Death and Social Media

On Wednesday, before I left Pennsylvania, I emailed my wife the 80 percent finished sequel manuscript. “I just want you to have a copy,” I messaged her. I didn’t say it in so many words, but she guessed why.

We nodded to it after I returned. I’d had a chill. If anything had happened to me on the trip back to London, I wanted her to have the unfinished book. Someone else she chose could’ve eventually finished it. A year of my hard work so far – and especially all “of myself” and others I’d shared within its pages – would not have been lost forever on my death.

Thinking on that caused me to reflect on that in terms of social media too.

Naturally my wife had had our late girlfriend Kam’s number stored in her phone. I don’t know if she has deleted it and I won’t even ask. And Kam never did Facebook or Twitter, so we don’t even have the likes of those to hold on to.

One of my Facebook friends is a cousin who died in 2010. I will never unfriend him. His page is now essentially a running memorial of wall postings “to him” on his birthdays and other occasions.

You probably have similar stories.

Inevitably this will get worse. Abruptly anything on Facebook, Twitter, or another personal site, could be the last post we ever make. Maybe that’s morbid to bring up, yet it is always worth bearing that in at least the back of our minds.

Free Stock Photo: Girl working on a laptop.

Free Stock Photo: Girl working on a laptop.

Interesting too is how, as years and then decades pass, those who live after us will have masses of “information” about us due to our social media legacies – more than any ancestors had ever left behind before. Essentially, future generations won’t have trouble finding out about us. In fact, we’ll probably bore the hell out of them.

Who’ll need a “Who Do You Think You Are?” TV show two centuries from now? After all, those uploaded photos of you drinking those four beers out of straws via that stupid device sitting on your head, will still be easily accessible for all to see. Nothing like leaving the likes of that as a profound “family history” to the great-great-grandchildren, eh? ;-)

An Airport Welcome

So I’ve left my Dad in recovery in Pennsylvania from his August 9 heart failure. After two weeks there, it was time to leave: I could do no more, and I couldn’t stay forever of course. He looks excellent, and is in the (now calmer) hands of my mother and my sister.

Having flown into Newark back on August 14 was my first trans-atlantic flight alone since 1999 – pre-marriage. Flying back yesterday evening from Newark to Heathrow was obviously the second. We almost always fly British Airways – as I did for these flights too.

Some journeys are arduous. Others relatively easy. This was the latter.

There were no hassles with the car service to Newark Airport, no fuss at bag drop, no real wait at Security.

It was also a strange feeling prepping to fly alone across the Atlantic again.

The flight itself – on a 787 Dreamliner, which is quite a plane – was unremarkable. (Also, I noticed no one getting to know a row-mate rather, uh, well.)

After landing in London, matters were similarly routine: disembarked quickly, and UK border control moved smoothly. (Unlike last time, today’s passport officer – another woman – displayed absolutely no interest in my occupation.)

The luggage was on the reclaim carousel when I reached it. I exited and found myself so early – the flight had also landed early – that my “driver” on this end (my wife) had not yet arrived. I took a seat near one of the “meeting points” in Terminal 5.

Killing time, I checked email, Facebook, and decided to have a tweet. The tweet was (I thought) innocuous. However, it attracted a response from Heathrow Airport’s official Twitter feed:

image

First time I’ve ever been welcomed by “an airport.” ;-)

“Byron, have you ever been to Warsaw?”

Recuperating, my Dad found The Winds of War mini-series on Netflix. Couldn’t resist it. We sat and watched the first two episodes together yesterday afternoon and evening.

Based on Herman Wouk’s 1971 novel about Americans in Europe before Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entry into World War II, it was shown originally in February 1983. My wife and I bought the DVDs a few years ago, and feasted on it during several evenings’ viewing. A prominent American officer and his English “paramour” (of course, right?) became a particular focus of humo(u)r between the (English) Mrs. and myself.

Winds was remarkable television, made before U.S. network TV became dominated by people behaving like circus performers in cheapo “reality” programs. It boasts some absolutely superb actors from the era. How the fictional characters are woven into history is usually clever and eminently believable.

Years ago, teaching college on Long Island, I regularly heard from some students – and still hear from some people now – how “dry” history can be. However, Winds is about often ordinary people living amidst a downward spiral of terrible events usually beyond their control; their individual fates are uncertain. It’s not about memorizing “dates” for some test.

It’s still a spectacle over 30 years on. Wikipedia says it attracted an average of 80 million U.S. viewers each night over its initial 7 night run. Save for the Super Bowl, a U.S. network TV broadcast almost never gets anywhere near that sort of viewership any longer.

