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? ;-)

.@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. ;-)

Rip Van Winkle Wakes Up

It was widely reported the other day that when Facebook went down for a time, some of the web site’s users actually dialed 911. The L.A. Times noted:

Officials at one Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department station were not happy after getting calls from residents because Facebook went down Friday morning.

“#Facebook is not a Law Enforcement issue, please don’t call us about it being down, we don’t know when FB will be back up!” Sheriff’s Sgt. Burton Brink of the Crescenta Valley station wrote on Twitter. In a later tweet, he said an unknown number of people called 911 about the outage….

Notice how the Sheriff dealt with it? He went on Twitter. But if this from Media Bistro is accurate, that would not have helped:

The Smartest People Prefer Twitter To LinkedIn And Facebook, Research Shows [STUDY]

Meaning the Sheriff would have been addressing the wrong audience in terms of, err, brainpower. ;-)

I love Twitter…. although I’m not a genius. And I do also use Facebook – but primarily as a keep in touch with family and friends sort of thing; and I’m not on it much. (I’m not on LinkedIn at all.)

Which led me to thinking about where we are here: WordPress. When I first used it for another blog about 10 years ago, I had found it refreshingly straightforward.

However, when I returned to it last autumn to start this blog after several years’ break, I felt far more out of it than if in my absence someone had merely moved the furniture around. It seemed more like I had been dropped into another technological era. To borrow from Catskills literature, it felt rather Rip Van Winkle-ish.

Free Stock Photo: This early 1980\'s model of a portable computer was the Global Health Odyssey\'s Historical Object of the Month for August, 2004.

Free Stock Photo: This early 1980\’s model of a portable computer was the Global Health Odyssey\’s Historical Object of the Month for August, 2004.

On the Dashboard, very little was where I remembered it. There were vast changes throughout the site. Trying to navigate, I sat there utterly lost at first.

“What is that blue screen for? How do I get back to the Dash? I clicked on that, and it’s leading me here? And what the heck does THAT symbol mean?” (Uh, I didn’t always say “heck.”)

What happened to my Atari 800?

That was then. I now have matters under control. Well, mostly anyway. :-)

Have a good [grumble, grumble] Monday….

Sense Of Place

Yesterday I received a Facebook message from my wife’s friend in Bristol; her husband is writing a novel. He had a question for me about New York City. Specifically he wanted to know something about Brooklyn.

You remember him? I wrote about him a few months ago. He’s the guy who’ll probably get a film deal after selling like, urr, a gazillion books…. and I’ll sell, uh, quite a few less. ;-)

I was startled he had a question about anywhere in the U.S. I say that because he has managed, without ever having even once set a foot in the U.S., to write vividly about life, people and places in the country. Everything he knows about the U.S. he has picked up from books, TV, films…. and, uh, me.

Amazing how some manage that. But I find there is also nothing more satisfying and useful than having walked the ground in the places you are using – or even just think may use – as story background. Doing that imbues a tale with a much more rooted “sense of place.”

Pope Francis passing by at an audience in St. Peter's Square, the Vatican, September 2013. [Photo by me.]

Pope Francis passing by at an audience in St. Peter’s Square, the Vatican, September 2013. [Photo by me.]

I was unsurprisingly pleased (to be honest, ecstatic is a better word) when one of my readers wrote me that she enjoyed my detailing a Paris neighborhood where she had lived. She said it brought back happy memories. That I had been there myself definitely made a difference: I don’t know if I would have been able to write about it quite as I had if I had never been there in person.

Yep, umm, just like our pal Ernest Hemingway. ;-)

Strangers In A Yearbook

Putting up Facebook photos of our ongoing Florida holiday (my uncle demands to see them!), and noticing those who “like” and “comment” on them, abruptly has led me this afternoon to realize I have zero contact now with anyone non-family whom I knew pre-university.

Which led to this quick post. Much as I hate to admit this, yes, guys, I’m in my later forties. My friends today are all people I have met from about age 20 to the present.

Am I odd? I suppose the way I’ve lived has contributed. I left home and that was pretty much that. (I even left the country.) I’ve never been to a high school reunion, nor was I really even interested in attending one.

