Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Descending into Facebook Hell

Hi. My name’s Eric and I’m addicted to Facebook.

The most popular social network site duped me out of precious hours of my life and turned me into a rabid procrastinator. When future historians reach into their TruthOrbs and lecture to their Holo-Students, they’ll recall how Facebook destroyed marriages, ruined friendships and corrupted 21st Century society.

This is the flash point where everything faltered.


Why has this innocent site caused so much chaos and ill tidings? Don’t I enjoy hearing from the multitudes of “friends” and their everyday happenings, no matter how trivial? Don’t I like seeing the umpteen photos of everything including blurry pictures of their lunch, taken with a cameraphone at Applebee’s? Don’t I laugh at the various memes they post featuring cats or Star Wars references?

Of course I do, and that’s the problem.

I’ve used Facebook since 2008. I visit it every day, multiple times. Sometimes, when I’m bored, I find myself looking at Facebook, as if I’m sleepwalking, mindlessly logging in and browsing through my friend’s activities. Far from heightening my sense of awareness, it lulls me into a dull torpor where no productivity escapes. It’s the black hole of socialization, a meandering idiot-fest where you read about everything your friends are up to and suffer through a constant barrage of pictures. The event horizon of this swirling black hole are the comments your friends leave to you. I have to check out all of their comments to me, about me and in posts I commented in. The entire thing is like some diabolical Chinese puzzlebox but instead of unraveling the mystery and opening the box, your soul ends up inside the box.

Facebook used to be cute. Once you could “poke” your friends, a lighthearted way of saying “Hello. I don’t have a life, either.” Amusing videos of a baby swallowing a crayon. Fun games like Mob Wars or Farmville. Those insidious games are now annoying and anyone who sends me an invite will get a tersely-worded reply and a brick thrown at them.

A virtual brick. I’m no brutish thug.

Though Facebook had linked the world and allowed strangers to share cat photos and urban legends masquerading as fact (HIV-infected needles in gas pump handles? Really?) it is a complete time sink. Prepare to be amused or bored for hours.

In prompting me for my status update, Facebook is now asking me “How do you feel?” When did they replace the cold, logical parser with a New Age counselor? How I feel is pissed off I have to tell Facebook how I feel. Mind your own business, Facebook. And don’t even try to hug me.

In wishing to utilize my time wisely and more efficiently, I’m listing the most cogent replies to my Facebook friends based on an aggregation of their most popular status updates:

·      To the people posting Christian-related messages: Yeah, I get it. You like Jesus. Religion is important to your life. Tell me again how it improved your outlook as a human. Now tell me your thoughts on the homeless, poor people on welfare and single mothers.

·      To the atheists posting how stupid religion is and how science gives you all boners: So you don’t follow a religious creed, and you’re debunking someone else’s faith. That’s great, Poindexter. Religion is stupid. Feel better now? Feel superior? Feel smug? Apparently tolerance isn’t your bailiwick. But the stuff about Neil deGrasse Tyson you keep posting is interesting.

·      To the people posting pro-gay rights messages: Okay, you’d like to see gays and lesbians get married. Fine. But if gays want the same rights as straights, there has to be a trade-off. Gays can get married if straight people can reclaim Broadway show tunes without being sniggered at. If a straight guy wants to belt out the soundtrack to “Les Miz” while riding his tractor mower, he should be allowed.

·      To the people who post photos asking for a million “Likes” to help their kid get a puppy, or support their puppy with ass cancer, or for their glee club to get a class trip to Norway: You’re all attention whores. Stop it. This is a desperate attempt at groveling for approbation. If you’re a husband and your wife won’t let you buy a puppy for junior unless you get a million “Likes”, buy the damn dog anyway! You’re the one with the penis, so act like it.

·      To the Republicans/Democrats who post pro-Republican/pro-Democrat or anti-Republican/anti-Democrat messages, memes or assorted crap: While I am passionate about America, the U.S. Constitution and the future of our society, you’re all a bunch of Stepford douches shambling after your political masters. Until you learn to think for yourselves and break free from political machines and their poisonous ideologies, you’re never going to be fully actualized adults. Reach away from your comfort zones. Dare yourselves to think differently. Don’t give into hatred and ignorance. Or, barring that, try to be a class act in political discourse instead of a name-calling troglodyte.

·      To people posting photos of your kids: Congratulations. You successfully reproduced. You’re no doubt proud of your offspring and posted several photos of them on Facebook, for the whole world to see. Considering how sick and messed up the world is, and any pedophile with an Internet connection can view these photos, you’re not going to win parent of the year, are you?

·      To people complaining about their jobs/places of employment/co-workers: I sympathize with you. I really do. But don’t you think a less public forum would be more appropriate for your rants on how unfair your boss is or how the ladies in accounting treat you like shit? Again, people can see what you post. Grow a pair and stop whining.

·      To the people who deliberately post controversial questions to goad others into arguing with them: Gun control. Abortion. Feline AIDS. You’ve got the issues and you’re itching for a fight. If you feel strongly about the topic, do something constructive and join a group or something. This passive-aggressive attitude of taking it to Facebook is making you look like a douche-nozzle. Here’s a tip: Don’t look like a douche-nozzle.

·      To people posting photos of exotic places they’ve traveled: Wonderful! You’ve been to Aspen!

·      To people posting constant photos of their pets: You have a dog. And a cat. And another cat. And another dog. Look! The dog is licking its balls! The cat is crapping in the litter box! Isn’t technology grand?

·      To people posting jokes/pithy observations: These are allowed. They amuse me. Do carry on…

·      To people posting memes that just aren’t true/urban myths/incredibly frightening scenarios with no plausible logic behind them: Stop it. You’re gullible if you believe everything you read on the Internet. The government doesn’t want to confiscate your guns, Obama is not a socialist Muslim wizard from Kenya, and the ghost will not kill you if you don’t forward the chain letter. I live on planet Earth. Care to visit sometime?

