Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Diagramming the Social Media Sentence

Why hello!

Image result for like buttonIn my blogging absence I've written another book. And another short story.

In the in between moments I do what most people do in this internet age. Which is to say I waste time on social media and try to convince myself that clicking on 'like' buttons is a valid form of human connection.

By now, we've all heard social media is less about connection than competition. However, the more time I spend scrolling through feeds, the more I realize our lives all follow similar patterns that break down sorta like this:

Image result for stick figure family smilesPeople celebrate things. Birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, graduations and holidays. Pictures are posted of children who have grown to resemble their parents in high school.

Everyone is smiling.

It's tempting to think those smiles and cheerful moments are the defining characteristic of a family. Don't give in to this temptation. All the moments that define us in the internet age are happening off stage.

People grow ill. They have surgery and request prayers. People they love die or they die themselves and the people they love post notices on their Facebook pages. Everyone comments they don't want to hit like, but then they do anyway because there's no other option provided.

Image result for babiesChildren are born. There are lots of baby photos that morph to weekend activity photos as children grow older.

People read things they agree with or are entertained by and post them for other people to read.

Vacations happen. Pictures of foreign places, sunburns and food are posted.

Lately, I find myself more interested by the sameness of the social media feed than its individualized content.

Image result for social mediaInstead of being one of the tools we use to obsessively track each other's status ranking, social media feels more like reassurance that we all progress down the same paths. There are divergences of scale, of course, but the similarities outweighs the differences.

We are born. We celebrate. We vacation. We eat. We like lots of things. We dislike other things. We have a forum for discourse about those things. We grow ill and occasionally we feel the need to rant.

The novelist in me is glad for the similarities that bind us together in our human condition. The human in me is reassured by the pattern displayed through the aggregate of these snapshots.

What about you? What's your take on social media from a consumption standpoint? Reassuring, boring, waste of time (for sure) or bringing about the end of civilization as we know it? Oh, and by the way, of course I missed writing here! But my hope is readers and friends alike will soon get to see the fruit of all that time spent elsewhere.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Basic Bitch

The Basic Bitch is having an internet moment.

It's a criticism leveled at women and women only. One we're supposed to be cool enough to laugh about because, you know, everyone's just kidding and geez why do we have to take things so seriously!?!

 Being "Basic", in case you haven't heard, is based on female consumption choices. And while the trope to the right is slightly amusing, it also strikes a nerve with me because it's one more mainstream weapon in the mass artillery that pits woman against woman.

The typical Basic Bitch is someone with long hair, at least shoulder length. She gets excited about Pumpkin Spice Latte season. That's a consistent theme, as is yoga. Sometimes she wears Uggs and often she's blonde. It's entirely possible she still sleeps in her sorority letters t-shirt that she pairs with jewel tone underwear from Victoria's Secret.

To me the Basic Bitch is the opposite of the Cool Girl as defined by Gillian Flynn in Gone Girl.
Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.
Gillian Flynn's character goes on to say the problem with the Cool Girl is she doesn't exist. She's a trope. A creation no different than the Rules Girls who wait two days (I think, although I'm not entirely sure, having never been good at following any rules) to return phone calls.

My biggest problem with all these definitions foisted upon the female existence is their divide and conquer mentality. It's like high school on the internet.

The categories actively encourage us to dismiss women who makes choices that aren't as cool as ours. As in "OMG, she's so Basic! Why even bother?" But, hold on, I can still wrinkle my nose at the Cool Girl because, really, don't all her shenanigans amount to just trying too hard? Don't even get me started on those Rules Girls. They're so disingenuous!

These definitions allow us to write each other off while simultaneously reconfirming our superiority. Is that healthy? Is that really what people need to walk through this world? And isn't the need to shove womankind into prepackaged categories, well, a little Basic in and of itself?

As for me, I indulge in my love of yoga, food on sticks and although sometimes I don't return phone calls, it's usually just because I had a busy day.

Most of the women I know defy easy categorization. They're varied, unique and interesting in a way that has nothing to do with how they interact with consumer culture and everything to do with how they think.

I suppose if I wanted to, I could slap a label on the women I meet based on their love of lattes, reproductive decisions or predilection for poker, but then the loss would truly be mine.

And given all I have to gain from the treasure trove that is womankind, that's not a loss I'm willing to take.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Blogging Quandry

Last week I had lunch with a friend who knows social media in and out. Over salads (because that's what women of our age eat at lunch) she told me I HAVE to keep blogging.

"But it's so time-consuming. Isn't Twitter just as effective I asked?"

"Nope, you've gotta keep up with the blog."

She was so definitive that I spent the week thinking about why I've been shying away from blogging and whether there's a fix for the things that have pushed me away from it. Here are the issues I came up with.

