The Difference Between “Friends” And, Uh, “Friends”

I stumbled on two thoughtful recent Guardian pieces on internet friendships. They seemed worth sharing for a Saturday post. The first: “How do you tell who’s a real friend and who’s just a ‘Friend’ on the internet?”:

….Being eliminated from a friend’s life used to mean ignored phone calls and mutual, public recriminations to third parties; today, it’s as easy as untagging yourself from an ussie and clicking unfollow on Twitter. On the other side, you’re at even more of a loss when you click on the profile of a Twitter friend with whom you’d had a long and fruitful online discussion the day before and see a blank space where it used to say “FOLLOWS YOU”. Every time you log-in, wherever it may be, you could find yourself invisible to someone you thought was your friend, and found out was only a fair-weather follower.

We live on the internet now. That whole idea about how we have to look up from our phones and digital devices to have real lives and experiences is over. There isn’t always a difference between emotion and emoticon. Our challenge now is to integrate our humanity into our online lives….

Then there was this one from early February on Internet “loss”: “How do you grieve when you lose an internet friend?” – and the author is not talking here about merely being “unfollowed”:

….In an age where the internet acts as a force-multiplier for sociability (if only for those who are native to it), it is now possible to develop friendships with people we’ve never met at all. Twitter is more than just a conversation; it is a schoolyard, a lunchroom, a water cooler. “Internet friends” are still friends – at least as much as “friends” on Facebook who we haven’t seen in years.

I found out that my friend had died late at night, and reflexively direct-messaged her boyfriend on Twitter. The next morning, I wasn’t sure if I’d made a mistake: I was a stranger to them, really….

It is fascinating what has evolved in only a decade or two. Once upon a time my (internalized) general rule was a “friend” was someone I knew in person and could call on the phone and he/she would NOT be stunned to hear from me. But if any of our mobiles rang right now and on the other end (without pre-planning of course) happened to be someone who “follows” us and whom we also “follow,” but whom we’ve also never met, let’s be honest most of us would probably think something was, umm, not quite right here. ;-)

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We’ve All Had “Our First Post”

I’m still “in the zone.” Yesterday was the best example in this recent “burst” of creativity. I got through an entire chapter, start to finish, and added several other pages here and there.

With that, I’ve got almost 25,000 words now. Parts (of this in-progress third novel) are starting to read much more like a coherent manuscript and not nearly so much as a disjointed series of episodes in and among the outline.

As my uncle wrote me the other day, “Just keep going.” Indeed, I intend to do so. And I love days of accomplishment like that.

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And Something About Llamas?

While I was working yesterday, I did what I normally do: I had Twitter open to the side on my iPad. I check it occasionally. Usually I do so when I stop for a writing break, but sometimes I just glance over at it.

That latter is a bad habit.

What a strange “social media” day yesterday was (to me, anyway).

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“Time for a (no added sugar) Ribena”

I noted the other day that I felt I had been “in the zone” while writing. It was flowing pretty easily, and I hoped it would continue. And it has. I’m back on my daily treadmill pace of 3 to 5 decent pages minimum.

If you can keep that up within about “100 days” you’ve almost got yourself a book. (Proofing, editing, etc., follow of course.) I tend also to write in spurts of about 30 minutes to an hour, and recently read we’re most work productive generally in bursts like those. So I can now say that, yes, that does seem to apply to me.

From Psychology Today,  "Best Rest Practices for Optimal Productivity and Creativity," April 30, 2012 [Screen capture by me.]
From Psychology Today, “Best Rest Practices for Optimal Productivity and Creativity,” April 30, 2012 [Screen capture by me.]
I’m sometimes so focused I’m returned to the present day from my fictionalized mid-1990s only when I realize…. “Ouch, I haven’t moved in over half an hour and my right leg is now asleep from sitting on it.”

Then I think, what’s up on the iPad in social media world? I’ll take just a second and have a look….

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Bluntly Tweeting

Singer James Blunt has been in the “non-musical” news here in Britain in recent days. He got into a dust up with a Labour MP over that politician’s assertion that artists from elite educational backgrounds disproportionately dominate the U.K. entertainment scene. Many onlookers have sided with Blunt.

One of Blunt’s statements in his very public reply published in The Guardian:

….I got signed in America, where they don’t give a stuff about, or even understand what you mean by me and “my ilk”, you prejudiced wazzock, and I worked my arse off. What you teach is the politics of jealousy. Rather than celebrating success and figuring out how we can all exploit it further as the Americans do, you instead talk about how we can hobble that success and “level the playing field”….

The politician came back at him immediately and condescendingly….

Stop being so blooming precious….

Thus perhaps another difference been the U.S. and U.K. In America, I believe a politician would have instead at that point sought to “tone it down” and “make nice.” Advisors would have been nervously at him, warning, “Don’t alienate his fans! They’re potential voters!”

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What Qualifies Someone To Be A Cable News “Expert”?

In the past, I know I’ve taken good-natured jabs at U.S. morning television, especially ABC’s Good Morning America:

Good grief, have you seen it? I mean really watched it? No wonder half of Americans think Beirut is in Northern Ireland.