Yeh, it is romantic. And it can also be melodramatic and “soap opera-ish” in spots. Viewed from 2014, some of the production values are naturally somewhat dated too.

But it’s often greatly moving and memorable. If you’ve never seen it, give it a chance. Above all, it’s entertaining, and you’ll may learn lots without even realizing you are. ;-)

.@WashingtonIrving You Stink!

In the spring of 1824, Washington Irving finished his Tales of a Traveller. While proofing it, he wrote to his friend Tom Moore. Here’s the opening part of the letter:

Brighton, August 14, 1824.

My boat is on the shore,
And my bark is on the sea.

I forget how the song ends, but here I am at Brighton just on the point of embarking for France. I have dragged myself out of London, as a horse drags himself out of the slough, or a fly out of a honey-pot, almost leaving a limb behind him at every tug. Not that I have been immersed in pleasure and surrounded by sweets, but rather up to the ears in ink and harassed by printers’ devils.

I never have had such fagging in altering, adding, and correcting; and I have been detained beyond all patience by delays of the press. Yesterday I absolutely broke away, without waiting for the last sheets. They are to be sent after me here by mail, to be corrected this morning, or else they must take their chance. From the time I first started pen in hand on this work, it has been nothing but hard driving with me….

He worked hard to produce the tale. Next, finished, he became bogged down in the corrections.

Arrgh!

Sound familiar? If you’re a novelist, see, you’re not unique in your sufferings. Washington Irving went through the same creative struggles and endured similar frustrations.

Free Stock Photo: A pile of antique books.

Free Stock Photo: A pile of antique books.

A biographer noted that, after the book was released, Irving faced his critics as we all do. Indeed he even endured what might today be labeled “trolling”:

Irving considered [Tales of a Traveller] on the whole his best work; but though it had a large sale, its reception in England was not quite what he had hoped for; and in America it was received by the press with something like hostility. Unfortunately some busybody in America made it his concern to forward to Irving all the ill-natured flings which could be gleaned from American notices of the new book. The incident – with all its unpleasantness – was trifling enough, but to Irving’s raw sensitiveness it was torture. He was overwhelmed with an almost ludicrous melancholy, could not write, could not sleep, could not bear to be alone. This petty outburst of critical spleen, backed as it evidently was by personal antagonism on the part of a few obscure journalists, actually left him dumb for more than a year.

Imagine if Irving had had to deal with the internet? If he needed to face lashings on Facebook? If he found himself beset by disparaging tweets launched his way?:

.@WashingtonIrving You stink! @FCooper is much better. Bet you’ll block me now. #loser

If I’m having a bad day, I try to remember that. We all should. Not everyone is going to like what you write. :-)

P.S. And @FCooper is? Come on! You must know! ;-)

Here’s A Cheque/Check

I discovered a little while ago via Facebook that my 12 year old nephew in Britain wants me to dump ice water over my head.

I’m disappointed. By now, surely he knows his uncle would prefer the Patrick Stewart approach:

However, it’s just a bit too early in the day to pour a drink here in Pennsylvania, USA. ;-)

“Gimme a ticket for an aeroplane”

With my Dad doing better than we’d expected, Sunday afternoon I took an opportunity to venture up to the Catskills to check our house, and use Monday to mow the lawn and deal with anything else that may have needed dealing with. I admit I could also have called it my “24 hours of tranquility” away from the rural Pennsylvania Seinfeld episode in which I am currently trapped! ;-)

We have no broadcast TV in the house right now. Quickly I decided on an evening in front of the DVD player. I treated myself to the first few episodes of Mad Men from the very first series/ season.

Okay, trivia question: What are Roger Sterling’s first words ever said on the show?

Answer: “Morning girls.”

When I returned to my parents’ place last night, chatting I happened to tell my mother. She had worked in midtown Manhattan as a secretary herself briefly – pre-marriage – in the early 1960s. She laughed:

It’s true. They were my father’s age. That’s actually what they used to say to us.

Around the same time, she had also actually considered becoming a Pan Am “stewardess” – she who had never (and still has never been) on a plane. We discovered that when she revealed it to us at some point while the Pan Am TV show had been on the air. I still can’t believe it.

But I digress. Although there was no TV in house, I did have mobile internet. I wasn’t totally, uh, “cut off in the Catskills.”

