Promisses No. 14: Don’t Be John Popper

Yesterday, through a fellow baseball writer friend my editor whatever a guy I know who is those things and is also into video games, I learned about this. It’s worth a read in a train-wreck sort of way, but basically: a managing editor of a gaming site and general Twitter funnyperson named Holly Green tweeted a joke at someone else that poked fun at John Popper, the lead singer of the band Blues Traveler (you’d remember and/or recognize “Run Around” and “Hook,” 1994). Frankly, the joke was probably in bad taste, not the kind of thing you should say about anyone, even when you’re clearly joking (as she very clearly was). I don’t know Ms. Green and have no way of knowing this, but if she’d thought the man himself was particularly likely to see it, I kind of doubt she’d have sent it.

Anyway, the man himself did see it, and he responded. And responded, and responded. That first link above tells that part of the story. It’s crazy. His tweets read like they were written by a nine-year-old, but it’s clear enough that he’s bullying her, borderline-stalking her, and threatening her with what would be an utterly frivolous defamation lawsuit. It just kept going. Many others got involved yesterday — mostly tweeting ridiculous things that mentioned his name (but didn’t tag his Twitter account, because there was clearly no need, he was going to see it anyway). Mine got me blocked by Popper, right after he tweeted this:

(As I went to get the link, I noticed that after we’d blocked each other he nonetheless found something else I said mentioning him and responded. That dude from Blues Traveler appears to have some time on his hands these days, is what I’m saying.)

(Also: it appears that all of his tweets have at least one winky face in them. It doesn’t make them any less creepy.)

Anyway, it’s a weird, weird thing, but the thing that sticks out most to me is the fact that John Popper, who is 46 years old and has won a Grammy and still tours and is on TV sometimes, searches his own name on Twitter and (at least sometimes) responds to whatever he finds there. This is a colossal waste of time for the most sedentary and unaccomplished of us. And John Popper, a guy you’ve heard of and whose mid-twenties singing voice you’re hearing in your head right this second, is out there doing it.

Sometimes, I’m really glad I have a stupidly common name. Not that anyone’s talking about me anyway, but even if they were and I wanted to, I wouldn’t be sure how to find it.

Googling oneself

Fridayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy.

Promisses No. 13: Hot Enough Fer Ya?

Quick, late one today: it’s been hot here. Today is lovely, but most of the past week was close enough to 100 degrees, and humid. I sat in the sun for an hour and a half for a meeting a bit ago and almost died. I walked 30 feet from my car to my office in jeans, and my legs started sweating. It’s been a bit hot.

Then I happened to notice a bit earlier today that on February 1, I posted this on Facebook:

Not even a real number.

Not even a real number.

And that in the middle of April, there was this (to be repeated as late as May 1, but I didn’t even have the energy left to take a picture then):

April 18

I mean, how miserable is life, if we don’t live in Hawaii or San Diego (which I suspect could get miserable in its own way, or at least boring), and we really only appreciate the five or six days a year when nature sets the thermostat to our own personal numbers? I’ve never minded a little heat. It’s good pool weather, and a good excuse not to do much of anything else. If I’m going to whine about the cold and snow in February and later — and make no mistake, I most certainly am going to, always — it’s time to toughen up about this.

Weather

 

Happy Friday! It’s my younger son’s third birthday today, and I hope you’re as excited, awestruck, happy and frequently confused by life as he figures to be this weekend.

Promisses No. 12: My Two Weeks Away and Sharknado

You shouldn’t apologize or explain when you’ve been away from a blog for awhile, I’m told, because nobody really cares, it’s just a blog, and there’s no reason to draw attention to it.

