Writing

Ejo #76 – An Open Letter To Facebook (c/o – MySpace)

Dear MySpace, I hope this letter finds you well. I know it’s been ages (ten years???) but I’m hoping that it’s been long enough for you to forgive me. I feel bad for what I did. No excuses. I treated you badly. All I can say now is that I’m sorry and that I hope we can move past all that and maybe even be friends.

I guess the real reason I’m writing to you now is to tell you that you were right. About Facebook, I mean. You told me to be careful, and I didn’t listen. You told me Facebook would betray my trust, and it has (over and over again). You said it would change the way I connect to people, and I laughed right in your face. But you were right. In fact, it’s even worse than you said it would be.

Sure, things were all shiny and happy in the beginning. Things were simple. They were… uncomplicated. Casual, even. To be brutally honest, if you’d asked me where I thought it was going, those first couple of years, I’d have said, “Same as MySpace”. I’m not saying that to be cruel. I just didn’t see a future with it. It was just a new-tech game. A novelty.

But then something happened, a game changer. I moved to Dubai and suddenly any platform which allowed me to easily and effortlessly stay involved in my friends’ and family’s lives became indispensable. Facebook went from a meaningless flirtation to a serious relationship, overnight.

Most of my friends, from what I can tell, use Facebook to check in from time to time, but it isn’t their primary friendship medium. They get the face-to-face time that I’m missing by living overseas. So I admit I became dependent on it. Just like you said I would. I’d wake up every morning and gorge on a plethora of interesting and witty, well thought-out statuses (stati???). Things like this (actual status updates used without permission. If one of these belongs to you, you should be proud, but if you want me to remove it just let me know):

Mrs X “is wondering how the child she just gave birth to yesterday is all of a sudden one! That’s one year closer to being a teenager – yuck!” (August 2009)

and

Mr Y: “The chillies were so hot I cried like a little baby.” (December 2010)

also

Miss Z “spent five whole minutes looking for lamb backstraps in the beef section. I’m not only beautiful, but I’m wise to boot”. (December 2012)

You know! Fun, silly, inane stuff that made me feel like I was hanging with my gang chewing the fat and shootin’ the shit.

More? How about these pearlers:

Mr A: ” “All flights in & out of Melbourne cancelled due to ash from Chilean volcano” – but how will I get home from Paris? 🙂 (June 2011)

Mr B “made an inane quip about himself in the third person.” (November 2008)

Mrs C “went to bed fine and woke up with a groin injury. Musta been some dream!” (December 2012)

Stupid fun stuff. No-one was trying to save the world. We were just connecting on that “little kid” level that makes friendships interesting and keeps them alive. Dumb stuff that only you and your group of buddies find funny. Facebook was good for that. I know you know what I’m talking about MySpace – I have a feeling it’s what you set out to do and didn’t quite manage. I know you’re mature enough to give credit where it’s due.

I will admit that I kind of got a little bit carried away with the whole Facebook thing there for a while. Obsessed? Perhaps. A smidge. I would “cultivate” my statuses. Something funny would happen or I’d think of something witty (in my opinion, anyway) and then I’d spend time polishing and honing those words until they were just right for posting. I like to think that it was inspiration for the writer in me. And that’s cool. Each to their own, I say.

But things changed, MySpace. They changed slowly at first, but lately it’s turned into an avalanche. At least for me.

My timeline (or feed, or whatever the hell you want to call it) became less about what my friends were doing or thinking or feeling, and more about reposted news items or “interesting articles”. And you know what? I actually caught that train. I figured I was learning something by reading long, obscure New Yorker articles. I was educating myself. But what was happening was that I was spending HOURS catching up on every article which headline caught my fancy. I was going down the hole. So I became more selective. I evolved.

But then there were the petitions. I started off signing everything that seemed like a good cause (Kony 2012 anyone?), and there were a lot of them. But then I’d get spammed by the charities for months on end, plus I started doubting the effectiveness of online petitions, so I just stopped signing them.

