t work” or “Jersey Shore is a blight on society.”

I don’t subscribe to this thinking, because it’s the easy way out.  (And in fairness to the usually spunky Warren, he could have just been having a bad day or been thinking about the world his kids are growing up in.)  To me, it’s throwing up your hands and surrendering before you even strap on the first shin pad.  It’s saying that principles do not matter, values are not important and attempting to live a civilized, moral life is futile.  It’s looking at the world’s douchebags living high off the hog and wondering why the hell we’re trying so hard not to be them, with the idea that our way is better for the soul, when we’re getting screwed by the universe anyway while they reap the rewards.  Like the worker ant who dutifully and nobly carries food back to the colony day after day only to be scorched to death one sunny afternoon by a smirking brat with a magnifying glass.  But it’s ground that I don’t believe the human race as a whole can afford to concede.  It’s not a world I want to live in.  Indeed, it’s not a world that would live very long.

On Star Trek and its successors, you’d often find the crew visiting planets where everyone wore the same outfit and shared the same opinion.  Absent was the dichotomy that defines humanity – the extremes of light and dark and good and evil that share contradictory space inside the soul.  The same heart that loves one hates another; the same species that cherishes beauty creates ugliness.  But it’s important not to forget that despite the increasing societal obsession with what is worst about us (fostered by media companies trying to scare you into buying things you don’t need), we have truly done some remarkable things in our relatively short time in the cosmos.  We have forged incredible works of art, literature, music.  We have crafted a society of laws and good governance.  We have cured devastating illnesses and been able to shift the focus of our existence from mere survival to the enrichment of our spirit and of our collective consciousness.  We have even taken the tiniest of baby steps away from our world into the endless realm of possibility that lies beyond.  Why, when looking at this evidence, should we continue to base our opinion of ourselves on the abysses rather than the apexes?  Are we really no better than the very worst of us?  Are we all hovering forever on a tipping point of evil, just one fragile breath away from unleashing our inner Hitler?

No goddamn way.  Call it what you will – even dare to call it faith.  But to say humanity is evil and beyond redemption is to admit I am evil and beyond redemption.  And I am better than that.  I know I am.  I know we all are.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a piece criticizing the conservative moguls funding attack ads against the President of the United States.  I submitted it to The Huffington Post and was surprised that they liked it enough to feature it prominently on their Politics page.  The response was quite staggering, with what I’d say was probably a 3 to 1 ratio of comments supporting what I had to say versus condemning it.  And the ones who condemned it certainly didn’t mince words.  But I don’t regret writing the piece.  It was something that I felt needed to be said, and a lot of people agreed with me.  (Interestingly enough, not that I can claim any responsibility, an article subsequently appeared in Politico where these right-wing sugar daddies are now complaining that they are being picked on, apparently forgetting that one of the tenets of free speech is the right of everyone else to tell you you’re being a dick when you say something they don’t like.)  I’ve accepted that I’ll never be a billionaire or wield the kind of influence over the masses that some really awful people do.  But my voice will always be my own, and that is something that cannot be purchased from anybody else.  And I will continue to use it to advocate the world I want to see, the world I know we can attain, with every single breath, until I can no longer speak.  It’s like that wonderful poem from The Grey:  “Once more into the fray, into the last good fight I’ll ever know.”

The bastards will not grind me down.

In fairness, I did like The Lord of the Rings too (Part 1)

Frodo eyeing Sting for the first time, duplicating my skeptical look at the prospect of a Lord of the Rings movie.

The Huffington Post quoted me praising Star Wars in their “battle of the franchises,” in which, following preliminary rounds that have seen spirited contenders such as Harry Potter and James Bond fall by the wayside, Jedi now fight hobbits in the quest for the ultimate prize – the top rank in a meaningless, statistically-flawed survey of genre popularity.  Judging such things is a bit like trying to assign criteria to beauty – everyone has his own preference, and for infinite different reasons.  The same can be said for how I and many like me weigh Star Wars against The Lord of the Rings.  How we view them depends on who we are, what our circumstances are when we experience them for the first time, and how those experiences evolve as we grow and accrue the cynicism of wisdom to find endless fault with what once sparked only wonder.