So…

Sorry I’ve been away! What happened was this: I bought a “spaceship” on craigslist, but the lady totally screwed me over and I actually ended up spending my fifty bucks on a damn time machine, and she ran away before I’d figured it out and had left a fake name, so I figured what the hell, lemons => lemonade and all that, right, and I went back in time to 1593 England, and because I had modern clothes and a keychain flashlight they all thought I was like a wizard or something, so I got to meet Queen Elizabeth, and I basically just spent two full weeks hanging with the Virgin Queen (sooo not a virgin, bee-tee-dubs; I know what you’re thinking and no we didn’t but we’re like totes BFFs now and *pantomimes lip-zipping*), and we rode horses and she taught me how to shoot a bow, and we watched the premiere of Shakespeare’s Richard III (meh, bit long), and I taught her how to play a couple offline games on my iPad (Lizzy loves Temple Run 2) and she made me secretly assassinate Christopher Marlowe and it turns out that the only problem is that this timeline keeps moving, and you can’t just go back to like a second after you left the way they do in the movies sometimes or you’ll run into some alternate-reality version of yourself so I came back and two weeks had passed. But Liz gave me this neck ruffle thing as a memento, so all in all I think it was a success.

Anyway. So I couldn’t blog. Again: sorry!

A bunch of people watched something called “Sharknado” last night. I couldn’t do it — something about intentionally awful movies just doesn’t do it for me the way a good earnestly awful movie might, especially one with the MST3K guys in front of it — but following along on Twitter was amazing, so funny. One fun game, I found (and I wasn’t as good at it as some others, but it’s my blog so you get my tweets anyway), is coming up with alternate animal-disaster-combination titles for SyFy to try next.

This week’s Promiss follows: Continue reading

Making Changes (Promisses No. 9)

Why can I only find time to write here on Fridays?

Anyway, if you’re here, and you’ve been here before, you might notice that it looks a bit different allasudden. The old theme had one thing going for it: I tend to write a lot of words, and occasionally tend toward long paragraphs, and that theme let the text take up a lot of horizontal space (it’s even called “Widely”), so it made my long posts and long paragraphs look not quite so long. But it was boring as hell.

This isn’t much better, but it’ll do for now. There are navigation/subscription links over there <<<, if you want ’em (they were at the bottom of the page before). The background picture is actually a kind of stunning shot (by total-amateur-pointing-and-clicking-an-iPhone standards) that I took of a Revolution-era house somewhere in northern Virginia a couple years ago (embiggening, would be the purpose of your clicking below):

IMG_0190 …but the way it comes out here — depending on your screen size and resolution, maybe — really only adds a nice little splash of color and a couple clouds. Oh well.

So anyway, there’s that, but there’s more. When I started this blog, I thought: I’m going to write a lot about things that make me angry, and most of those things have a left-leaning political tinge to them.

Those thoughts proved largely correct, as you probably know. But that’s certainly not what I want this to be about. I’ve also written about writing and social media and all kinds of things on which all (reasonable) people can agree, or at least can amicably agree to disagree, and I didn’t want this to be the kind of place where the name and general tone of the whole thing drove certain (reasonable) people away. I have conservative friends (a couple) and moderate friends. I’m a Christian, I’m a midwesterner who’s lived on both coasts, I don’t want to alienate anybody (who is reasonable). And you know, I can be awfully cranky sometimes, but I don’t think that’s a defining characteristic. I don’t want it to be a defining characteristic of this blog, at any rate.

So, no more “The Cranky Lefty.” Now, it’s just me. I made a few corresponding changes to the About page. The tag under the blog’s title on the left there will probably change quite often: the current one (“What you’ll need is a jackhammer”) is a snippet of a thing I wrote in my novel (or whatever) project, and it relates to writer’s block. The protagonist hits a wall because he’s afraid of the relative permanence of the words he’s about to put on the page; odds are the next line that comes out won’t be the perfect line, and neither will the next one, and the killer is that after hundreds or thousands of not quite perfect lines stacked on top of one another, editing (yours or someone else’s) can’t save you: editing is a chisel, when what you’ll need is a jackhammer. So he just freezes up straightaway. A bit depressing, maybe? But I choose not to hear it that way, I choose to hear it as kind of a call to be fearless and change-embracing in the first instance, and at any rate it can’t be any more depressing than this place used to be.