I’m proud to say I completely bypassed the Buzzfeed quizzes. What kind of farm animal am I? Fuck off, I don’t have time for this.

Then came the memes. Some of them were funny. Then the funny ones ran out and a cascade of unfunny, uninteresting, irrelevant memes took their place.

Lately it’s the inspirational quotes. How this for inspirational? “My thoughts are stars I cannot fathom into constellations.” Are you for real with this shit?? Same with the “copy and paste if you care about cancer” crap? I mean come on! And yes MySpace, I hear you, maybe the crappiness of my feed has something to do with the people I’ve chosen to “befriend” on FB. I get that. But lately I’ve taken the lead of a mate and created a custom list of friends whose updates I see (leaving those crapspirational posts lurking behind the scenes where they can’t irritate me with their uselessness). But even then MySpace, even then, Facebook (the one I picked over YOU) has decided that what I need to see is those custom friends’ likes and comments of shit that has nothing to do with me. WHY????????????

OK, I know I’m ranting now. Yes, I might have had half a bottle of sake (of course you know I’m in Japan, it’s all over Facebook – you guys still talk, I know you do). I guess what I wanted to say was that I miss you. I miss your simple algorithms that didn’t try to get into my head. I miss your easy going ways. I miss your privacy policies. I miss the good old days. Don’t tell Facebook this but I’m seriously thinking of breaking up with it. I’m over its controlling ways. I’m tired of always having to change my newsfeed from Top Stories to Most Recent. I’m sick of playing Facebook politics. I’m done with “liking” shit just to be polite. I want to be real again. And when I said that you and I could be friends again, I was lying. I don’t know what I want but you’re not it. Sorry. I probably won’t even send this lette

Ejo #64 – I Can’t Write Good No More

The other day I tried to write a short story. And I couldn’t do it. I wasn’t suffering from writer’s block – I knew the premise of the story. I knew what I wanted to say. I simply couldn’t put the words together in the right way in order to say it. The words spewed out of me in convulsions, inking themselves on the page in fractured, childish sentences. I persevered. A couple of hours later (a period long enough for the muse to flirt with me at least a little, usually leaving me with something of value to take home) all I had to show for my efforts were big black X’s scribbled all over the page, obliterating the crap that had disgorged from my pen. I was embarrassed by what I saw. I could not write a story.

I tried to remember the last time I wrote a completely new short story and realised it’s been over a year.

I recently went to a session of the Dubai Writer’s Group, a collective of writers that meets in a downtown café to critique each other’s work and, on alternate weeks, hold writing sessions. I went because it was one of my goals for 2015 to attend at least one of these sessions a month. I work better under some pressure and setting goals like this usually works for me (or, at least it has for this ejo which I’ve been publishing monthly since December 2010).

Because we were out of the country for most of January I couldn’t attend any of the writing workshops – so I signed up for a critique session instead. I submitted my story “Jackie” (yep, the one I wrote last year), and I will be the first to put my hand up right now and admit that this was a big fat cheat. The story was complete and didn’t need feedback. It had been edited and rewritten several times, and it was done. But I had to submit something and, sadly, it was the most recent piece of fiction I’d produced.

I won’t say I didn’t get anything out of the other writers’ evaluations of my work. A lot of what they said was actually a bit of an ego boost for me, and the criticism the piece garnered had more to do with the readers being unsatisfied and wanting to know more. I took that as a compliment. A couple of them said it was a good starting point for a novel. All very flattering. But did it achieve the goal I’d wanted? No. I’d promised myself I would go to those meetings in order to provide me with more motivation to write. And from the very first session I had already failed, because I’d failed to write something new.

In February I registered for one of the writing sessions, hoping that this would be a more successful venture, though my interest was already starting to wane. The meeting was cancelled five minutes before I left the house. Despite being grateful that I didn’t have to drive 45 minutes in weekend evening traffic to the café, I felt more disappointment than relief. That was the only February session I could make, so my second attempt at fulfilling my goal was as much of a failure, if not more so, than the first. At least I had actually attended in January.