In our Facebook era, do they still even have high school reunions? I’m sure if I went to FB and had a nosy around, I’d find old school chums on there. But why bother? After all, no one has sought me out either.

Indeed, by now, if I engaged with any of them, those old schoolmates would feel mostly like strangers. How do you start that interaction anyway? “So, uh, hey, what you been up to for the last 30 years?”

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Maybe they figured I “ran off”? If any have ever “stalked” my Facebook page, among my friends now they’d find not a single non-family friend any of them know. Anyone who might have done that has probably thought, “Who are these people?”

Naturally we fall away from many in life and make new relationships as we mature. There are those I once liked a lot – even since high school – who I’m pretty sure I’ll never see ever again. That’s no one’s fault. Life merely takes us all in different directions.

Then there’s the opposite bunch: relatives I can’t stand. You too may have to endure the same sorts of detestable people you are lectured you are supposed to like because they are termed (by those doing the lecturing) “family.” Sadly, to slightly rework the old saying, you can indeed choose your friends, but you could relocate to Antarctica and you still couldn’t get entirely the hell away from certain “relatives.” ;-)

On Lexington

We met up Friday with a college friend of mine from my time at the University of Alaska – Fairbanks. (Don’t ask.) He and his wife had been touring Ireland, and were finishing their vacation with a week in London. Via Facebook, we had arranged to get together.

I’d last seen him in person twenty years ago. Yes, two decades. But he hasn’t changed… well, save for a few gray hairs, but we all end up with those. We had never met his wife. (We had been invited to their 2003 wedding, but could not get there.) It was great to grab the chance to do some catching up while we had a lunch at Mildreds:

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I wouldn’t normally note a restaurant here, but this one is worth a mention. It was full for lunch, and had a buzz; yet you could also carry on a conversation without yelling. The staff we encountered were friendly too.

I wanted a Stella Artois (that’s my favorite), but since they didn’t have that, I settled for a Budweiser – brewed in the Czech Republic. My wife had a glass of red wine, of course.

Oh, and the restaurant is vegetarian. I don’t mind eating vegetarian now and then. But I don’t think I could eat vegetarian all the time.

It’s my friend’s wife who is pescatarian. My friend joked – when his wife was away from the table briefly – that he is a meat eater. But he’s learned to eat lots of non-meat.

There are plenty of places to stop for a meal between Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Circus. But this one will more than do if you ever find yourself looking for somewhere tasty (as long as you are happy not to have meat), and reasonably priced.

Thus ends this, uh, “Trip Advisor” blog entry. :-)

Oh, and my wife told him about my book. A bit of a slip. Now he wants to read it.

I had no choice but to let him in on it. I also warned him that if he tells my parents, I swear I’ll unfriend him on Facebook. ;-)

Thanks For Sharing

I just wanted to “share” that I’ve noticed that the number of my posts “shared” to other social media – Twitter, Facebook, Digg, etc. – has “exploded” in recent days. My little literary site here has existed since December. Yet I have had upwards of half of my total shares since just last Friday.

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Since I’m not getting assailed by “sp@m” and “trolls,” it appears then that most of that recent uptick in “shares” indicate many of you are indeed “normal” human beings and actually do “like” what you see. ;-)

I extra-appreciate that because, as I’ve also explained recently (and in case you didn’t see that post), I can’t share my writing myself on most social media.

If you are new here, by way of introduction much of what I post is serious. It may be about my experiences in having written the first book, and now as I work on the sequel. Related issues come up as well. It may also be on life overseas, on study abroad, and on frequent fliers’ worst nightmare. I have also written about painful loss.

But it isn’t all “heavy” stuff. We do have to smile too. I’ve composed posts on many of the novel’s characters…. and a post on a certain person’s reaction to some of them. There have also been pieces on subjects such as travel, “pen pals,” and my novel unexpectedly stirring up memories of an office affair. The intimidating wildlife and glorious weather often found in the Catskills have also inspired posts.

I like to mix it up. I believe we shouldn’t tie ourselves only to the oh, so, serious side of things. (Assuming “tie” is, uh, the right word there?) There is no final exam at the end of the semester. Heck, there isn’t even a semester.

So I just want to say “thank you” for your shares, and also for your follows, and your continuing visits. :-)

Paris Or Rome, Or Cleveland?