So the content won’t likely change much — alternating light/funny/musing and serious/political stuff, the occasional casual cursing just to keep you on your toes — but the look has, and I’m hoping the tone will too. Just a bit. And I’m hoping to write more often. Maybe Wednesdays, to go with Fridays? We’ll see.

Change

Promisses No. 8: Your Own Worst Critic

I’ve been writing, and it’s scary.

I mean, I’m always writing, of course, but I’ve been writing in a way that I really hadn’t been for several years. It’s fiction, this thing I’m doing. The kind that’s pompously, idiotically dubbed “literary fiction,” I guess you’d call it (it’s all “literary,” in my opinion, any given piece of writing, if there’s any shred of creativity or artistic expression in it at all), which just means it doesn’t have a plot that moves enough to apply any other genre to it, unless and until it takes one on as it goes along.

I have my doubts as to whether it’ll ever be publishable (or whether I’ll want it to be), but it’s a thing that’s important to me to write, personally, about some stuff I’ve been through. It’s therapeutic. And, who knows? Maybe it will be A Thing, someday. It could happen. The point is that I’m doing it because I want to and feel like I need to, and (for now) I’m committed to it. I’ve set, and so far (four or five days in) kept, a relatively modest goal of 500 words a day. (And I’m sure that I’ll be flexible on that, in the future, as I inevitably need it.)

And each night, at about 300 words in (and often several other times before and after), I come to the fully supportable and almost certainly correct conclusion that this thing I am writing is The Worst Thing That Has Ever Been Written. I still occasionally get that with my other writing, too; it’s just a part of the process. That feeling nearly convinced me not to publish last Friday’s post on women and tattoos, which, whether it’s a good post or a bad one, ended up being the most-viewed post in this blog’s short history nearly twice over (if you’re curious, and you’re not, the previous leader was my inaugural “Beauty of a Woman” post). I’ll often have to find a way to trick myself into sending a baseball article, which I’ve fussed over for hours already and which is the kind of thing I’ve written hundreds of times before, finally hitting that “send” button to my editors so abruptly and almost impulsively that I sometimes won’t even realize that I’ve actually finally forced myself to stop fretting and send it. I’ll probably edit this ten times before morning, and who cares about this? It’s just part of being a writer. Or at least, it’s a part of being me, writing.

That, the nagging worry, is a pretty significant impediment to my progress on this…novel or whatever it is, but I push through it. Eventually, that is — maybe after playing five games of Bejeweled Blitz and opening up four new Gchat windows and trying with limited success to start some big dumb conversation/fight on Twitter and watching an episode of Dr. Who — I do finally push through it. And I get to the end of my planned 500 words (or 600 or 1000 of them) and glance back over what I’ve done, and you know what? Well, it might not be good, per se, I’ll never be convinced it’s ever going to be anything good, but it won’t be nearly as awful as I thought it might be while I was in the middle of it. Never once has been.

Promisses missed you terribly last week, and today reminds you (me) to turn off that nagging dread and worry in your (my) already overcrowded, tiny little brain.

Own Worst Critic

Fist-bump to my lovely wife for the initial suggestion on this one.

Loveliest of Fridays and weekends.

Promisses No. 7: Being True to Yourself

Short! To the point! I forgot to do this last night!

This is pathetically short so I’ll chat a bit below the weekly necessity. Adapted from a suggestion by my baseball-writing partner and heterosexual lifemate Mike Bates.

Identity Theft

What else can I tell you? Hmm. I really liked this post by Amber about Angelina Jolie, and it goes right along with my recent theme of whining about dumb shit people do on Facebook. I’d always thought of Jolie as an obnoxious, utterly frivolous loon prior to this, and I have no idea whether what she did was smart or right or not and no idea how I could know (though it seemed pretty reasonable to me, and brave to come out with it). All I know is, she’s really rich and almost certainly consulted several really good doctors in making this really, really hard decision, and if you’re not a doctor and are judging her based on things like your own personal experience (“I have breasts and don’t have cancer!” was basically the sense I got) or a mistrust of the medical profession generally, you are a Part Of The Problem. Though I suppose it’s better than mourning Brad Pitt’s loss of her boobs.

