May 26, 2013

Media Feeding Frenzy

I have a Twitter account. You can see the feed just to the left of this post. It's 100% public and anyone with access to the internet can see every Tweet I've sent (all 7,300+ of 'em). You won't see anything terribly salacious though as I have implemented some strict rules over the last couple years; the two biggest being: no f-bombs and nothing derogatory/defamatory toward an individual. In other words, try as often as possible to use my nice words and don't make it personal. In spite of this, you have no reason to believe that anything I post is even remotely true and because of that I do my best not to give you any reason to doubt me.

When I see tweets out of context that (in my opinion) cross some lines I mostly just ignore them. I certainly can't be the defender of everybody on the Internet, nor do I want to be, but when one or more of my friends is involved I tend to take notice. This happened recently and until I was able to gain access to the appropriate context things looked pretty crazy, like something out of a fake news magazine. However, I got the appropriate context and have since chosen to stay the heck out of it and let the system and people directly involved do what they do. I just wish that proper context had been made available along with all the other tweets that were being tossed around.

I've written about being careful about what you tweet before and in today's world of instantly mass distributed information it's more important than ever for people to be cautious about what they publish. Sadly, most do not. Instead, they just get angry, type, and press send. You may have noticed that news outlets tend to lag when it comes to the release of information. This is because they are supposed to have a little something called journalistic integrity. They are supposed to fact check and double, sometimes triple verify before publishing. Supposedly, they require proof, but we all know that not every news outlet has the same definition and not every one goes about obtaining it the same way (or at all in some cases). As a friend pointed out to me recently, "your credibility and integrity are directly tied to the media organization who signs your checks." I had made a reference to The Toronto Star in comparison to FOX News and we were speaking of course on the recent scandal that has rocked the mayor's office in Toronto.

There used to be a clear difference between an organization operating completely above board and one of lesser integrity. It used to be really easy to differentiate between The Toronto Star and FOX News. After what I've seen over the past 10 days I'm sad to report that it's not so easy any more. As far as I can tell, once the Rob Ford story broke every media outlet in Canada (and some in the U.S.) started behaving like someone on Twitter with no followers, tweets with links to questionable websites, and an egg for a profile picture.

If I was able to draw, there'd be a picture of Rob Ford in the ocean with a bunch of shark fins circling him, each one with the name of a media outlet tattooed on it (the largest fin being the Toronto Star). There'd be a dude in a life raft looking all shipwrecked and scraggly and holding binoculars. On the side of his boat would be "S.S. Gawker". Until I can take some art lessons, this will have to do:

There's a certain irony to me utilizing an image stolen from FOX in this post

Listen, I'm not a Rob Ford fan. I've shamefully made a comment or two at his expense this week. A good many people, however, have done a lot more than just crack a joke, and with less evidence than there was to support the existence of Weapons of Mass Destruction.

At least I will give Mr. Ford the benefit of the doubt:

No proof = didn't happen.

Don't get me wrong, I'm also not a fan of any jerk who abuses power and uses money and influence to do nefarious, morally reprehensible, or illegal things. But is this what it has come to? Has the rest of the world given up on demanding proof? Has the age of instant information whet our appetite to such a degree that we have finally shifted the burden of proof from the accuser to the accused?

I certainly hope not, but more and more it's looking like that's the direction it's headed.

Welcome to the Court of Twitter:
Trial by Internet with traditional media judge presiding over a jury of your social media peers; thumbs hovering over the send button and salivating at the thought of hanging the accused in 140 characters or less.

~ Andrew

May 20, 2013

The Overlook Hotel

Sorry that this week's post is a day late. Spending most of the weekend up at the cottage has messed up my routine. Plus, there was a pretty good hockey game on last night (Go Sens Go!) Anyhow, on with the post...

I have a Facebook friend who sends out a note every now and then asking if anyone has a secluded cabin in the woods that he can rent so he can do some writing. I have often thought that this would be my optimal writing locale. It's quiet with lots of beautiful nature to reflect on life and generate wonderful ideas, and I am unlikely to have access to the internet - at least not on anything but my cell phone (which is easy enough to ignore because it's slow and such a small screen).

