Social Media

On April 29 , 2013, I logged into Facebook and saw a photo posted by a friend. There was a tall plume of smoke rising out of the uptown area in Minneapolis. A building was clearly on fire. I thought, “Oh no, those poor people!” and said a prayer.

It was my apartment.

I’ve been a member of social media in one iteration or another for 28 years. I started using Facebook in July 2008. Prior to that, I was on Myspace and had a half-hearted blog on Blogger called ‘Writing is a Tapeworm’. Then it was chat rooms all the way back to 1991 and the ISCABBS. We’ve come a long way baby.

I have difficulty parting ways with social media. Agreeing to their terms when you sign up for the ‘free’ account sort of feels like making a deal with the devil. But even so, I have accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Meetup, YouTube, Soundcloud, and the recently deceased Google+. I also have ‘free’ email from Microsoft and Google. I have been forced to sign up for unused accounts on Instagram and Pinterest because someone was spoofing my email. No, you do not get to share smut under my good name.

Social media is a tool and like any tool, it can be used for good or ill.

I’ve shed some tears over things I’ve seen on social media. Local news reports of my apartment burning. Photos shared by friends before I had the chance to come home and see it for myself. Many of us have found out about personal tragedies prematurely on Facebook. Here is the problem of having mixed groups of people on one platform: we may need to reach out for the support of friends before everyone in the family has been notified… Facebook is a pretty abrupt and insensitive way to learn about horrible things. Yet, sometimes it has been the only way I would have heard the news.

People don’t talk on the phone or over the fence anymore.

I have friends and family literally coast to coast and across the globe. I use social media to keep in touch with them. I share photos and jokes and news. I talk about my writing. It’s just me, no flash. And my friends and family do the same to varying degrees. I have come to know some people on a much deeper level through social media and strengthen relationships that I have in real life.

My friend’s grandparents became fans of mine through Facebook. I watch my friends and family’s children grow. I watch them age. I’ve watched multiple relationships start and end. Some people I know have gotten divorced, dated, and remarried within the ten years I’ve been single. I’ve seen vacations and tragedies, deceased family and beloved pets, comments from those who have passed on my memories feed…

I have zero tolerance for social media related drama. I have been questioned in person about things I have posted online. FYI- I am what I am. You can stop following me and talking to me if I offend you. My hope is that most of my online activity simply confirms what you already know about me. I love to share photos and stories and the occasional zinger. I love cruising along with quotes that inspire me and music I am listening to, then drop the F-bomb for good measure.

Hey, I don’t want you to think someone has hacked into my account…

Social media pisses me off sometimes with too much self-aggrandizing and posturing. My niece gave me great perspective: “Everyone is just showing off”. In other words, do not compare your insides to other people’s outsides. Just because I am real, does not mean they are.

And people use it for different purposes. Yes, some brag to make themselves feel better than others. Some simply lurk. You would never know they were online because they do not post. But others are trying to sell themselves as an expert or an artist to increase business. Which is sort of what I am doing when I tell people about my blog posts on Facebook and Twitter.

I guess I am officially a blogger though not a very good one according to the numbers. Meh. I care about quality content more than market volume. My blog is a bit of a basket case in that it is not focused on one topic, against all blogging advice. They also say that the days of the personal essay are over. Oh well. I guess this is all about how to make money at blogging, how to attract followers, and seriously that ship has sailed anyway.

The topic of my blog is my writing and I write about many things in many forms. I am not in this to follow trends or have huge numbers. I write to write. My audience cannot find me unless my writing is accessible. Since the state of the publishing industry is what it is, and I do not have the credentials to get published, I publish myself here. And social media helps my audience to find me: people who want to read my writing and follow my blog.

I am speaking to the real people here, not the spambots. You know who you are.

But the social media machine is toxic. It’s the insidious data mining for manipulation and profit that terrifies me. Users of social media are not the customers of social media. Remember, you are logging in for ‘free’ and the paying customers are the advertisers. The algorithms run routines to figure out what interests you and serve up small validations or punishments to manipulate you into changing your behavior and buy their customers products.

Users search the feed for human connection and validation and find advertising. This is part of a greater, more disturbing trend in marketing in which companies try to associate your strong internal emotional world with their products.

We value you. We understand. Give us your money.

It’s sick. And it’s effective. And free is not free. Someone has to pay for the social media platform and until people are willing to pay a subscription for an ad-free space, it will continue. If you care to hear about how you are being manipulated, how this all works, listen to this 20-minute interview of Jaron Lanier, American computer philosophy writer, computer scientist, visual artist, and composer. He wrote a book called “Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now”.

