February 22, 2015

Rockin' Robin (Tweet, Tweet)

I sometimes have a hard time titling my posts. Today's was easy because I'm taking you back to the world of Twitter, and pretty much anyone in the Eastern part of North America is wishing for Spring. Hell, we're practically begging for it. That first robin sighting will be a monumental event, and what do robins do? They tweet. At least the rockin' ones do if you believe the Jackson 5.

Okay, that's enough of an explanation as to how I got the title for the post. Now on to the content!

Way back in May/June of 2011 I wrote a series of posts centred around social media - specifically Twitter. I had been on Twitter for a few years by then and still hand't quite figured it out.

In all of this, however, I neglected to get to the actual key to Twitter effectiveness. Engagement. Now, in my defence, I was new. I was still amassing followers and followings. It wasn't until I was following close to 500 people that I began to realize that the Twitter sea could be a cold and lonely (and useless) place unless you had some sort of system. So, I started using lists.

I had thirteen lists then. Today I have seven (including a mysterious "People Not in a List" list). A couple of familiar lists are still kicking around: "Writing" and "Community", and yesterday I made a few observations:

So, I've covered how I got the title of this post, and now I've explained how I came to arrive at this topic for this week. I suppose the only thing that's left is to get to the point.

The first observation was interesting because I don't tend to pay attention to who's following me (which is a partial lie because when I made this writer following-to-followed comment a couple years ago Margaret Atwood started following me on Twitter and to this day it makes me absolutely giddy). I find it interesting because I find writers are great at reciprocating the Twitter follow, more so than any other group of people, I think.

I started thinking about why that would be when I came across my second observation: self promotion. Look, I get it. We're all trying to sell stuff, and with the state of publishing and self publishing being what it is competition is at an all-time high and royalties are at an all-time low. The problem I see with this is that it's an awful lot of noise.

I don't know about most people but I follow an awful lot of writers, most of them not well known, so I'm not sure the average Twitter user has the same view of things. One thing I do know though is that I'm way more likely to re-tweet or comment (engage!) when someone's stream isn't just a a constant flow of "Look at me! Look at me! Look at me!" Naturally, unless Tweeting is your full time job you can't respond to everyone all the time - that's just not a sustainable practice. You can, however, take a good look at who you're following and what those people have to say and find out where you can add value to that conversation.

Hey, I've certainly been guilty of shameless self promotion on Twitter. If you were to check out my feed from the last year and a half you'll see mostly links to photographs I took or blog posts and very little "other" stuff. It sucks, and I'm not proud of it. Which was my third observation, and the reason for this post. Now that my life is settling back into somewhat of a normal routine, I started thinking about how I wanted to start engaging more on Twitter and get back to the good old days when it was entertaining and informative. I hope you'll all join me.

Finally, and this is probably the most important thing you'll read all day:

Don't be an asshole. 

It's Oscar night and three years ago a friend and well respected member of the Toronto media, Neil Hedley, had some words for people tweeting insulting and bullying bullshit about movie stars on the red carpet at the Oscars. I wrote a post about thinking before you tweet that was well received. Last year a few actors even did a parody sketch on this as part of the opening segment. Regardless of how many people point out that slamming an actress for her body image amounts to bullying (and generally being an asshole) there will still be throngs of people who do it. Don't be one of them.

~ Andrew

February 08, 2015

My New Hero

If there's one thing you can count on when you pick up a book it's that there will either be someone or something to root for, someone or something to root against, or some combination of the two. It's what makes the story interesting. It allows the writer to take the reader through a series of ups and downs and showcase all the pitfalls and adversity that the main character faces on the way to achieving, or not achieving, their dramatic need. While certainly there are myriad ways to accomplish this many times it boils down to something simple: protagonist versus antagonist, good versus evil, hero versus villain.

If you ever have a choice, always be Batman.

I've read quite a few books in my day, and seen quite a few movies, and I find myself drawn not as much to the hero as I am the antihero. That's just a personal preference though and I'm sure there's a psychologist out there who could explain it. Never the less, I like my heroes (or antiheroes, or villians for that matter) to be based on the types of people I see on a day-to-day basis and on the news - only exaggerated. You could say that I enjoy stories that involve fantastic versions of everyday people.