1. Time suck.

Blogging is a HUGE commitment. Writing the piece. Editing it. Visiting your friend's blogs. Reading. Commenting. Tweeting links. I used to manage this by putting a time limit on myself. After an hour of social media I was done. Maybe I should go back to that.

2. The Promotional Posts.

Okay, here it is. I love supporting other writers, but I have little to say about blog posts that are perpetually tuned to the all-promotion-all-the-time channel. I know it's supportive to stop by and say, "Hey, great cover!!" but sometimes I feel like I'm commenting on random baby photos. Of course your kid is cute, but as writers, is this the best use of anyone's time? Isn't there some other way to build a supportive community? These aren't rhetorical questions. I really don't know. What do the rest of you think?

3. Voice.

My blog has a chatty feel. It's me-lite with a focus on daily events, writing and whatever happens to strike my fancy. My books are dark. They delve into places that aren't comfortable. I love those topics and that kind of writing. Sometimes I worry my cocktail party conversation style writing for this blog will dilute my fiction voice. Or maybe it's good to not cling to one voice or style like a blankie. Again, I don't really know and would love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

So there they are. My three big blogging issues.

The one thing I know for certain is I miss my cyber-friends when I go away. The people who produce interesting and quality content that makes me certain we would never run out of things to say in real life...you know who you are! I miss you!!

So maybe that's my answer. Blogging is part social media and part building substantial connections that I treasure as much as I do my life and blood friends.

What do you think? Do you struggle with any of the above issues and if so, how have you resolved them?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Goal of Writing

It's September and I'm editing.

Although I recently realized what I'm doing is actually called revising. It's that point in the manuscript where I take the comments of beta readers and Agent Emily and try to incorporate them into a cohesive vision for this book.

It's a lot of redrafting. Moving things around. Changing the direction of certain scenes and characters. At the end of twenty pages my brain feels broken.

This weekend I was talking about writing with my kids. "Do you think it's possible you could write a book that EVERYONE would love?" my daughter asked.

"If EVERYONE loved it, it would probably be kind of a boring book," I told her.

"So what's your goal when you write?"

It's the kind of question I would ordinarily have had to think about, but for some reason, maybe because it was a sunny September morning, we were well-fueled by coffee (me) and doughnuts (them), my answer was immediate.

"I have three goals," I told her.

"The first goal is to keep the reader interested. The second is to create a sense of beauty for the reader. Either in the way the words come together or in the images it builds in their mind. The last one is to give voice to either an emotion or experience that is felt, but unarticulated."

In retrospect, it occurs to me these aren't necessarily the goals I had when I started writing. I'm not sure I had goals at all, other than finishing that first novel. And of course, I now understand that novels one through six all helped build my goals for novel seven.

What are your goals when you write? Are they in constant evolution or have they been a consistent touchstone for whatever you write?

And given the lofty nature of my own goals...please wish me luck in finishing this revision! I think I might need it!!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Summertime Madness

To quote The Chainsmokers, #SELFIE song, "It's not even summer. Why does the DJ keep playing, "Summertime Sadness?"

Oh wait, pause, it is summer! Just not here. Not yet. Not until Wednesday. Tomorrow!

Tomorrow afternoon we're headed out on a world adventure. Just the three of us...which is a first for me. Usually my husband comes along on our international explorations, but this summer he's going to pop in and out like our family is a sit-com and he has a repeat guest spot.

We're the Love Boat and he's Carol Channing.

In my usual way, methodical and levelheaded, on Saturday it occurred to me I hadn't done any research on our trip aside from making sure we have roofs over our head and seats on an airplane. It also occurred to me there might be *gasp* lines and Parisians might not take kindly to my joie de vivre when presented in the form of no reservations and impatient children. This realization set off a marathon round of internet research and booking, the kind I suspect others might do more than four days in advance of their departure.

That evening I overheard my son discussing our upcoming trip with a friend. "Dude," he said. "I'm going to France next week and there's going to be..."

He paused and in that pause my mind inserted Picasso, Eiffel Tour, Monet, pain au chocolat.

"Bunkbeds!" he finished. "I've got dibs on the top."

So yeah, everyone's priorities are a bit different.

We will definitely go to the Louvre and afterwards there will be a visit to the in-ground trampolines in the park outside. Castles will be visited, as will swimming pools. I made Viking ponies plans in Iceland and located an archery pitch in case we're all in the mood to channel our inner Katniss. My plan is to balance culture with healthy servings of pastries.

As for blogging, that's going to have to wait until we return.  Meanwhile, you can always follow me on Twitter @JohannaGarth, Google+ or Facebook, where I'm sure I won't be able to resist uploading the occasional photo accessorized with commentary.

Have a wonderful summer and I'll be back here with fresh perspective sometime in mid-August.