Facebook Turns 10–Reflections on Our Decade-Long Relationship <3

TGIF, dear readers! It’s been a long week for me, fighting a battle against getting sick and ultimately losing. However, that means more time indoors cuddled up under a blanket with a book or notebook, so I suppose it hasn’t all been bad. So, my dears, please forgive the decreased eloquence on this post.

This week was a monumental anniversary for Facebook: 10 years. It provided an opportunity for reflection not only on how Facebook has changed over the years, but how Facebook has changed us.

I won’t say that the anniversary meant the most to people my age, but it has been the longest relationship possible, since when Facebook was launched, you had to be a college student in order to use it. I’ve been a member since 2005–I actually waited about a year to join, even though I could have in the inaugural 2004.

In some cases, Facebook has been a tool for changing lives. The news was abuzz this week with stories of reunion, nostalgia, and sometimes, heartbreak. This article from the New York Times blog said it well, complete with personal anecdotes.

The overarching theme in the aforementioned article and all of the ones I’ve read this week: connection. I’d have to agree–that’s what Facebook has meant the most on for me. I’ve gotten to stay connected with my best friends when we all went away to different colleges. I’ve gotten to reconnect with childhood friends I’d lost touch with 20 years ago. I’ve gotten to see the personal side of business colleagues. I’ve gotten to see some very personal moments, like newborn babies, that I might never have seen from friends across the globe.

Some people decry Facebook, saying it’s led them to lost jobs, lost relationships, etc. because of a detail that got leaked. Well…in my eyes, the world is becoming more and more public, so we need to work harder to keep things private that we really want to. It’s not “Facebook’s” fault, really–it’s our own choices that lead to consequences. For me, as a memoirist, I’ve already made the decision to “live out loud”–put myself out there. That doesn’t mean I’m constantly posting a food diary (OK, maybe some of the more special meals, like Thanksgiving bread with the family). But it does mean that I’m aware of the images and thoughts I’m sending out into the universe. Shouldn’t we be proud of the things we do and say? I don’t know, that’s my thought, anyway.

For me, Facebook is somewhat like skimming a newspaper by reading headlines. You catch the major events of loved ones, like babies or engagements, but you don’t always have the stories behind them, like how the happy couple came to choose the baby name or the ring. It’s a great way to read a little bit about a lot of people, but picking up the phone or getting together for coffee is still essential–something I learned firsthand. It’s something I think we all learned firsthand, those of us who grew with Facebook: that Facebook is a helpful auxiliary tool, but not the only answer for anything. Some customs are still best non-electronically: paper wedding invitations, physical hugs, ranting about job or familial woes (some people are still learning all of these, actually…).

From a business side, it’s very funny to me how at this point in my life, I use Facebook for business as much as I do for personal use. Until a few years ago, I often felt guilty for logging onto Facebook and emerging hours later, having perused through endless photos, status updates, events, personal notes, etc. Now, I know that it gave me the edge of knowing how best to communicate through social media to promote myself as an author on Facebook, as well as various social media stuff for Marianjoy, in particular, managing the Marianjoy Scholarship Facebook Page. Who knew, when Facebook started, that it would become the personal-business-news-fandom conglomerate it is today? Not I.

Besides teaching me skills for marketing, Facebook has also been a reflection of my life over the past decade or so. It’s a virtual scrapbook of so many memories. Something very neat that Facebook did to commemorate the anniversary was offer a feature where they make a one-minute video featuring your history with it, including significant photos and posts. (Make your own here.) I’m not quite sure how they chose from thousands of posts and photos, but they did a great job (and if you didn’t like yours, today, they added an “edit” feature). I’ve enjoyed watching my friends’ and mine, too. 🙂
Some videos have been more meaningful than others. Facebook granted a request of a grieving father to make a video from his deceased son’s Facebook, which had been inaccessible to him. The father is now able to see a touching reflection of the last ten years of his son’s life. (Read the full story here.)

If you’d like to see my own video, I’m including the link below. A lot of my best memories from the last decade are in here: parties with friends; fun cosplays; dates with Jeremiah; events with Jennifer; Chris and Erica’s wedding; getting into grad school; patient–>scholarship–>employee at Marianjoy; Chad; and more. I’ve watched it more times than I care to admit, enjoying the trip down memory lane, reflecting on the people and events that have changed my life.