I’m a big fan of those Damn You Autocorrect things (fake or not), so this made me laugh a lot more than it probably should’ve. You’ve gotta flip all the way to the end for the punchline (more like punch-in-the-gut-line! o-ho!), but I’m a bit sad to admit I chuckled through the whole thing.

Speaking of comedy, my wife and I are going to see Mary Mack tomorrow, and I’m awfully gosh-darned excited about that. She’s very Midwestern (northern Wisconsin, though Minnesota has managed to really claim that whole accent, so I’m comfortable calling her Minnesotan) and sings little folk-y songs and is funny. I imagine it’s an acquired taste, but I love her. Here she is solving the problem of gang violence! Enjoy your Friday.

Promisses No. 6: This Stretches the Gimmick to Its Limits

I don’t have any cutesy/unsettling phrases for today.

You know Facebook? That place where your uncle posts book-length and just shockingly racist rants about who-can-even-tell and your dad keeps accidentally posting his mildly embarrassing search terms as status updates and your mom has an account only to permit her to keep tabs on [pictures of your kids/the people you’re dating/the people she thinks you should be dating]?

Yeah. Worse than all that are the many, many shared photos or links or status updates that (much like, and having some overlap with, the plethora of phony quotes) are just completely untrue and (unlike many of the quotes) are remarkably easy to disprove or verify, via a simple Google search that leads you to a really, really useful website that (in most cases) will quickly give you a “True” or “False” and get you on with your day.

It’s annoying, like the fake quotes can be annoying, but it gets worse than that. Yesterday, a friend shared this photo (originally posted, I just happened to notice, by a racist gun nut and Benghazi-conspiracy loon who really hates our president). It notes that would-be rapists sometimes drive what appear to be unmarked police cars with lights on top and pull their intended victims over. This is true. It also claims that if you continue driving and dial 112, you’ll get straight to the police dispatcher and they’ll be able to help you. This (in most places) is false, and nowhere in America is dialing any number other than 911 a better idea than just dialing 911 is (but for God’s sake, yeah, keep driving).

My friend removed his share (maybe he Snopes’ed belatedly, or someone like me got to him), which is why I had to go through Benghazi-nut’s page and find it again. But at this writing, it’s been shared nearly 918,000 times. And that’s just this version; no doubt the same or similar misinformation is being spread around a number of other ways by now, just as you can find a dozen different images displaying the same fake Marilyn Monroe quote. 

This isn’t merely obnoxious; it could really hurt people. If you take this to heart and are in an area where 112 doesn’t work, and you’re in danger, this mistaken belief — your friend’s failure (and yours) to spend five seconds googling something before hitting “share” or just blindly trusting random stuff on Facebook — could cost you your one chance at escape.

So, people, please. Listen to Dove for once:

Snopes

Promisses No. 5: Life is Short

I almost forgot to do this today. But I didn’t!

I’m still thinking about Jason Collins and Cookie Monster Pants, and how important it is to really take charge of our lives and be ourselves, and, relatedly, to stop wasting time on things that don’t matter, that aren’t authentic, that aren’t us. Y’know, man?

Today’s Promisses message probably takes that idea too far.

CMP Promiss

Have a great Friday! It’s snowing here. On May 3. Next week’s Promiss may be “Move to Costa Rica.”

Promisses No. 4: This Isn’t Going to Be What Does It

Yes, he’s still doing these, every Friday. I don’t know that more than three people in the world are entertained by them, but they happen to be three of my favorite people (myself, especially), so the rest of you are just going to have to deal with (read: ignore) it.