Sherlock Holmes is a good example. Here's a man using his wits and ingenuity to fight the evil lurking around the corner (who is also just an exaggerated example of a bad person you could meet on any given day). Iron Man would be another.  Tony Stark is a flawed, but thoroughly brilliant and excessively rich man who invents technology to build a virtually indestructible armored suit he wears to fly around in saving the world from harm. I also think this is what draws people to Batman. As the caption in the photo above reads, if you ever have a choice, always be Batman.

If you were to ask me who my two favorite heroes are I'd answer without hesitation: Iron Man and Batman. At least that would have been my answer until January 23, 2015. That day everything changed. If I'm being honest it had been changing for months, but that was the day my answer changed for good. I can even pinpoint the precise moment: 9:40 AM. It was at that exact moment I looked into the eyes of a girl we call Princess Pants (Pants for short) and I realized that the only answer to the question, "Who's your favorite hero?" that I'm ever going to give is this: my daughter.

I'm not sure how many of you have been following along but my wife, daughter, and I have been blogging about my daughter's experience with scoliosis. It's been a terrifying journey and one where I have learned a lot about myself, my wife, family, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and kind-hearted strangers from all over the world. But what I have learned from all those people combined pales in comparison to what I learned about my daughter.

You can read about the adventure on the scoliosis blog, and I would encourage you to do so, but it can be summed up thusly:

My daughter's scoliosis was getting worse and worse by the day. Each week that passed you could visibly see the deterioration. It was just a matter of time before she would be experiencing constant pain and her spine would accordion and look like a flattened "S".  Surgery was required, and on January 20, 2015 that's exactly what she had. I walked her to the operating room and at 8:20 AM that morning she drifted off to sleep. More than eleven hours later we got word from the surgical team that they were done. Two titanium rods were now permanently screwed into her spine with 27 titanium screws. The surgery was a success but she was under for so long they were keeping her sedated and on a ventilator for another 12-24 hours. Oh, and she needed 6 liters of blood during surgery (just about two full transfusions). Oh, and she was covered from knees to neck in hives from an unknown allergic reaction. At 9:30 AM the morning of the 21st they woke her up and extubated and got her breathing on her own. The hives had disappeared, whatever the allergic reaction was had worked itself through. Three hours later she was sitting in a chair with a Popsicle. The ICU nurse said she was hours ahead of the curve. By 4:00 PM that afternoon she was the healthiest kid in the ICU, and since they needed the beds, she was on her way down to a ward room. She skipped the step-down room altogether. The next day, January 22, she was getting out of bed and sitting up in a chair and eating (albeit very little as the pain meds and anesthetic do some weird stuff to your appetite). On January 23 at 9:40 AM she took her first steps with her newly reinforced spine and that, my friends, is the exact moment I knew.

My daughter was unstoppable.

She's even wearing a cape!

Now, this is a surgery that's done quite a bit. Not as many result in rods as long as hers (they cover fourteen vertebrae from T2 down to L4), and not as many have that extra hour and a half in the OR, but it's a surgery that happens about 10 times a year at this particular hospital and hundreds more times a year across North America. The expectation is the patient gets up and walking quickly, so that she can start healing. She needs to get her muscles moving again and begin to sort out how to live with her new body.

I have to tell you though, after seeing what she went through; after seeing how much pain she was in; after seeing her struggle to do something as trivial as roll onto her side in bed, or lift food to her mouth; after seeing how afraid she was; after seeing all that I saw something that I'd never seen in another person before. It was in her eyes, and it stopped me in my tracks. It was powerful, it was crystal clear, and it simply said this:

I will.

It wasn't just that she was going to figure out how to walk. Of this there was never any doubt. It was the look in her eyes that said, "Nothing is going to stop me. Ever."

And I believe her.

If you are interested, here's a great animated short that explains what they do for the surgery:

And here's a look at my new hero Princess Pants, before, and after with all her new fancy hardware:

~ Andrew