Maybe that’s just it–maybe Facebook is more of a record of the changes in our lives, rather than a life-changer itself. It is a wonderful tool, but we have to be the ones to use it to reach out.

(Screencap of the opening collage of my video–click the link below to view the entire video.)

Thank you to everyone who has been a part of my journey. 

My Facebook Look-Back Video

Readers, if you have a video you’d like to share, I’d love to see yours–just leave the link in the comments. 🙂

Join me later this weekend for this week’s Top 10–ways Facebook has changed our language forever.
Next week, I will be featuring many literary Valentine’s-themed posts–some sweet, some sassy, for the romantic and cynic alike. 😉

Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s Liberator as Prisoner and President, Dies at 95–NY Times

Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s Liberator as Prisoner and President, Dies at 95–NY Times

The world is mourning the death of peacekeeper and humanitarian Nelson Mandela, who passed away at the age of 95 in his home on Thursday night. The former first black president of South Africa fought for peace, unity, and equality in his country–even avoiding a civil war, often at great personal cost and risk, which made him beloved worldwide.

The New York Times wrote a wonderful, comprehensive article today about Mandela, detailing his life’s journey. An excerpt I found astounding and poignant:

Mr. Mandela’s quest for freedom took him from the court of tribal royalty to the liberation underground to a prison rock quarry to the presidential suite of Africa’s richest country. And then, when his first term of office was up, unlike so many of the successful revolutionaries he regarded as kindred spirits, he declined a second term and cheerfully handed over power to an elected successor, the country still gnawed by crime, poverty, corruption and disease but a democracy, respected in the world and remarkably at peace.

I invite you to read the rest of the article–even if you think you were familiar with Mandela as a person, or Mandela as a politician, you’ll know more after reading it–it’s that thorough. It’s also tender, which I find refreshing; I think journalism could use more of that tone, which I know is difficult to interject when cramming facts into tiny places.

I’ll leave you with this inspirational quote by and photo of Mandela that Tin House posted today on their Facebook:

“A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special.”
― Nelson Mandela

November Tornadoes Rip Through Illinois

November Tornadoes Rip Through Illinois

My prayers go out to the people affected by the string of as many as 65 tornadoes that ripped through Illinois, primarily devastating the Washington/Peoria area. Luckily, we weren’t hit, but we did have some pretty big storms and winds. Apparently, they took everyone by surprise, because November isn’t a typical month for tornadoes, but we had unseasonable warmth today–which for the Midwest, can actually be typical indeed–November is unpredictable.

Please keep the people who lost their homes and lives in your prayers. ❤ This article and video from ABC News is very informative. The video pays tribute to a storm-chaser who lost his life but made crucial discoveries for science in the way that tornadoes work.

Writers as Readers: Behind Book Reviews

Good afternoon, readers! I hope you’re enjoying the book review of Ken Floro III’s The Rising Wind that I posted last night. (My Top Ten Tuesday lists will resume next week.) And I’m gearing up to write the review for Waimea Williams’s Aloha, Mozart for tomorrow night. I’ll definitely be featuring Stephanie Fleshman’s Render next week; I’m not yet sure if I’ll be posting a review on it. (You can see my review schedule and other “upcoming events” on the widget on my right sidebar, for non-mobile users.)

While I frequently post reviews on this blog (just click on the “Reviews” tab at the top to browse), being an official reviewer for Novel Publicity Blog Tour has given me insight into reviewing on a semi-professional level. It’s really interesting to be involved with both ends of the spectrum.

The New York Times posted an insightful article today: “Are Novelists Too Wary of Criticizing Other Novelists?” It explored the camaraderie that writers often feel with each other, and it suggested that perhaps writers—fiction writers, specifically—are too lenient or too afraid to criticize each other’s work. I can understand this opinion…a little. But from my writing workshop, I learned that more often, niceties and flattery are foregone in the sake of Good Writing. Criticism is essential to improvement, and if writers REALLY want to be nice to each other, they’ll tell each other what they should work on. They’ll also tell the writers what they are doing right already–making “criticism” both sides of the coin, you see. A useful strategy is employing the compliment sandwich.