One minute of frenzied “news” every half hour. Darting from Story A to Story B to Story C in seconds. Bells and whistles. Flashing graphics. Hurrying to get to the latest cat video.

We understand why. The more we have at our wifi’ed, iPad’ed fingertips, the tougher it’s assumed to be to hold all of our attention. That belief’s no doubt now impacting even how novels are written.

U.S. 24 hour cable news is in its way worse in that regard than even network morning TV. For it purports to be able to provide grounding and more in-depth “analysis.” Yet in the immediate aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo murders this came out of the mouth [starting at about 1 min 15 sec] of a Fox News “expert”:

“I’ve been to Afghanistan and Iraq, Kashmir, India. At times it [Paris] felt like that.”

L.A. resident Parisian cook and food writer, Cécile Delarue, ridicules his take. (I had never heard of him before reading her tweet.) And reasonably so: image

In a full response to that “expert,” Muslim Parisian Sened DHAB composed an actually serious and thoughtful analysis. If you’re interested, have a click over.

Fox may have apologized for that “expert’s” comments by now. They seem to be apologizing all over themselves during the last couple of weeks. But it’s unlikely to be the last time we’ll be confronted with a mile wide and a quarter inch deep being passed off by cable news as “expertise.”

* * *

His “expertise” is apparently amply demonstrated to us viewers by his offering the most basic of factual errors. An egregious example: he states France is “10-12 percent” Muslim. Almost no one reputable believes the percentage goes that high. Okay, perhaps that’s debatable. Yet he himself also notes it having “5 million Muslims.” Presumably, he also knows its total population is about 66 million, so simple arithmetic therefore tells us that’s nowhere near “10-12 percent.”

If an “expert” gets something so elementary so wrong right in front of us, frankly I’m going to be very suspicious of just about everything else he has to say. We all should be. And that’s even leaving aside his opening by ridiculously stumbling over a vital – in the realm in which he is sharing his “expertise” – French word, which as an “expert” surely he should have been able to pronounce without having to apologize for possibly mispronouncing it.

Watching the video, I wanted to turn down the volume and look away. He’s like an undergrad doing a weakly prepared presentation in a Politics of Western Europe class. I found myself almost feeling sorry for him, and wishing someone would please get the hook and pull him off the global stage because he’s embarrassing himself.

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Moreover he’s also greatly embarrassing that news channel; but evidently that channel isn’t easily embarrassed. It is also exceedingly fond recently of citing a July 2014 ICM survey that claimed some “16 percent” of French citizens supported the terror group Islamic State (also known as IS, ISIS, and ISIL in English-speaking lands; in France, it’s referred to mostly by its derogatory shorthand in Arabic: Daesh). That poll is, unsurprisingly, dutifully once again referred to during his segment.

However, the accuracy of that poll has also been reasonably questioned elsewhere. Fox News here, perhaps unsurprisingly also, says nothing about that. Neither does its “expert.”

* * *

Sadly ignorance, exaggeration and errors do not make that “expert” unique on U.S. cable TV news. There’s just too much airtime to fill and all channels (even my preferred CNN) seem to rely heavily on way too many “talking heads” whom harried producers know are readily available to rush before cameras within the next hour. (Full disclosure: a relation of mine is a producer on a well-known U.S. news program.) Yet what truly forms the underpinning for their expertise is often anyone’s guess. Sometimes you suspect you would learn more from a well-sourced Wikipedia entry or two.

It’s no laughing matter either. Disinformation and ignorance enters routine discourse all too easily. Suddenly someone has a new “fact” which gets shared and shared and re-shared: “Darling, my father was watching Fox yesterday. He said they had an expert on who explained how Paris is now almost run by ISIS. The girls want to go there on vacation?”

A rule I try to live by in our media-saturated world: if it sounds outlandish, count to ten. As viewers, we don’t have to have an opinion immediately. Seek a “second” or “third” unrelated source before quoting it to anyone else, because what you just heard may well have been sloppy half-truths at best, and quite possibly outright garbage.

* * *

To end on a lighthearted note, Cécile is “French and perfect” …. you understand. She is also self-deprecating, witty and entertaining. This is one of her YouTube videos, in which she demonstrates how to make mousse au chocolat:

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Hope you are having a good Monday, wherever you are in the world. :-)

I Write Novels, But – Shush – They’re Meant To Be A Secret

The other day, Bookshelf Battle raised an issue I think is worth addressing here:

Sometimes with all of the blogging, twittering, and social media-ing, I just wonder if all writers are doing are talking to other writers. It’s like we’re all door-to-door salesmen, knocking on a door, “Wanna buy my book?” And the person answers, “No, but do YOU wanna buy MY book?”

I gave that comment (and the post where it appeared) some thought, and figured I’d drop in my two cents/ pence.

Writing is a largely solitary endeavor. (Even those closest to you cannot fully understand.) Most of my days are taken up researching, organizing, proofing, and tapping, tapping, tapping out the draft for my latest book. (They don’t get written unless you write them.) So I like now and then to lean across the “office partition” and have a “glance” at what other authors at nearby desks are doing, or to take a break near the “water cooler” and have a “gab.” This site and other social media, like Twitter and About.me, are the ways I do that.