But unfortunately, Twitter is an author’s #1 tool. It’s free and you can index your posts with hashtags so that people looking for information on the same topic can find them. It is a huge platform, but I ran a free yearlong Twitter based marketing campaign in 2018 for the leukemia book I edited. Strangers managed to find my posts and ask me questions about the book. I watched the sales on Amazon go up and down in relation to when the posts would appear. It really works!

On the other hand, Facebook algorithms search for posts that indicate they might promote sales for something and hide these from the feed. Then they contact you about how, for small fee, you could reach more people. But here’s the thing Facebook: I’m not selling anything. I am trying to tell my friends and family about my free writing on my free blog for free. You know, relationships and sharing? You know, social media?

Around Christmas, I was offered a credit to try out Facebook advertising. I cashed that in to learn how it actually works and how effective it is. I chose to boost a blog post I wrote about Toys for Tots which was short on toys last Christmas season. I figured, if I was going to promote anything it should be of some value and help a worthy cause.

According to my little green book (my writing career business records), I applied a $15 credit for an ad that ran for two days. That ad reached 1,837 people and generated 104 post link clicks, and 3 shares. My blog stats indicated 5 clicks on the Toys for Tots website link within my blog post. I received no additional blog followers but one additional Facebook page follow. Because of the Facebook campaign, the Toys for Tots blog post got 185 views total. So, roughly a 10% success rate. What this would translate to in terms of books sales, I have no idea.

My blog posts normally get about 20-40 views depending on the photo, the topic, and the timing of the post. Pathetic, I know. If a lot of people react, social media will keep it visible in the feed and the numbers go up. This doesn’t include people that just come to my home page but since that statistic now includes web crawlers, it is a useless number to me. And this does not include the 140 people who have chosen to subscribe to my blog and get copies of it in their inbox every week. If you are trying to make a living at this, those numbers simply are not enough. You have to sell, sell, sell! I don’t. I am my own patron. I write because I must write.

So, what can we do? As a writer, it’s nearly impossible to get off social media if you are trying to reach your audience. Until someone comes up with the next great thing, some modern iteration of the old ISCABBS that allows us to connect without some insidious ulterior motive, I feel stuck with it. It’s the world we live in. I fear that despite all the good that has come of it, ultimately it is contributing to the chaos we see in the world today. It’s become a venue for people to vent their anger without actually doing anything about what is making them angry or realizing that it is social media itself that is fueling their rage for profit.

Please think about it.

 

 

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, May 2019

-Photo Credit: Phong Tran, April 2013, phonghtran.com

Supper Club

I am the proprietor of a supper club.

No, I have not invested in the restaurant industry. It’s just a private club of friends that get together once a month for dinner at each other’s house. Every month, one person volunteers to host at their house and those of us that can show up do. We are only on the hook for the months we volunteer for and no one is obligated to attend. At least that’s the plan…

People get busy in adult life, especially when marriage and family come but retirement has not. When I first became single ten years ago, I didn’t have much of a social life outside of that relationship. I was in my mid-30’s and went out with who was also available- singles much younger or older than me. I guess people my age were either coupled with kids or reclusive.

I had a blast. I was going out a couple times a week. I had a scheduled night with my closest friend which we designated as ‘Beer Tuesday’ because we would get beers on Tuesdays… creative, I know! Say it like it is people… Eventually as the years rolled on, twice a week became once a month, then once every three months… Time just slipped away.

I made a decision to set up monthly one-on-one dinners with those closest to me to ensure that we remained active in each other’s lives. Last Friday, 2nd Monday- it didn’t matter to me. I just wanted to see them. But by happy circumstance, their partners showed up and now they were coupled. And the dinners stopped. Such is life for the friend who remains single.

For me, dining is king. I can really think of no better times than the ones I spent sharing a meal and engaging conversation with people I love. When all that dried up, I was sad. I’d take myself out to eat alone to mixed reactions from the general public. Mostly, I write so I don’t notice people but for whatever reason, a woman eating alone is upsetting. I have gotten pity. I’ve made people visibly uncomfortable. Geez folks- I didn’t want to cook after a long, hard week!

Also, fuck off!

Now, I am in my mid-40’s and I still want to have monthly dinner with my friends. For years I entertained the idea of a dinner party that would have an established format that allowed enough flexibility for those of us who love to dine and cook and drink wine, to get together and share our lives. And so, the supper club was born.

My signature dish is Malaysian Spiced Chicken (I am not allowed to cook anything else). My first long-term relationship was with an Asian Studies major turned professional chef. I was exposed to the vast and wonderful world of Asian cuisine. My favorites are the curries- and screw curry powder, I make my own. I keep my spices in unlabeled glass jars in my pantry. I know them by sight and smell. Twenty years after our break-up, he might be proud of me if he knew.