Stewie gives Brian a bad compliment sandwich on Family Guy. (Mobile users, click here to view the video.)

Even when work is already published, writers can learn from reviewers how to make their next work better. I think writers know this, and I think the ones who are serious about reviewing can deliver tactful tips. Of course, there’s always the flip side to this, which Nathan Bransford explores in his article, “Bullies on Goodreads.” I was flabbergasted to read how cruel some “reviewers” have gotten, using Goodreads as a cyber-playground from Hell and bashing writers as people, sometimes before the books have even been released. I wouldn’t even call them reviewers, honestly; I would just call them bullies, plain and simple. My point is that these articles represent two extremes in the reviewing world, but I think it’s easy to strike a happy medium between the two. I take reviewing seriously; I use my English B.A. to analyze, and I use my Writing & Publishing M.A. to critique. I don’t say this to be snobby; I say this because both took me a lot of work to complete, so I’m aware of the work that goes into investing into a book as both a reader and a writer–and I feel loyalty to both. My advice for all reviewers–as with most things in life–is empathy.

From Stage to Page: A Little Twerk Goes a Long Way

The internet has been in an uproar this week about the phenomenon of “twerking.” But tonight, I’m not going to be talking about Miley Cyrus’s controversial VMA performance. I’m going to talk about the word itself.

Three days after Miley’s performance, Oxford Dictionaries Online announced their quarterly word updates on their blog, and “twerking” was on the list. Already a trending topic, the word thrust a revered dictionary into an unlikely spotlight.

“Who, me?”

Because my sister is an expert on pop culture, I am not as in-the-dark on modern cultural happenings as I would be left to my own devices. She has made it her mission to keep me socially acceptable and properly scandalized, and she’s done a fine job of both. As such, I was recently educated on the phenomenon of “twerking,” so I knew exactly what I was reading about on every news page and every Tweet. The story took top spot on many notable news sites, including CNN, even overshadowing coverage of the Syria crisis. But not everyone knew what it meant; some desired education from a dictionary rather than YouTube.

And they got their wish. Though planned for months, the Oxford Dictionary Online‘s announcement about their addition of “twerking” created a unique intersection of pop and lexicological culture, adding fuel to the media fire. News sources were quick to report–but more often, misreport the news. I can only guess that people saw “Oxford Dictionary Online” and assumed “English” was there, too.

The Oxford English Dictionary has long been a personal favorite of mine. From the moment I discovered its complexity and historical etymology, I was hooked. When I saw its enormity and comprehensiveness, it was love at first sight.

The ultimate source for every word ever. (photo courtesy of The Wired)

It is that enormity that has caused the dictionary to switch to an online-only version, which probably furthered the confusion.

The ODO‘s announcement post itself notes the distinction:
“It is important to note that the new words mentioned above have been added to Oxford Dictionaries Online, not the Oxford English Dictionary. Why is this?

• The dictionary content in ODO focuses on current English and includes modern meanings and uses of words

• The OED, on the other hand, is a historical dictionary and it forms a record of all the core words and meanings in English over more than 1,000 years, from Old English to the present day, including many obsolete and historical terms. Words are never removed from the OED.”

So there you have it. And now we’ve had days more of correction articles about the ODO vs. OED entries; this one is my favorite, with the title “Step Away from the Ledge–Twerk Isn’t Actually in the OED.” It’s been the twerk heard ’round the world, and with its cyber-immortalization in the ODO and now every newspaper, I can’t help but wonder if one day, it will make it into the OED.

I would be interested to see what the OED would say about the etymology. Apparently, the word goes back further than you might think. In fact, Miley wasn’t even the first Disney princess to use it.

Snow White busts a move. Image courtesy of The Wired.

OK, so maybe it doesn’t go back quite THAT far, but it is already 20 years old, a probable variation of “work it,” according to the ODO. You can read their blog’s interesting article about the word’s history here–a smart marketing move to perpetuate their sudden popularity. I suppose I can be a word hipster here, saying I liked the ODO/OED before it was cool.