Snowed in as many are currently in the U.S. northeast (including us), I’ve seen some weighty issues being thrashed out at times among some of my Facebook friends. One (male) relation offered this philosophical observation last night. It having a degree of relevance here, I thought I’d edit it, and clean it up grammatically, and share it:

You could go to Paris or Rome with someone you care little for, but go to Cleveland with someone who truly turns you on, stay in a garage and be overjoyed. Absolutely….forget Paris or Rome….

It is indeed true: it matters not where you are, as long as you are with the one you love.

Yet I couldn’t help but think also on how that statement made no allowance for a related possibility. Suppose you are “with someone who truly turns you on”…. and the choice is either Paris or Rome…. or Cleveland? Where would you prefer to be together? ;-)

Incidentally, I admit I have never been to Cleveland. However, I have been to Youngstown. Not that that’s the same place, of course.

A snowy Saturday. [Photo by me, 2014.]

A snowy Saturday. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Yes, definitely too much snow now. I suspect cabin fever is indeed setting in. :-)

Some Farewell Thoughts

Today was Kam’s funeral, at 11am, in London. Since we couldn’t be there to say goodbye, I’m sure you’ll indulge me as I scrawl a few additional, utterly inadequate words about her on here…..

We knew Kam for almost 20 years. Suddenly, at just 45 years of age, she is gone. She died eight days ago.

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She never joined Facebook; she wasn’t keen on social media. Email aside, Kam’s singular concession to instant communications was her mobile phone that was never out of her reach, and the texts that came flying our way often unexpectedly. When I asked again about Facebook a year or two ago, I received a bemused look, a smile, and finally a drawn out, soft reply: “Well, you know, maybe I’ll…. think…. about it….”

I knew that was Kam’s genteel way of saying, “Uh, Rob, no.” To her, “social networking” meant lovely, handmade Christmas and birthday cards. It was letters on paper composed in a clear script. It was carefully wrapped gifts with perfect bows on top. It was sharing Champagne.

Indeed when you met Kam for lunch, it was likely in a cool cafe near, say, Harrow school. When it was for dinner, it was in one of London’s posher restaurants. In Manhattan, years ago, I was immensely relieved when my favorite French restaurant met with her approval. Friends, Kam insisted, were supposed to get together in quality places.

And if you needed help, she would be there – and in the “if you needed to be picked up at the airport in the middle of the night” sort of way too. Once, from London, we were unable to get my in-laws on the phone in Christchurch (130 miles away). Kam had then been living in the vicinity, so we rang her near midnight to see if she could drive over to the flat and make sure they were okay. She didn’t hesitate. (My father-in-law had at some point just put the handset on the main base sideways or something, so the phone was off the hook.)

There was nowhere she seemed not to have visited – from America, to China, to India, to you name it. Back from a trip to Rome years ago, we joked the designer shopping had undoubtedly been a big draw for her. She never looked anything less than well put together.

Unexpectedly, Sikh Kam said also that she had thought the Vatican had been so inspiring that she could almost have become a Catholic. We knew she didn’t really mean that of course. Anyone who knew her knew she never could have ceased to be Sikh.

A couple of weeks ago, while we were in the midst of helping organize a summer holiday to Florida with another family, we hoped hoped hoped Kam wanted to come along too. When we knew Kam was going to be involved in whatever was happening, we always looked extra-forward to it.

In recent years she had developed a serious health problem. Kam rarely said much about it, and always conveyed the impression all was somehow under control. She was still working, and commuting on the London Underground, a few days before her death.

She had given us a heads up that she wanted to come to Florida, but she wouldn’t know if she could travel until closer to the actual time – and that’s where matters had been left….

We know for sure now: she won’t be in Florida. There will be no more trips, no more text messages, no more cards and letters, no more bows, no more smiles, and no more Champagne.

Our lives – the lives of everyone who knew her – will be emptier and bleaker without Kam. She was the personification of grace, charm and caring. It was our inestimable privilege and honor that she had thought enough of us to have shared some of her too short life with us.

I suppose we’re all still trying to process the cruel reality that we’ll never see her again. It has been an incredibly depressing week. Yet I’m determined also to try to remember these words: “Death can destroy the body but not the soul.”