My second long-term relationship was with an accomplished home cook who introduced me to the vast and wonderful world of soul food and Latin American cuisine. Neither one of them allowed me to cook. I was the baker and was spoiled rotten. As a single person, I had to learn how to cook for myself or suffer.

When I proposed the supper club idea, my friends were all about it. They are in the same boat, wanting to be in each other’s lives but with life passing too quickly. And while I complain about my isolation, these days I find that I have dinner plans for every week and have to schedule a month in advance. There are other singles like me- lonely, wanting friendship and connection, inviting me to get together. I am very lucky that I know so many people that can stand me enough to share a meal together!

For as independent and driven as I am, I have an amazing full life- full of friends and experiences and joy. I do not know how I ended up here but here I am- laughing, loving, and living.

Bon Appétit!





-Copyright C.M. Mounts, April 2019

Valentinus

February is the heart of winter and the Feast of Saint Valentine is less than a week away. I have heard Valentine’s Day referred to as a ‘Hallmark Holiday’, but it has been observed for over 1,500 years. Valentinus, or St. Valentine to us English speakers, was martyred (beheaded) on February 14, 269 for marrying Christians in Rome.

This might explain why he is the patron saint of such seemingly unrelated subjects as affianced couples, against fainting, beekeepers, happy marriages, love, plague, and epilepsy. Think about it. Does falling in love not make one heave and become light headed? Are we not plagued by obsessive thoughts of our beloved? And how much does unrequited love sting us to the marrow?

The photo with this blog post is allegedly the flower-crowned skull of Saint Valentine because nothing says love like a daisy chained dead guy. And nothing says love like hearts printed on boxer shorts, fake roses under glass, heart shaped pizzas, pink cookware, or a stuffed skunk bearing chocolate either.

FYI- If you are my secret admirer, please send the book ‘Love Poems’ by Pablo Neruda.

I was once stood up for Valentine’s Day. It turned out the guy was living in a motel and was strung out on Oxycodone, so he was actually doing me a favor. So much for online dating. Valentine’s Day is often a reminder for us single dateless losers that we are single dateless losers. Actually, it is a great day to avoid going out to dinner if you don’t like watching crowds of people kiss.

I will celebrate this year with some left-over chocolate from Christmas and a beautiful Grand Reserve 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon from a vineyard in Argentina. Every year on February 15, I spy single ladies buying heart shaped boxes of chocolates on clearance. Why the hell not. Get yourself a dozen roses too. The truth of it is, if you wait for someone else to get it for you, you might wait a lifetime. Better yet, find a group of single gals and celebrate Galentine’s Day together.

“O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?”
-(from Romeo and Juliet, spoken by Juliet) By William Shakespeare

Love for me is not defined by high romance and it is not inextricably linked to happiness. There is a song ‘Hallelujah’ written by Leonard Cohen. The lyrics of this song state that ‘love is not a victory march; It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah’. I think this is often interpreted as the bitterness of broken relationships. But for me, it speaks to the true nature of deep, devoted love in those hours when it is so hard to love.

When the beloved is struggling, when the bank account is empty, when there are significant health problems- this is when the real work of love comes to bear. And often all we can do is surrender to our heartache and powerlessness and offer our tearful prayers to God for a hopeful resolution. There is a reason that wedding vows refer to poverty and illness and remaining faithful to the beloved in spite of it…

It’s easy to celebrate love when you are young, starry eyed, and horny.

My ideal Valentine’s Day is my ideal any day. Here, I wrote poem about it:

Valentinus
By C.M.Mounts

Plucked truffles
Tissue lined box
Push gently
Through
Wine stained
Ruby lips
Low fireplace
I kiss you
Lean in
Speak poems
Gently
Your ears
Know
How much
I love you…

Have a blessed Valentine’s Day. Don’t get beheaded.

 

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, February 2019

Photo Credit: Relic of St. Valentine in the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome by Dnalor 01 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32487809

Party of One

It is customary to mark anniversaries. This is a powerful week for me because it marks ten years of being single. My first long-term relationship ended twenty years ago. My second long-term relationship ended ten years ago. These dark cold days of January must really get to me. I will not get into all the reasons each relationship ended. I will only say that we disagreed.

In the ten years since the last break-up, I’ve had to recreate my life at least four times. I had to figure out who I was again, figure out how to manage my life of one- cooking, housing, living, and trying to have some fun. I had great hopes to meet someone, fall in love, get married, and have a home and a child together. I was only 36. I thought I still had time. None of that happened for me.