·      To people who post details of recent medical procedures or health updates: I’m concerned with my friend’s well-being, so thanks for keeping me informed.

·      To people who post photos of food/alcohol they are currently consuming: Wow! You’re at Delmonico’s! Lobster Newberg and Pinot Grigio. Enjoy that gastronomic feast!

I realize I’m guilty for about half of these violations. I guess I’m in too deep. I’ve become the very thing I loathe; a mole-like subterranean dweller with pasty skin and bulbous eyes who clatters upon the keyboard while going through my friend’s timeline history.

I am in Facebook Hell. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

I Wanna Be A (Published) Writer

The infinite monkey theorem postulates that if you had a monkey hitting typewriter keys at random an infinite number of times will eventually produce all of Shakespeare’s works.

That’s pretty much how writing works. Given enough time, perseverance and temperament, a writer will eventually craft a work of subtle, tear-shedding brilliance.

That hasn’t happened to me yet.

I’m still banging on keys, hoping to strike it lucky, praying for literary gold.

All I ever seem to get is something passable, maybe mildly entertaining.

I don’t want that for an epitaph.

“Well, his writing was mildly entertaining…”

Self-doubt is poison to a writer. It clouds the mind, dulls the senses and makes one wish never to pound on keyboards anymore. Writing is the act of revealing a hidden portion of oneself, of parting the curtain and sharing experiences, fears and dreams.

Or it could be about atomic gorillas typing for all eternity and coming up with Hamlet.

For 2013, I’m making the daft attempt at writing fiction. I’ve read so many warnings against self-publishing: People who self-publish are dreary hacks and untalented dolts who couldn’t get published the traditional way. Self-publishing means lesser quality, slipshod editing and poor distribution. Self-published authors only sell 10 copies at the county fair and won’t receive the exposure they crave.

While it’s true self-publishing has its downsides and limitations, I’ve heard reasons for it. The advice I received was to try to get your work published the traditional way, and then shift to self-publishing if you feel you’d benefit from it.

From what I’ve seen and heard at writer's conferences (and if there’s one near you, do go) is self-publishing is the Poverty Row of the publishing world. It’s where clueless writers who want the world to read their autobiographies or treatises on Latvian poetry end up, and face crushing disappointment.

Established writers look down on self-published authors much the same as physicians look down on chiropractors. The smug disdain for self-publishing is diminishing, as more established authors are taking the e-publishing route. Writers are finding electronic distribution to be easier than traditional publishing.

I’m no stranger to the slush pile. That’s where most of my work ends up these days. I have a lovely collection of rejection letters from a variety of publishers. The main thread running through these rejections is, “While the story is well-written, we just don’t have a market for it at this time.”

Call me Captain Unmarketable, caped crusader with no commercial potential.

Here’s the thing: Should I write what’s in my heart, craft the stories I want, or should I bow to genre?

I’ve been told in writer's conferences (and really, if you’re not doing anything, do pop by and try to attend one. They’re really marvelous!) genre fiction sells better than plain, vanilla literary fiction. There’s truth to that, but I’ve seen a mashing of genres in fiction having stellar success. “Abe Lincoln, Vampire Hunter” combines vampires and history, “Twilight” combines vampires and teen romance, “Fifty Shades of Gray” combines erotic fiction with a desire to throttle the author senseless.

Just bending to commercial pressure and writing something marketable is misguided, I think. Writing just to get published shouldn’t be the only goal, but abandoning the quest for getting published is worse.

It all comes down to fundamentals. That should be the foundation of writing. Can the writer tell a good story? Are readers engaged enough to continue reading the rest? From the first few sentences, you can tell if a story is going to entrap you and pique your interest. You’ll never be published if you write only to get published. Craft a seamless, well-written story and maybe a publisher won’t chuck it in the bin. 

I’ve also been told at writer's conferences (they’re super nice and will impart so much uplifting and positive information for fledgling authors, so why not attend one and see?) to act professionally, because the publishing community is so intimate and editors from different publishing houses communicate with each other. Act like an unprofessional jackass, and they’ll take notice. Threaten or cajole an editor, and you’ll be blacklisted.

Also, from what I’ve heard from established authors, it’s much easier for writers to get their books published if they have short stories published. I tried (unsuccessfully) to climb that ladder, but was beaten down, rung by rung. I submitted several short stories, which received the standard, “The story’s well-written, but we can’t use it at this time. Ever consider a career in retail sales? I hear The Gap is hiring.”

 Have I mentioned my stack of rejection letters is thicker than a Shanghai phonebook?

The problem for me is, those early stories were written hastily and catered to specific periodicals.

This science fiction publisher is looking for submissions for an anthology on robotic cross-dressing werewolves! Better crank something out fitting those exact parameters!

Sweet Jesus eating tofu! This publisher is looking for short stories on extraterrestrial lesbian Regency Romance! Time to get cracking on another 5,000-word opus!

By the way, extraterrestrial lesbian Regency Romance is a cool name for an alternative band, so feel free to steal it. Rock on!

Instead of writing what the market demands just to fit it into a particular (and peculiar) anthology, I’m concentrating on producing well-written stories. I’ve improved on the pacing, the characterization and the style.

I’d like 2013 to be the year my writing blossoms and changes, the year I become wholly readable.

So far, I’ve written one short story, with a goal of completing a short story a month.

We’ll see how it goes. Within six months, I’ll have a body of work to choose from and send out.

I just have to keep plugging away.

My monkey has a date with the keyboard…