An aspect of Dove Promises that hasn’t been explored much yet in this space (other than in the originating post) is this: Dove makes chocolate, and at bottom, in some way, the Promises’ goal is to get you to keep buying and eating more delicious Dove chocolate. Sometimes they’re pretty explicit about this; this list (which I know from my own research is incomplete) has nine different messages that use the word “chocolate,” like: “A special moment deserves a special chocolate,” and “Chocolate therapy is oh, so good.”

This week’s Promisses message takes that just one small step further. Promisses knows you’ve been a bit down on yourself, maybe eating a lot, maybe concerned about your weight, and just wants you to know that, I mean, it’s not like one more tiny piece of chocolate is going to be the thing that pushes you over the edge. You know? You’re not Mr. Creosote or something. So go ahead, unwrap one more. You know you want to.

Fatty fat fat

Twitter for Writers (a Sort-of-Outsider’s Perspective) and Promisses No. 3: What to Do with Your Body Parts

Twitter_Logo_by_MegachixSo I started this blog as a way to get thoughts out of my head that weren’t strictly about baseball. It’s been slow going, largely because I have this whole life and everything, but I’m determined to get into it eventually.

The great thing, though, is that I have a very good friend who was already pretty well entrenched in this community of writers, which has allowed me to quickly meet some great folks. I look forward to reading Emmie Mears and Amber West‘s and Jenny Hansen‘s blogs as often as they’re updated, to name a few, and they’re each great people to interact with on Facebook and Twitter besides.

But the referenced great friend (whose name has been mentioned altogether too often around here as it is–not this time, dammit!) put up a post yesterday that got me thinking. The post itself is a collection of tips for authors on managing their social media lives along with their work and the like.

The post is very good. What it got me thinking about was certain trends I’d noticed in how people within that circle — we’ll call them “indie authors” (or “IAs”), which I think is the closest thing to an identifying characteristic they have — tend to use Twitter.

The typical IA’s Twitter experience appears to me to be like so (this doesn’t apply to any of the wonderful people named or not-quite-named above, and certainly isn’t true of everyone else by any stretch): he or she has something between 600 and 6,000 followers, and follows almost exactly that many. The vast, vast majority of IA’s tweets are scheduled auto-tweets and append a link to one of three categories of things: (1) to IA’s own most recent blog post; (2) to IA’s book; or (3) to the blog posts or books of people IA knows and is hoping will return the favor. The content of those tweets is the title of the book or article, a related hashtag or two, and the link — there’s nothing to suggest why IA recommends that you click on that particular link (or even that it’s actually recommended, when you think about it) — title, link, maybe hashtags, boom.  And most of the rest of IA’s tweets are curt thank-yous sent out to the other IAs who have recently promoted IA’s blog or book.

This is really weird to me. My 3.5 years of tweeting (I’m here) has mostly been in the tiny and insular world of baseball geeks, where we’re (those of us who write, which is most of us) pretty interested in promoting ourselves too. And there are probably some people who act more or less as the IA described above, but there’s a real conversation there, too, and one feels like these are real people typing things, not scheduled advertisements.

A few disclaimers. First, self-promotion (for authors, and for at least half or so of all other people on Twitter) is a pretty important thing, and promoting others can be a pretty important part of that; I’m not out to knock any of that. And I know a lot of IAs have thought a lot about their social media strategies and whatnot, and I’m sure there are things they’re doing that are very effective.

Which leads into the second disclaimer: I’m not actually that good at Twitter, and I’d never try to tell you there’s a right or wrong way to use it. I haven’t built up a huge number of followers, really. Most people who follow me are baseball fans, and yet I don’t actually tweet about baseball that often, which can’t be advisable. I sometimes get in silly angry fights on Twitter, which are probably literally the most useless things two or more humans can possibly do with themselves.

So I’m not an expert. I don’t think there’s a right way to do it, and if there is one, I certainly don’t know or abide by it. (If that’s what you’re interested in, Chuck Wendig, who is better at it than I am, wrote what I think is a really brilliant list of things to know.)