Life kicked me right in the head. I seem to be on some kind of three-year trauma cycle: 2010 (life threatening depression), 2013 (worst year of my life), 2016 (major medical crisis), and 2019 has the potential to be a real whopper (mom is terminal). It takes two years to recover from one bad one, then it starts all over again. The in-between years are spent losing weight (cycling) or gaining weight (eating) to try to cope with all the emotional consequences.

I have tried to date on and off with very little success. In general, the advice I was given about how to be single was to “stay busy”. Later, I was questioned whether I had time for a relationship… Other great advice from well-meaning people was to “just pick someone”. FYI- whoever you pick is going to be scrutinized to the max by friends and family.

I’ve been told all the reasons I am still single: too serious, too tall, too fat, too independent, too mysterious, too aggressive, too angry, too loud, too stressed, too smart, too confident, too busy, too much a career woman, and (my favorite) because I am not dating women. I’ve been asked, “Do you think your laughter drives men away?”

I once had a girl’s dream of what love was supposed to be… waiting on my one true ‘soulmate’, waiting on that one person who would see me clearly and erase all the pain and fix all the wrong and live up to my impossible standards… And of course, no one could.

I do not have a girl’s dream of what love is anymore. I understand that while love can bring happiness, they are not inextricably linked. In fact, love is most often expressed in patience, in silence, in forgiveness, in acceptance.

It is expressed when you allow another to collapse under depression on the couch by just being there and letting them be. It is expressed by sitting in an ICU for a month, watching someone cling to life, hold their hand and talk to them though they cannot respond.

That is the true work of love, where the rubber meets the road in loving another. It is not high romance or happy memories or exciting and fun. It is the highest form love takes: I am here. I am here. And I love you even now when it is so hard.

I have been asked if I get lonely. Of course I do. But I also know that I’d rather be alone than in bad company. I’d rather be alone than BE the bad company. I was no saint in my relationships. We each brought our good and bad. We each made our mistakes.

I love both of them- that’s a permanent condition and I will not fight my heart on that matter. But I can’t be with them. If we spend too much time together, the stress increases, we start to argue, and who needs that? Not them and not me.

When relationships end, you have to grieve the loss of the life that can never be. You have to grieve the loss of your hopes and dreams: the house never bought, the children never born, the shared memories through time that will sustain you in old age that simply do not exist.

I can not tell you how to deal with it, only that you will cry a lot and maybe for the rest of your life. You will cry at odd times. When you least expect it, a memory will return of what was once so good and is now long gone and there is nothing that can bring it back. You cry and you move on. I read once that in the end we are all faced with a choice: be bitter or not.

Love has yet to return to me but I do believe it is possible. I have many friends to see me through the hard times, past and future. To be honest, sometimes walking through trauma alone is better simply because you only have yourself to worry about. I am not dragging another person down with me. I can be sad or angry or lay in bed all day and no one cares.

I suppose you want me to write about how exciting single life can be and it’s true. I get to travel a lot, even internationally. I can be footloose and fancy free. Meeting new people is exciting. So is getting dressed for a night out with the girls and collecting all those glances the men steal. Feeling good, looking good, concerts, dancing, socializing, bars- it’s not all bad. And I get to hog my queen size bed. The mess in my apartment is mine alone. The orange juice will still be in the fridge where I left it as well as the dishes and laundry. But it’s my dirty underwear and coffee cup. So yes, being single is great in many, many ways.

But I miss the kisses… I miss being held. And most of all, more than anything else, I miss coming home to someone who asks me, “How was your day sweetheart?” and they really, truly want to know.

 

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, January 2019

P.S. 2018

I love winter. I must since I chose to move north to Minnesota 15 years ago. It’s not the cold, it’s the 3 solid months of writing and reading with very little distraction. Cycling does not lure me out onto the forested trails and social invitations slow down to a crawl. No one wants to leave their home either and that’s fine.  I have plenty of paper and ink to spare.

Last winter, I committed to waking up at 5am and working on my novel before work. I had a smoke damaged, sooty copy of a 2nd draft I wrote 10 years before. It was somewhere to start. So, I scanned the 263-page document using optical character recognition software and imported that into Scrivener. After 1.5 months of work, it was formatted and cut up into sections, chapters, and scenes.

For the next 1.5 months, I wrote roughly 22,000 words of new content; total word count is sitting around 143,000 words. Now, I realize that if you participate in NANOWRIMO that 22K in 1.5 months is a puny amount… but what can I say? Slow but sure… It feels like I am writing a different book. 10 years will do that. Characters and the basic story are roughly the same, but I am not. I’ve had some practice. My writing voice is much more confident and authentic.