From the ODO Blog

When the world needs something explained, we turn to Morgan Freeman to narrate it. Enjoy. (For mobile users, go to YouTube to watch.)

Happy Birthday to You (Two): Ray Bradbury & Claude Debussy

This Thursday marked the birthdays of sci-fi legend Ray Bradbury and impressionistic composer Claude Debussy, two of my favorite artists.

I must confess something truly embarrassing for such a dedicated sci-fi fan like myself: I only recently discovered Bradbury. During my speculative fiction writing class at DePaul, there was one day of our class that everyone was in mourning: Ray Bradbury had passed away. Everyone was really upset, and we spent a portion of class time discussing his influence. I knew the name, but honestly, besides the short story “There Will Come Soft Rains” (a short story excerpt from The Martian Chronicles), I had never read him. I kept quiet, because I sensed this ignorance might very well invalidate my status as a sci-fi fan–but I did add him to my “to read” list.

A few months ago, I finally got around to listening to the audiobook for Fahrenheit 451. Every single person I talked to couldn’t believe I’d never read it before; apparently it’s a high school curriculum staple. I quickly discovered why.

I was so excited when I found one of my favorite books with an intro by one of my favorite authors! Read Gaiman’s touching memorial to Bradbury on his own blog here.

I’m almost not sure where to begin when I talk about how much I love Fahrenheit 451. It’s one of my favorite books of all time. It has a timeless quality to it, seeming more relevant now than when it was published in 1953. The action, plot, and content still cause this classic to be banned even now, let alone in the conservative 50s. But so many important, revolutionary ideas are controversial, and it’s often a badge of honor to be put into that category now.

So why do I love it? I was immediately drawn in from the very first chapter. The language was like candy to me, every word vivid, creative, and evocative. Every image had a purpose, and I found myself longing to jump into the story. I kept rewinding again and again to hear favorite quotes that still stick with me (one of the only inconveniences of audiobooks!). There’s so many good ones, but here is one of my favorites:

“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.
It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.”
― Ray BradburyFahrenheit 451

I also love the story on a plot and character level, too. I will try not to be too spoilery, but my favorite parts might give away a little. However, as I seemed to be the last person on the planet to read this book, hopefully it won’t matter. 😉 Montag is an interesting, appealing character, and his development through the course of the book is fascinating. He becomes a righteous, noble, imperfect hero, as lovable for his ideals as his flaws. Yes, so lovable that I still pine for him as a top literary crush.

This is not me but it could be (with Montag).

THIS PARAGRAPH HAS SPOILERS, so skip it if you haven’t read the book yet. The only things I wanted “more” of were some of the other characters, namely, Clarisse. She was one of the most interesting characters in the whole book, yet she had minimal coverage, other than being “ignition” (pun intended) for Montag’s change. I also wanted more of a conclusive ending; I actually thought I was missing a CD from the audiobook when it ended. I felt left hanging, on the brink of the most exciting part yet. However, with what we are given, we can definitely derive an emotion, which I’m sure was Bradbury’s goal: hope. [/END SPOILER]

In my research for this post, I was ECSTATIC to discover there was a sequel of sorts: a video game of the same title, released in 1984, to which Bradbury contributed heavily. Although I doubt a playable version is readily available, this website plays a video walkthrough of the whole game, just over an hour long. I can’t wait to watch! I’m really happy Bradbury worked on this, because otherwise, I don’t think I’d be able to watch it. This book has become so sacred to me that I don’t even trust any movie adaptations to get it right, something I’ve never felt with any other book. It is such an intricate balance of language and emotion and action, glued with wonder, that I feel it’d be easier to spoil than get right. But I will gladly, heartily participate in other levels of fandom:

Fahrenheit 451 T-Shirt

Now, it’s even easier to display my intense admiration of this book, with this treasure I found exclusive to my favorite bookstore, Anderson’s Bookshop.