At the beginning of March I half-heartedly checked their schedule of meetings and realised that I was rostered to work for all of them. Short of trying to swap some shifts around (no easy task) or chucking a sicky (not my stripe) I simply wouldn’t be able to attend. And that was the final straw for me. Though I can see the purpose of the Dubai Writer’s Group and how it would benefit some writers, I decided to change my goal from monthly attendance at their meetings to writing one short story a month. I figured that this, more than schlepping across town twelve times a year, would benefit my objective of writing more. And of becoming a better writer.

That is, until I actually sat down and tried to write a short story and discovered that I could no longer do so. The realisation didn’t happen right away; it was (painfully) slow to dawn. That first, difficult, attempt resulted in two or three passable paragraphs which I transcribed onto a Word document (I write fiction longhand, call me old-fashioned but I usually work better that way). The next day I had a look at my “work”, blinking with distaste as I read it. I attempted to continue what I’d started. I tried to improve it, to get it going. I truly gave it everything I had. The next three days I tried and tried and tried with the story, struggling to shape the protagonist in a way that would move the story to the place I wanted it to go. I wasn’t able to do it, and the feeling was terrible. Like I was adrift at sea, with no paddle. I thought about trashing the idea because, quite obviously, something wasn’t working with it. And it was only then that it occurred to me that perhaps it wasn’t the story that was failing, it was me. I was rusty. My writing was awkward, and inept.

I’m not good at much, and that’s OK. But I’ve always been good at writing. I’m not saying I’m amazing, but it’s an art form that I’ve always been comfortable with. Words have always been my friends – even when I’ve been blocked, they’ve still been there, only out of reach. But the words coming out now were drivel. Words had turned their back on me. Probably because I had done the same to them.

Writing these ejos every month for the last few years has been very good for my essay writing. But fiction is a whole other kettle of fish, and (let’s be honest) I’ve been neglecting my fish. Just as you can’t expect to serve up an ace or play a flawless concerto when you lay down your tennis racket or violin for a year, how was I expecting to whip up a complex, engaging, well-structured story when I hadn’t given my pen any love for twelve, long months? How very arrogant of me. Well, I have learned my lesson – the hard way. I’ve been humbled. I no longer take my ability to write for granted. I see it as a little present given to me in the crazy, random lottery of life. And I realise that I need to keep working on it. Forever. I need to keep practicing or I’ll lose it. And that would truly be very sad for me.

All I have is words

All I have is words

I used to dream of making my living as a writer. I used to dream I’d write the great Australian novel, or a J.K.Rowling style blockbuster. Maybe a screenplay that would sweep all the awards for screenwriting (on top of making millions at the box-office). But when your goal is such a high-stake one, there is always so much more to lose. My fear of failure paralysed me, so instead of just giving it a go (and perhaps not achieving these lofty ideals) it was much easier for me to pop these goals in the dream drawer. In there, my dreams achieved Schrödinger’s Cat status. Maybe I WAS capable of literary superstardom. Maybe I wasn’t. But what if I opened the drawer and discovered a dead cat…. well, I didn’t want to take that risk.

I no longer dream of fame and critical acclaim for my writing. I now write because I know that I feel like shit when I don’t. My purpose in life is a simple one. It is to put pen to paper. Thomas Mann said, “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people”.  And unfortunately, for me, that seems to be true.  But I’ll keep plugging away at this little lemon of mine until I construct a story that I can be a little bit proud of. And when I’ve done that, I’ll write another one. And then another. I’ll keep doing that until I have twelve complete short stories at the end of the year. A collection. And whether I get published or not, I’ll know I’m doing the best that I can to not squander my little gift. I’ll be taking it out of the drawer and unwrapping it from the cotton wool. I’ll be polishing it off, throwing it up in the air and drop kicking it as hard as I can.