But 2018 was a tough year. By April, I was absorbed in implementing software at work and in May my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I did not have the energy or emotional resources to continue work on the book. I did continue to write poetry and post on my blog. I attended many poetry open mics and had my first show as a featured poet in March 2018. And I rode an emotional roller coaster for the rest of the year, often overwhelmed and feeling like a deer in headlights.

In November, I had a revelation: I was still hiding. I wrote for literally decades and shared very little of my work with anyone. I set-up my blog in 2014 and did not start posting on it until 2017 after I sent ‘Popcorn from the Void’ off to my editor. But I was mostly posting poems. I could still fool myself into thinking I was being vulnerable- and I was- but not in a way that people could see a clear picture of me. I could still hide behind the form.

‘Popcorn from the Void’ is a book based off personal essay blog posts that Todd Park used to manage his cancer- both in providing information to family and friends and in processing his experience. Was I not about to walk through my mother’s cancer and death? And could my personal essays about this journey help others?

My 2018 blog stats are very modest but solid: 43 posts, 1,147 visitors, 1,733 views, 107 total followers. That means I averaged 40 views per post and 10 visits per follower. There aren’t a lot of you, but you are loyal! I had two shows in which I was one of the featured readers. And I submitted ‘Popcorn from the Void’ to the 2018 Writers Digest Self-Published Book Awards. And while it did not win, it received a rave review from its judge and scored 30/30 points on its assessment. Not bad for an amateur.

So dear readers, 2019 promises to be an even tougher year personally but it is also the year that I intend to try to be published for real, for the first time. And it will be a year of personal essays where I will feel very, very naked. And it will be the year of my first finished novel.

It has to be… if I want to be sure mom can read it…

Blessed New Year!

Christine

 

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, January 2019

Christmas Cards

I celebrate Christmas and annually travel to Illinois to spend the holiday with my family. In the weeks leading up to it, I don’t do much besides shop for gifts to take home with me. As a single professional, what is the point of decorating a Christmas tree besides to serve as an extra-large cat toy? I hang a wreath instead.

I don’t go to Christmas shows or events because I do not have anyone to go with. I have attended events alone for years, so that’s not the problem. It just gets old. And lonely. And if you attend family events alone, people look at you with suspicion like you are there to snatch their husband or baby or purse. It’s a terrible world we live in.

Christmas cards are one of the few holiday activities I participate in.

I have collected many friends and acquaintances over the years. As much as social media might want us to believe it has brought us closer together, I mostly see disconnection. I sometimes find myself searching through the newsfeed for help and come back with emptiness. If I have learned one thing living in a highly commercialized society, it is that you will not find real connection in marketing- whether it’s for an actual product or by an ordinary person presenting an image, trying to brand themselves.

I don’t see everyone, every year. Some I haven’t seen in decades. And I may not see some people ever again. My former boss Margaret comes to mind. When I first started out in my career 20 years ago, she taught me what it meant to be a smart, hard-working, professional woman. She set an example for me that I carried through my work to this day. We remained friends after I left the job and I delighted in terrorizing her around Halloween about just how many days were left until Christmas. I sent her a Christmas card every year until now. Cancer took her September 13, 2018. I have to cross her name off my list…

All I ever get in the mail these days are bills, advertisements, or junk. The art of the hand-written letter is all but dead. Do you remember what that was like? How exciting it was to get an envelope addressed to you in a familiar hand. That was replaced with the excitement of getting an email in the mid-90’s. Now email seems to just suck the life out of you. Letters haven’t returned. So, I mail Christmas cards that are funny or beautiful. I hand write messages of good will in each to simply let people know I am thinking about them.

I know some people think cards are stupid and don’t bother. I know others who play a yuletide version of ‘chicken’ in which they watch the mailbox for Christmas cards, then only send out cards in response to those they’ve received. I have also watched people open my card looking for money and when they only found my message, toss it aside in disappointment. Here is the truth folks: Love is spelled T.I.M.E. not M.O.N.E.Y.

I still have Christmas cards sent to me from my grandmothers who have both been dead for over 20 years. As I age, I have come to recognize that the time people spent writing out cards and letters was the love they were sending me. Christmas cards return me to a simpler time. They remind me of the days of anticipation for Christmas day. When I fill out my cards, I walk down memory lane, think about the people and the time we have spent together. I suppose I do it as much for me as for them.

“Photographs and memories
Christmas cards you sent to me
All that I have are these
To remember you”
– Jim Croce

 

Copyright C.M. Mounts, December 2018