I grew up with Star Wars, but can’t say the same for The Lord of the Rings.  I saw the Ralph Bakshi animated version at a friend’s birthday party when I was six or seven and what I recall most was the entire group of youngsters finding it tiresome and cheap and quickly shutting it off to listen to the newest Duran Duran record instead.  As I got older, it was one of those elements of popular culture that I was always aware of, but never terribly interested in exploring further (kindly recall that this would have been when the idea of sitting down with three enormous volumes of Tolkien prose would be quickly supplanted by the sight of a shapely pair of tanned legs strolling by).  And I was jaded by cinematic fantasy throughout the 80’s and 90’s:  endless chintzy, low-budget productions with lousy special effects, cruddy-looking monsters, embarrassing writing, hammy acting by D-list performers and the infuriating cliché of the “magical portal to Los Angeles.”  After all, why pit your dashing heroes against dastardly villains in a wondrous setting of visceral imagination (you know, something you’d actually have to pay somebody talented and expensive to dream up) when you can have them duke it out on Sunset Boulevard while hip-hop plays over each swing of their enchanted swords?  On television, mainstays like Hercules and Xena were amusing diversions, but drowned in smirking, anachronistic pop culture references, and characters’ ability to die and resurrect ad infinitum, what a friend once called “a day pass to the underworld,” undermined any sense of stakes when the scripts could be bothered trying to aim for it.  You got the sense that the creative sorts behind these ventures considered their target audience strictly ADD-afflicted kids.  Given little consideration was any semblance of “the big ideas” that fantasy can tackle, or any sense that these characters were remotely human.

Around the turn of the millennium I’d heard rumblings here and there that a new movie adaptation of The Lord of the Rings was underway.  Oh yeah, that crummy cartoon, I thought to myself.  The CV of director Peter Jackson was not encouraging either; the few minutes of The Frighteners I’d seen were silly.  When the appalling Dungeons & Dragons limped its way onto the screen in 2000, I thought it was a pretty accurate barometer of how the new LOTR would turn out.  Nobody could do this right, not with the kind of verisimilitude that fantasy cried out for, and this unknown New Zealander with a few weird-ass movies on his IMDb page certainly wasn’t going to be the first.

Then, in early 2001, someone sent me a Fellowship of the Ring promotional calendar.  And I was floored by what I saw – portraits of esteemed actors like Ian McKellen, Christopher Lee, Cate Blanchett and Ian Holm in richly detailed costumes as wizards, elves and hobbits.  Steven Tyler’s daughter looking simply radiant as Arwen.  North and Rudy as Frodo and Sam respectively.  The grizzly-looking guy who played Satan in The Prophecy as Aragorn, and what’s this… the MAN himself, Sean Bean as Boromir.  Okay, I thought, there might be something to this after all.  Especially since the quality of this calendar proved that some serious coin had been poured into this endeavour, it wasn’t a one-off “let’s-cut-our-losses-and-sell-the-rights-to-Taco-Bell” promotion.  Maybe, I dared to hope.  Maybe this time, they’ll get it right.  Thus, unbelieving me decided it was finally time to set about reading the books, so I could see how, despite all this incredible design work, the filmmakers would screw everything up.

Certainly a lot of Tolkien’s original work is decidedly uncinematic (not that it’s a bad thing, just some stuff fundamentally works better on the page).  Goofy Tom Bombadil seemed like a train wreck waiting to happen, and I cringed every time Sam burst into tears or characters broke into song at the drop of a wizard’s hat like they were starring in a Middle-earth revival of Guys & Dolls.  Realistically, I thought, for this to be adapted faithfully you’d have to turn it into a ten-hour musical.  But coming to it late, in the shadow of the upcoming films, I didn’t find any story beat I was particularly attached to, or dying to see realized in 35 millimeter.  I thought it could have made a great movie; I was just saddled with memories of 20 years of bad movies and could visualize the visible matte lines, crude animation and histrionic over-emoting under a synthesizer score that could have resulted.  Even as the months ticked away, trailers leaked out into the world, a traveling exhibit of the movie’s props and artwork made a stop in Toronto around my birthday, part of me tempered my excitement with a pestering reminder that after all of this promise, the inevitable letdown was soon to come.  It still could have gone so wrong.

Then, just after midnight on December 17th, 2001, the lights went down and the screen came to life…

(To Be Continued)

In which we pause for some shameless self-promotion

I’ve got some exciting news to share.  This is an excerpt from the list of The Huffington Post’s alphabetical list of bloggers.  I have highlighted a particular name.

Further up the list is another name, just added today.

Yep, that’s me!  How cool is that?  Just goes to show you, never be discouraged – if you believe you can do it, you can make it happen.  Wonder if I can convince Mr. Sorkin to collaborate on something?