Google commemorated Debussy’s birthday by dedicating their homepage to him with a beautiful video. When you clicked “play,” the button floated away as a balloon and the song “Clair de Lune” played. A nighttime turn-of-the-century river was the backdrop for the adorable animation of people finding each other, with lights flickering in time to the music. I was captivated. It’s a special song for me, one that my dad and I have always loved. The Washington Post (yes, the newspaper from my previous post) wrote a great article about the video, praising it as a surprising and poignant cinematic direction for team Google Doodles. Although the song has been a favorite of mine for years, TWP taught me of its origins: “Debussy, like fellow French composer Faure, himself found inspiration in a countryman, Symbolist poet Paul Verlaine, and his 1869 collection ‘Fetes galantes.’ The poet even seems to beckon musicians with the lyric: ‘Their song blends with the light of the moon.’” Maybe that’s why I’ve always found the song so transfixing; it captures the majesty of the night, ripe with poetry and music (I’ve always been a night owl myself; you can’t time inspiration, I say). It’s interesting to see yet another layer of adaptation added: scenery–>poem–>music–>video, now, all-in-one. Google’s homepage changed at midnight, but luckily, the video has been added to YouTube, and many articles have been written about it.

How lucky we are to have all the great works these talented artists have left behind for us. If you haven’t experienced them yet, I hope you get a chance, soon.

Strong Female Characters

One article has captivated the entire literary community since its publication last week: “I Hate Strong Female Characters,” by Sophia McDougall. For modern readers and writers, that’s just about as offensive a statement as you can get. And written by a WOMAN? How dare she, right? That’s definitely what made me click, although I almost didn’t want to, on the sheer concept of it.

It was a smart publicity move, and beginning the article with a photo of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, this author clearly knew what she was doing. Pairing an unpopular statement with a popular picture, the author ensured readers from every angle of the issue would be invested.

Before I get too far into this article, let me promise you I am not going to devolve into man-bashing. That’s not what this is about.

Not today, Emma Stone.

This article identifies—and participates in, IMHO—a layer of problems thicker and more tear-producing than an onion. The article was so revolutionary in its anti-revolution that everyone wanted to respond. (Seriously, Google “strong female characters”–pages and pages of responses to this one article!) I wanted to, too, but it’s taken me till now to know what my response would be. Because I find myself arguing for both sides.

McDougall’s main issue with Strong Female Characters (hereafter, “SFC”) is that they shouldn’t be described as “strong.” They should automatically be strong, and it shouldn’t define their character or role.

To address an issue this complex, we have to rewind and see how we’ve gotten here. One of the most valuable aspects of my undergrad English program was intense critical theory: learning how to read on a deep, comprehensive, and analytic level, pulling in companion texts for everything. While perhaps frustrating and complicated at the time, the lesson is so important: context is everything. “No man is an island,” says John Donne, and indeed, no book is, either.
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Well, maybe except this one.

Every great idea we have is either an action or a reaction to society. Every concept of normalcy—and our decision to participate in it or not—is also a reaction to society.

You, too, can join the group of people wearing this anti-conformity shirt from Zazzle.com. Wait a minute…

Don’t be disheartened; that doesn’t take any of the greatness away from individual heroism. For what good are heroics, ideas, change, without people to enjoy them?

What I’m saying is that “Strong Female Characters” are a reaction to society. It’s a society that has been largely patriarchal for millennia, where men are “strong” and women are simpering. So if we go back, WAY back, to the beginning of stories, were men described as strong? Beowulf, Hercules? Of course they were. It’s just not as celebrated anymore, because it’s been done. It’s much less unique, now that there are gyms in every neighborhood. And finally, in our modern age, the women are catching up, and it is a beginning of a new kind of storytelling.

In my critical theory class with the brilliant Robert Dale Parker at UIUC, we learned that there are defaults that readers assume, given no details about a character. The default character in Western literature is now, and has been for awhile, the white male. Let me prove my point using Facebook:

The default Facebook profile image, at least when I signed up. Recently, a female version was introduced. And some people think it still looks like a man, albeit a very specific character:

Darth Vader or default female?

A racial debate is a whole other can of worms, and I’m not going to get into that in this post. Yes, the above Facebook guy could be many different races. It’s possible this could be a woman’s haircut, but it would be a “masculine” haircut. However you look at it, the default assumption is male, and it’s a role everyone is trained to slip into without a second thought. Again, I’m not man-bashing here. What could we do, in a language where we’re supposed to use male pronouns to indicate gender neutrality? (They weren’t always–check out Old English’s pronoun table.)