As it turns out, I am not in a position to just take off for a couple months and write a book. My day-to-day existence requires me to wear a few hats: father, husband, project manager, friend, son, brother, cousin... writer. As a result, most of my writing happens on my couch in my living room, which works well enough but is far from what I would consider ideal. If I really want to buckle down I'll go sit in the big chair in the bedroom. I suppose I could go to a local coffee shop or a park if the weather is nice - or anywhere that has a bench to sit on for that matter. Ultimately, those all seem like a lot of a hassle for only a little gain. 

Of all of my realistic options the only one that seems to guarantee a good spurt of words is the chair in the bedroom with some white noise blaring through some headphones and my wifi turned off. This is what leads me to believe that a secluded cabin might just be my ideal writing spot. Of course everyone is different and there are many other options that could work. Are any of these on your list?

  • Beach house surrounded by gulls and waves and a light breeze
  • Leather chair surrounded by mahogany and walls of books
  • Bean bag chair, tattered note pad, and that old pen that should have run out of ink years ago

Wherever it is, whatever you prefer, is there a specific place or setting that gets the words flowing better than any other?

On the other side of that coin are the things that take a productive writing session and throw it right in the crapper. For me, this is a list that's probably a wee bit too long. In no particular order (and sadly, nowhere close to exhaustive):

  • An Stanley Cup playoff hockey game
  • A golf tournament where Tiger Woods in in contention
  • Someone mentioning me on Twitter
  • The Internet
  • Shiny objects

You can see now why I think a cabin in the woods is my ideal writing spot. Realistically it could be any place where I am as far away as possible from anything on that list. That being said, regardless of your circumstance and location one thing is certain: all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. 

~ Andrew

May 12, 2013

For Mom

I normally associate reading with my father. Not that my mother doesn't read, but she doesn't read the types of books that I do, and she's more than likely to be found with a crossword in her hand (or a stack of them!) or a watering can or a gardening glove or something to refinish old furniture - or a glass of red wine. Every time I'm at my parent's cottage and mom is there I will be asked to help out with one or more of these chores (especially the red wine), and when she is not there at the same time we are there is a  really nice note asking for one of these items to be done (along with a plea for me to not kill all her flowers - a particular skill that I have that I must have inherited from my father).

Now, while I associate my (more formal school principal) father with books, I associate my (less formal gym and substitute teacher) mother with words, specifically which words to use in any given situation and most importantly how to make them my own. If anyone were to ask me how I developed my writing style my response would most definitely be - from my mother.
You are not my mother! You are a SNORT!
Growing up, I spent more time talking with my mother. She's just a wee bit more in tune with her emotions than my father and we share a similar sense of humour (I have to be careful which emails of hers I open at work). I am very passionate and always looking to bring levity to a tense situation and my mom encouraged this throughout my childhood (yes, I embody the cliché that my mom thinks I'm funny). As such, I've often looked to my mother to provide guidance on how to phrase various written phrases documents.

One particular time I was on the phone with mum, talking about my upcoming career change and how my current employer wanted to do an exit interview. I had no experience with this before as it was my first job after graduating university so I sought out advice from her on my official departure letter. Well, it's a darn good thing I did because she certainly helped me avoid my first ever 'bridge burning'. While I enjoyed my job and most of my coworkers and had a lot of respect for my boss, I had some very honest opinions about the organization as a whole. My mom talked me through the finer points of communicating such opinions and the result was an exit letter that expressed my thoughts honestly and tactfully.

Later that year I received this book for Christmas:

My mom's not-so-subtle advice
Suffice it to say, this is a well worn book that has travelled with me throughout my career. I keep it at my desk and co-workers who happen by often inquire as to its contents, and if I have found it useful. I simply reply, "Have I offended you with an email recently?" when they reply, "No", I point to the book and say, "That's probably the reason why."