But I sure do have a lot of fun on Twitter, most of the time. And to my eyes, the typical IA’s way of doing things just doesn’t seem any fun or particularly effective. My sense is that most writers don’t really want to be on Twitter, but look at it as a thing they have to do. And it shows.

So with that in mind, and without wanting to tell anybody the right way do anything, here are some things I think are kind of screwy about the IA tweeting paradigm:

  1. You’re shouting into the void. You follow everyone who follows you, and (for the most part) only those who will follow you back. That means you’re all of you out for the same one thing: exposure. You tend to post much more than you read. So what are the odds that any of the people you follow, who are presumably doing the same things for the same reasons, are reading what you say?
  2. Relatedly: if you follow everyone, you’re following no one. It feels like the nice thing to do, following anyone who follows you, and the surest way to collect a respectable-looking number of followers. And there might be some people who can follow 4000 and still kind of keep up with some of them. I just can’t get my head around it. I’m currently following close to 600, and that’s just about my limit. I try to follow most people who have interesting things to say and seem interested in what I have to say (but certainly haven’t succeeded in getting them all), aiming for a sizable community without overcrowding the field.
    If I get a new follower with like 6000 followers who is also following about 6000, that’s almost a bit of a letdown, because it’s so unlikely that that person will ever see anything I have to say, it’s hard to imagine what the point is. I don’t mean to suggest that I don’t appreciate those people, just that I regret not being able to interact with them. And I don’t mean to say that one’s follower/followee ratio is important; I do think having a number of “followees” that you can plausibly, y’know, follow probably is.
  3. No one reads links unless you tell them why they should. That’s not literally true, of course. But linking your blog post with the title alone, unless it’s a great title, isn’t likely to do a ton for you, and linking others’ blog posts (and them linking yours) in a similarly impersonal way does even less. All else equal, I’d much rather have five people who have really read my stuff promoting it and telling people why the person thinks they should read it than have twenty people post a “[Title] [link] by @Bill_TPA [hashtags!]” type of tweet. That reads like spam to me, especially if you’re doing loads of them a day.
  4. Relatedly: personality is a good thing. Whatever else it might be for, finding people you like and who like to talk about things you like to talk about, and then actually talking to them, is probably the greatest, coolest thing anyone can do with Twitter. Drawing followers to you that really enjoy you — the personality you show rather than your potential as a marketing or sales tool for them — can only help them be more likely or engaging readers, customers, promoters and so forth.
  5. The utility of hashtags is pretty limited. They seem like a great idea, # signs in front of the important words to allow people who are interested in those words to go searching and find you. They can be very useful; most pertinent to the IA group, it seems that Kristen Lamb has had quite a lot of success starting conversations with her #MyWANA thing (though it’s sometimes overrun by opportunistic self-serving links, which is what tends to happen, and is part of why the next sentence is true). That’s an exception to the rule, and the rule is that hashtags kind of suck.
    Relatively few people will click on or run searches for, say, “#flowers” or “#mystery” or “#romance,” and most of the people who do probably aren’t going to be looking for tweets like yours. Those terms can all mean many different things in different contexts, so your hypothetical hashtag surfer would have to sort through a lot of crap to get to the specific type of item she’s looking for (which probably isn’t whatever your tweet was about anyway). Twitter isn’t a great place to fish for strangers who are looking for certain terms — and they can always search for those terms without the #, regardless. It seems to me that it’s much more effective to develop an audience that knows you, likes you and is eager to introduce you to an even wider audience…and that #peppering each #tweet with #jarring #hashtags is probably not likely to #encourage #that #kind #of #devotion among them. #hashtags

That’s it, those are my thoughts. I don’t know anything about anything, but I think a few things.

This is already too long (maybe some established IA can write a post on blogging for outsiders with a “Don’t write such dense rambling nonsense!” item), but I’ll leave you with my weekly Promisses image, which has no particular deep thought behind it this week but is really only a slightly creepy-old-uncle-ier version of the real thing:

Promisses No. 3