However, pardon me here for maybe seeming a bit out of touch in this way. Recently I’ve been seeing bits on the net here and there about a site called “SoundCloud.” I did again on Sunday night.

I finally decided to click over and have a good look around on it…. and a listen. Noticing what was on the site, how it generally seemed to work, and with time to kill (after having overdosed on Mad Men), I searched for a couple of songs that were running through my head recently courtesy of radio (oldies) play. As a new novelist, I thought maybe I’d find cover versions by “unknowns” who might be worth a listen?

For “The Letter,” I stumbled on this singer. Incredible. Well, I just HAVE to share this:

In Barba Gwen31's stream on Soundcloud.

In Barba Gwen31’s stream on Soundcloud.

Barba Gwen31 has **some** voice. As we know, the web lets us now independent/ self-publish books. (Which, after all, is why I’m on here! ;-) ) Now it also allows singers to be heard globally whom we otherwise probably would have never heard of.

One frustration, though. I’d PAY, iTunes-like (yes, I’d separate myself from some money) to download and own it. However, I can’t figure out how? I don’t see how to do it? Ugh! :-)

Have a good Tuesday! I’m writing this post at my parents’ kitchen table. Near the sink, time to take his pills, they are on at each other…. again. Apparently he’s too inept to take them without her careful oversight:

“I love you, dear,” he told her off as she read the directions to him yet again.

“Read the rest of it!” she barked, handing him one bottle.

“It says, ‘Take one a day,'” he pointed to it.

“Old people get crazy taking medications. Oh, s-it, see what I just did!” she yelled as she took another of the bottles. “I’ll mix them up!”

“You’re an old person!” he shot back.

“Angie Gonzalez [an elderly, now deceased, relation] used to mess up her medication….” my mother droned on. “Oh, no one’s listening to me.”

“Mom, I am. Please stop now.”

A few more days remain in my Seinfeld episode. “Gimme a ticket for an aeroplane….” ;-)

“She didn’t mean to pull a knife on you….”

While proofreading it last year, one of my Passports story “checkers” had noticed the novel’s “friendships” undertone, and told me:

These girls are so close and fond of each other….

It was excellent she caught that, because I framed that deliberately. It applies to men too. Friends as central in our lives is an important theme I wanted to explore in the novel(s).

I aimed to subtly emphasize friendships between those raised as only children, or with much older, or emotionally distant – or difficult – siblings. For them, their closest support may come from friends and not from similar age relatives:

I have two brothers,” Isabelle shared with him. “They are about twenty years older than me. Not a surprise. My parents are much older.”

“I’m an only child. It isn’t easy. When I was little, I always wished for a brother or sister,” James said. “I’d have even taken one twenty years older.”

“My best friend Virginie is an only child,” Isabelle added. “And the way her mother is so young, they are like friends often.” She laughed lightly. “Sometimes I envy her.”

In our real lives, relatives may let us down big time. In comparison, friends – and I don’t mean those 952 Facebook friends, but friends who’d pick you up at the airport in the middle of the night – are often closer than family. They are because you are brought together by common interests, experiences and life outlooks, and not by accident of blood and (often someone else’s) marriage.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration Of Colored Profiles

Free Stock Photo: Illustration Of Colored Profiles

Above all, there is this difference. Friendship can never be taken for granted in the manner of a familial relationship. However, when it comes to relatives, you’re supposed to put up with just about anything.

A decade ago, after years of s-it stirring with us, a relative spoiling for a fight finally led us into a place where we felt we had to draw a line. That has naturally created knock on issues for us. Since then, other family wearyingly insist that everyone should just hug, sing Kumbaya, and all would be happy happy happy.

And why? Because, we are incessantly lectured, we are “family.”

“Oh, how long will this go on?” go the moanings. “I’m sure she didn’t really mean it. We should look forward, not back.”

The excuses for relatives’ appalling behavior are endless. Yet if our line was so “unreasonable,” I do wonder what the line is? If a relation, say, threatens you with a knife, are you allowed, perhaps, maybe to be a tad put out about that?

Would anyone with an ounce of self-respect ever keep around a friend who is a threatening, scheming, pompous ingrate? A nasty individual with whom you have zero in common? Someone who sees you only in terms of what you do for her/ him?

Of course not. But even with relatives like that, it’s still commonly demanded you smile at them over a lunch table. You are supposed to pretend you love them even if you despise them.

That’s absurd. Give me my dear friends over some so-called “family” any day of the week. It’s no contest.

Happy Sunday!