It comes down to stereotypes. The “strong female character” is a backlash against the female characters of days past–who were commonly, let’s face it, weak. (I know there were exceptions, and I love them for it, but I’m talking generalities here.) The SFC is only a stereotype now because our society is hyper-aware of centuries of inequality, and thus writers vehemently tend to avoid “weak” by creating the opposite.

George R. R. Martin, creator of A Song Of Fire And Ice and executive producer of Game Of Thrones .

Go George R. R. Martin! This comment only intensifies my growing love of Game of Thrones, my newest obsession. (Image courtesy of Buzzfeed.)

The problem, identified in Rose Fox’s article for Publishers Weekly, is when writers make SFC only the opposite of weak. But that’s just a problem of bad writing; no character, male or female, should be single-dimensional. “Why aren’t male characters described as strong?” asks McDougall. Well, I think that many still are, but I get her point–it’s not as common anymore as it is a primary descriptor of female characters. SFC are described as strong because our default assumption, from millennia of stories, is that women will not be strong. My mom made a great point when I was talking to her about this article. “It’s the same way female characters aren’t described as sensitive, but male are.” Exactly! No one wants a sniveling crybaby for a fictional crush, but every woman wants a man who “gets” her and is empathetic. (Google, why are you showing me pictures of naked men when I’m trying to find a picture for this? You’re ruining my argument.)

“All the princesses know kung-fu now,” McDougall’s mother dismisses of her compliment of Fiona’s skills in Shrek. Is this a bad thing? The cool female characters now are all fighters. It’s no longer trendy to sit by and let men have all the fun/do all the work. McDougall’s argument that it’s never been OK is valid–but I’m recognizing the change. We have to say the females are strong because we are breaking the cultural stereotype that they are not strong. I can feel the tide turning in literature and film–which is, of course, a reflection of our society, too.

Young-adult literature, which you know is my favorite, is doing more than its fair share in the changing. Kudos to them, because this is influencing a generation of teenagers (and “young-minded” adults like myself and YOU I am sure) that women can do anything they want, be it kick butt, make pie, or make pie while kicking butt.

Superhero Chef by CulinaryNoteCards

One of the bloggers I follow, Tara the Librarian, wrote a great article in response to the SFC debate, in particular, McDougall’s claim about the lack of female characters in literature/movies. “This, my friends, is why I LOVE young adult novels,” says Tara. “Our world is dominated by female protagonists. They own the spotlight.” Agreed. And I also agree with Tara (and disagree with McDougall) that having women in the spotlight does not make media less appealing for a unisex audience. Men are already slipping into female narrative identities without effort; just look at the Hunger Games success.

But here is where I disagree with Tara: “It’s easy to think about the physical strength of our female characters. But what about other characteristics? Do women always have to be strong?…I am guilty of using the word “strong” to cover [other good] traits, but the fact is that ‘strong’ is just a terrible adjective. Women are not just strong.” The fact is that right now, “strong” is an adjective that DOES imply other good character traits in women–cunning, intelligent, emotionally resilient–because it is melding the stereotype that women already had with strength. “Strength isn’t just physical,” said my mom, with another pearl of wisdom when we were discussing this. Agreed! And as long as writers remember this and build real characters, not just gym rats, we’ll keep reading. “The only cure for SFC Syndrome is for writers to work on making all their characters well-rounded and interesting and complex and real, with a mix of physical, emotional, psychological, familial, professional, and social strengths and weaknesses,” says Rose Fox.

The only kind of gym rat I’m interested in reading about.

Although I’m usually against stereotypes, the SFC is one I’m happy with. Even if the heroines we love so much now (Katniss from The Hunger Games, Clary from City of Bones, Catwoman in the newest Batman installment, Merida from Brave) might seem over-exaggerated in the retrospect of future centuries, what a cool exaggeration to be known for. As a woman, a reader, and a writer, I will proudly dance on the line of being ridiculous in the name of being anything but weak. SFC have a lot of making up to do for stereotypes of the past. Hopefully, in the not-too-distant future, we will assume as a culture that female characters are strong unless we are told otherwise—and for that matter, that male characters are empathetic.
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