Ejo #62 – Freedom

Last month I wrote about us choosing to stay in Dubai even though I don’t enjoy living here.  One of my (formerly) loyal readers didn’t like the post and left this comment on 3rd January:

Hello, I had already written to you and I read your posts each time there a new one, but I am so disappointed by your latest one, this will be the last one I read from you as we do not share the same vision of expatriation.

Indeed I am very disappointed by the way you think.  Of course we are all free to express our thoughts and feelings but I experience this everyday in France where I live and that just pisses me off. I keep hearing people living in my country saying they don’t like anything about it (and sometimes anyone).  This is so disrespectful.  I am not saying we should like everybody and everything but at least we shouldn’t be allowed to be so ungrateful towards a country which has accepted you, we shouldn’t stay in a place we don’t respect (although some might say this is not a matter of respect, I do believe that you can’t respect people or a place you have absolutely no positive thought about).

People always endeavour to live in a better world but how will it ever be possible when after years living in a place where you have been given a new start in life your conclusion is that the only thing you like about it is escaping it!!  For sure no place is perfect in this world and we can rightfully talk about the pros and cons objectively but rejecting so many things and all the people as a whole is just unacceptable to me.

You may not understand my post.  You might even be angry at me, telling me not to come back to your ejo if I don’t like it. But I just needed to express myself!  I don’t understand how you can enjoy travelling so much and be so narrow minded. Peace in the world will never happen with such comments, I am not sure you would understand people liking nothing about your country and staying anyway, that is unfair and you talked about racism but do you think such a blog will help?  This is quite sad.

My reaction to this letter was physical.  I felt out of breath, like I’d been punched. I felt sick.  The concept of her statement was nothing new to me.  David and I often argue that if I hate Dubai so much, perhaps we should just leave.  My therapist, Zimmy, always tries her best to help me see Dubai more positively.  But it took the words coming from a complete stranger to have the most impact on me.  I felt gutted.  And I went to bed in tears resolving to change.

After sleeping on it, I woke up seeing a more balanced picture.  On the one hand, I don’t want to be perceived as a horrible, twisted, negative, complaining person.  On the other, I want the freedom to publish exactly how I feel.  I have never set out to sledge Dubai.  I have only attempted to convey my own difficulty at finding a connection and love for the city I live in.  And, as I wrote to Flo (my former loyal reader), “I have always imagined that my ejo rants were written in an entertaining way, tongue-in-cheek”.

Four days after Flo wrote to me telling me she didn’t like the way I was using words to disrespect the city I’ve chosen to live in, the world was shocked by the appalling Charlie Hebdo attacks in which twelve people were killed, ostensibly in an assault against freedom of speech.  I was too stunned by the magnitude and the meaning of what had happened in Paris to make any kind of connection between that and my own freedom to express myself in my ejos.  But it occurs to me now that while it would be foolish to make a comparison between myself and the Parisian publication, parallels can be drawn to any person who elects to express themselves publicly.

Was Charlie Hebdo promoting racism by reprinting supposedly blasphemous cartoons of an Islamic prophet?  Or were they using satire to make a point?  Have I unwittingly been promoting racism by bitching about Dubai?  Or have I been trying to draw attention to a monster problem that exists in this city?  Is Flo’s response to my ejo a charge against my own freedom of speech?  And if so, should I fight back by continuing to publish and voice my opinion?  Or should I fold to her criticism?

I’ve decided that Flo’s comments are simply her freely expressing how she feels.  And that’s OK.  I don’t think she’s trying to tell me to change the way I write.  I think she’s telling me that she just no longer wants to read it.  And that’s OK too.  Am I sad to lose a reader?  Yes.  But I don’t write my ejos in order to collect subscribers.  I write them for me.  I can not, and will not, allow someone else’s opinion of me to change the way I write or what I write about.

Je suis Chryss.