Hmmmmmm. I’ve just realized. This post is aiming to make a wider literary point based partly on my own experience. I hope it doesn’t qualify as a “personal moan!” ;-)

The Doctor’s Office

As you may know, I’ve been visiting with my parents in Pennsylvania after my father’s “heart failure.” Things have been very tense, of course, at times, over concern for his health. But at other times I’ve also found myself (thankfully) in what borders on a comedy:

• Dad: “God, I’m getting out of breath explaining to your mother I’m not out of breath walking up the stairs!”

• Mom: “My wrists hurt. Maybe I have a health problem?”

• Dad (to me): “I could be in my casket, Rob, but remember, your mother’s wrists hurt.”

Back on Thursday, my Dad had his first post-heart failure check-up. It was at his new family physician. I went along.

Actually, I drove. Another little contribution to being here for two weeks trying to make things just a bit easier for them both as he recovers. (I’ve been handling household stuff Dad would normally do, like chauffeuring mother around – she can drive, but doesn’t like driving their small SUV – and hoovering the house, and related “guy stuff” as I’d mentioned the other day.)

 Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a stethoscope.


Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a stethoscope.

This doctor had been recommended in the hospital by my Dad’s last registered nurse there. He came out from the check-up pleased: the doctor’s a man in his 50s who is also on a “low sodium” diet. Nothing like your doctor having a similar issue to yourself, my Dad laughed.

I think it must be nearly twenty years since I’ve been in a U.S. doctor’s office. And how you can forget. Around the receptionist’s window were well-worn (even torn), taped up, ad hoc reminders that payment is required when services are delivered, and to have your insurance ready, etc.

Many in Britain heavily criticize its National Health Service (NHS), and often rightly so. It has its problems. However, not having to worry about personal insurance coverage and/or having to whip out a checkbook or credit card to cover a “co-pay” when you see your GP, is something many in Britain also appear to take decidedly for granted.

That’s what I noticed. My mother? She had her own opinions about the practice building itself. Sitting next to me in the waiting room, other patients within hearing, she grumbled at one point perhaps a bit too loudly:

• Mom: “This place has no air conditioning. You can tell it’s not New York.”

• Me: “Shush!”

The bear in their back garden has already been the subject of a post. Help! I’m trapped in a Seinfeld episode!

Happy Saturday, wherever you are reading this. ;-)

Quai d’Orsay

I watched this on the plane over to the U.S. last week. Thoroughly entertaining, it even made me laugh out loud several times (embarrassing on a plane), and took my Dad’s illness – which was why I was flying to the States – off of my mind for a little while. As such, it deserves a post:

How to characterize Quai d’Orsay? In simple terms, it struck me as sorta loosely a combination of, say, Yes, Minister and The West Wing. Like the former, it satirizes a shallowness in politicians. Similar to the latter, it’s fast-paced, with lots of rushed conversations while walking through hallways at a retreating camera.

You have to follow along [read the subtitles] closely, or you’ll miss lots. Forget it’s about France. (If you feel you don’t know much about French politics.) If you like well-written, political comedy on screen, you’ll probably like this.

The ensemble contains an actor now likely most famous outside of France for a closeness to the, uh, current real French president. Leaving that aside, she’s at times hilarious in this fictional role as an adviser on Africa policy. For instance, when, during a foreign policy crisis, she’s drafted into keeping the Maronite Patriarch busy for an hour, the expression on her face, and her reaction, is priceless.

Naturally it also has a decidedly French flair and cultural grounding. The fictional French Foreign Minister fancying himself standing up for France’s “grandeur,” sharing his pretensions to personal literary and intellectual prowess with a patrician pomposity (that is somehow not ultimately off-putting), and topping it off with an “I know best” glint in the eye – while it often also seems he is about to poke himself in the eye – would not readily fly written for a U.S. on-screen politician. I don’t think U.S. audiences would buy it.

Meaning I suspect it would be close to impossible to portray a U.S. Secretary of State in a manner similar to that French minister. Yet you have to believe someone in Hollywood has already optioned the rights to this (because *it’s French*) to try to concoct some U.S. version. And they’ll probably eventually produce some predictably weak, watered down film, over-straining to be funny.

Bearly Around

Look who decided to stroll nonchalantly through my parents’ backyard during (our) dinner:

Bear emerging from the woods. Pennsylvania. [Photo by me, 2014]

Bear emerging from the woods, Pennsylvania. [Photo by me, 2014.]

At the table, my mother immediately announced: “I’m outta here! Back to Long Island!”