More than just that, and back to the part about my mom insisting that I leverage my sense of humour as often as possible, I have taken it upon myself to ensure that when I have to send out one of those "I'm Going to be Out of the Office" or "Where's Andrew?" messages to my co-workers that I make it funny, or at the very least entertaining. With my mother's voice echoing in my head as I type, these are more often than not quite tasteful and completely appropriate for the office.

I bring this particular style, casual with a dry wit, into a lot of the things I write and if you read a few of my blog posts you will see what I mean. It is definitely a style I can call my own, and I owe a lot of that to my mother. Heck, she can take credit for even more than that. In Grade 9 she even sat me down at the kitchen table with an electric typewriter and forced me to practice typing until I was up to a respectable 45 words a minute (okay, it's not that respectable, but it was good enough for a passing grade. Just so you know, I'm up around 70 now). Where would I be now if I was just hunting and pecking with two fingers across the keyboard? Certainly not cranking out a blog post every Sunday, that's for sure.

My only wish now is that I was paying more attention when she was imparting advice on how to pick a tense and stick with it. I wonder if she'll give me a deal on editing when I'm finished the first draft of my novel...

~ Andrew

May 05, 2013

Hey Mikey, I Think He Likes It

So my wife and I took the kids to see The Croods today. If you're not sure what this is it's an animated movie featuring a caveman family who, to this point in the story, has survived by spending as much time as possible huddled in a cave. The father's favourite saying is "Never Not Be Afraid" and he makes a point of showing them over and over (and over) again that anything new is to be feared. Now, I won't spoil the movie for you, but suffice it to say that this notion is to be challenged and the family may or may not experience something new and may or may not live happily ever after.

Fast forward a couple hundred thousand years and here we are. We have evolved quite remarkably in that span of time and yet there are still so many traits, mannerisms, or instincts that we possess that hearken back to those cave dwelling days. Fight or flight immediately springs to mind. The overwhelming need for the male of the species to impress the female is another one. Sadly, men did not evolve in a similar fashion to their feathered friends and become adorned with colourful plumage.

Stolen from Wikipedia

If you're anything like myself you've also hung on to a little bit of the Crood father as well. Things that are the same are safe and things that are different are not. Change is bad. Now, I'm no Luddite by any stretch, but I am most comfortable in my routine and have a healthy appreciation for the way things are. So when it was time to discuss the possibility of an e-reader I was far from comfortable. 

I've tried reading on my iPhone and on my laptop and I'm not a fan. An e-reader is different I am told. An e-reader is just like reading on a book, but better! My father, who probably hasn't been on the Internet for a decade (since I showed him how to use Google to look at boobs find sports scores), switched over to an e-reader more than a year ago and he loves it. He has no idea how to get books onto it (the neighbour does it for him), but he loves it. 

My daughter reads a book about every three or four days. It may take her a week if she has a few of them on the go at once. She's getting an e-reader for her birthday whether she likes it or not. I will soon run out of storage space for all her books and will probably wear out a path to the library as well. My wife figured that a good way to test out this gift would be to get one for me and then I could put it through the paces and we could let our daughter try it out. I did the research and decided that I wanted a more "traditional" e-reader. I would not enjoy reading on something with a shiny screen that also played HD video. I needed something that most resembled an actual book. I settled on the Kobo Glo, and lo and behold my wife gave me one for my birthday.

I loaded up some books I've been meaning to read and picked up a "book maintenance" program that allows me to keep a consolidated library of all my ebooks in all their formats (and convert them to Kobo format too, if I want). I loaded a couple new books for the future on there as well and I started reading Caramel and Magnolias by my friend Tess Thompson. I read in daylight, at night, low light, lots of light, direct sunlight, morning, afternoon, and evening for a week. I used all the features I could think of on the device and I gave it a solid test drive. 

The verdict? It's just like reading a book, but better! 

So there you have it. It is possible for me to embrace and accept something new. Believe me, I am just as surprised as you are. Now, I wonder what's next?