I’m on Twitter intermittently during the day – usually yammering (as you may know) about international happenings, travel, and expat stuff, and only very occasionally about my novels. I post here most days as well (as you also may know), and I do that early in the mornings – before I start the day’s novel writing.

Yes, this site is a “shop front” of sorts. Anyone is free to come by and browse. And to walk out empty handed too. As I do elsewhere. As we all do. Everywhere. I don’t buy something every time I click on Amazon.

Or should I not mention my books? Are visitors supposed to read my mind down their broadband lines? No one will ever know what you do unless you, uh, happen to bring it up.

Free Stock Photo: Home sale signs along a street.
Free Stock Photo: Home sale signs along a street.

The old-fashioned Yellow Pages are FULL of businesses, large and small, trying to let you know what THEY can DO for YOU if you PAY them. No one says they shouldn’t share what they do? How will any of us hope to find that (real) estate agent, that plumber, or a store that sells live Christmas tree stands, if they don’t advertise their existences?

I don’t target this at other writers. Others might like to produce something so narrowly focused. But my site is for anyone who clicks in from the big, wide internet.

That said, I’m not one – and never have been one – to stride into a room, wave around one of my books, and proclaim, “Look what I do! Tah! Dah!”:

Mingling, my wife mentioned my novel to one man. Trust her always to know how to work a room. (She’s much better at it than I am.) Moments later, he sought me out.

And he was keenly interested in the smallest of details. How do you write? What time do you start? Do you do it every day?

Others jumped in as we stood around the kitchen island, drinking and eating. Later, general conversation in the dining room drifted briefly to my novel, including the plot and my inspiration. “Why do you think I come to get togethers like this?” I joked. “I need new material!”

Grinning, our Danish girlfriend observed, “I was reading it on the Kindle, wondering, ‘Hmm, am I in here? Am I one of those French girls?’”

“Don’t worry. You’re not in this one,” I smiled. “Would you like to be in the next one?”

And let’s recall also, there should be fun in this as well!

If you blog – as an author, or because you travel, or because you live in a country different from the one where you were born, or for whatever reason you do – I enjoy reading what YOU have to say. We live in an insane world. Every individual’s experiences matter and illuminate it better. I have learned quite a lot courtesy of many of you.

If you like what you see here, great. If you are interested in my novels, I’m flattered, and I hope you enjoy them. In the end, it’s entirely up to you.

It’s very simple, really.

Have a good day, wherever you are in the world. It’s almost the weekend! :-)

“Oh, God, not my mother?”

I’ve you’ve ever written about romance and relationships, you know it’s a minefield. We are all full of foibles. For those of us who pen fiction, trying to capture humans in print in order to bring characters of both sexes realistically to life is never simple.

Then there’s caricature. And humo(u)r. Recently, courtesy of Twitter, I came across this:

DameMag

Those questions come from a woman. Therefore, as a man, I tread here lightly. I will say this, though: they are mostly hilarious. A few choice examples:

13. Tell me in which ways I remind you of your mother.

Yep, that’ll frighten off most guys for sure. That’s a keeper. If in need, try that on any man.

14. If you had to murder one of your closest friends in cold blood, which one would you choose?

On the surface, that also seems a winner. But be careful. Before trying to answer, quite a few men might also be thinking, ‘Wow, that clearly deranged mind of hers makes me fancy her even more.’ (Not me, of course. I wouldn’t have thought that.)

15. Who on Earth wears Crocs to a dinner date? In the winter, no less?

This couldn’t be directed at me. I’ve never owned a pair. I thought they were for five year olds?

30. Imagine you slept with my best friend. How was it?

Now, for a man, here’s where marital status matters greatly. Coming at you from a girlfriend, well, that question’s one thing. But if comes at you from your wife…. it has now become MUCH scarier.

32. Share the last time you faked a British accent to sound smarter.

This has to be from an American web site. For has the author actually been to certain, uh, intellectual locales here in the United Kingdom? Or ever even watched EastEnders?

Have a good day, wherever you are in the world. That’s enough now. Everyone off the internet. Back to work! :-)

Brief Explanation (For Americans): Why Europe Has Anti-Hate Speech Laws

In the wake of the massive “Je Suis Charlie” rally in Paris following the murders at Charlie Hebdo magazine and the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket, we are inevitably seeing some U.S.-based media now questioning France’s commitment to free speech. Why? Because France has anti-hate speech laws. One example:

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Some background, and context, clearly appears to be necessary here.

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About.Me

I’m not sure anyone really craves “a big picture” of me, but otherwise this looks interesting. If you use About.me, let me know. I’m now on it as – yes, as shocking as this may sound – R. J. Nello:

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In the set-up’s “find friends” auto-search, I stumbled on a small horde of Twitter friends on it, nearly all of whom I’d had no idea were on it.

We can all never have enough social media, no? ;-)

Have a good Sunday.