A terrible loss

You may have heard that actor Andrew Koenig’s body was found today. He had been missing for several days before the body was found. This loss is obviously a tragedy for all involved, yet it brings another fact of life to the front: those who are creating sources of humor are not always the happiest people inside. Koenig had a history of clinical depression, yet he made so many people laugh and forget about their troubles during his short life.

What you see is not always what you get. Never forget that.

Truth is stranger than fiction

As a writer, I try to find the strange and make it believable in fiction. After all, reading is about escape from the outside world. Plunging into the adventure of a novel for an afternoon shouldn’t be jarred with thoughts of “Wait a minute, would that really work?” or “Why would he believe her?” or any other questioning. In a way, the writer is serving as a liar, to serve up a huge lie on a platter to the reader and make the reader believe it, if only for the duration of reading the book. This trick is harder than it looks.

Sometimes reality does the job for us. We see everyday events and ask ourselves how such a thing could have happened. Maybe it was depressing, or delightful, or downright bizarre, like the zebra found in downtown Atlanta today. I was away from the computer when the story broke, and upon returning I saw people mentioning zebras. Naturally my first reaction was “What on earth are you talking about?” before looking up the event myself. Written in fiction, much more setup would be needed in order in order for the writer to lie successfully. In real life, the story just works.

This shouldn’t stop us from writing the bizzare, though. Sometimes the bizzare stories do make the best ones. Take those and write them, cherishing their quirky nature. Just remember that you’re going to have to craft a great story in order for people to believe it, just like in life.

RSS and Facebook: The aftermath and other observations

As mentioned a few days ago, I found the RSS feeds for my Facebook friends and subscribed to them in Google Reader. Since I want to keep in touch with my Facebook friends outside of Facebook, I posted a status announcing the RSS move and asking about their Internet homes.

The only people who responded were those whose online whereabouts I already knew. No one else bothered, not those I went to high school with (not that I expected them to anyway), nor my college friends (some of whom think being on Facebook counts as being web savvy). What does this say about me? Despite not promoting my Facebook profile all over the Internet, I do tend to add people I know primarily online and have interacted with significantly on Facebook, though I don’t add people willy-nilly; on Facebook I at least try to find out who they are, if only because the account is attached to my real name (though it’s not hard to figure out thanks to Friend Finder).

There were a few bumps in the road in the beginning, namely the fact that Facebook’s RSS feed doesn’t update as often as other feeds do. This is only noticeable because I’ll receive about thirty status updates at once to read. This is probably for the best because no one needs that much information at once, and I can read Facebook statuses quickly.

Speaking of Facebook statuses, I’ve actually been reading them. Now that I’m reading the RSS feed and not the home page, the experience is much like Twitter now that the statuses are no longer competing with Mafia Wars, Farmville, and Five Things You Can’t Live Without. I’ve even been commenting on them more often than when reading from the home page, a great way to convince people that in fact I’m not dead (yet).

What does this say about how I interact with people online? Obviously there are people I’m friends with wherever we can be friends: Facebook, Twitter, LiveJournal, NaNoWriMo, the list goes on. This isn’t the case with most people, and I don’t interact with most of my Facebook friends at all, in particular the people from high school. I’m much more likely to interact with people from college and people I know from other online media. My birthday was two weeks ago, and the writing on the wall points toward this fact: Of the people who wrote on my wall or sent me messages to wish me happy birthday through Facebook, only three were from high school. Even more were people I know through other sites (and some of them duplicated their efforts, and I received more birthday wishes from people through other sites), and even more are from people I know through college.

Unfortunately, Facebook doesn’t make it easy to tell how many people I know from high school, college, and everywhere else, so I can’t say whether these numbers are expected. The easy way would be to tell how many people are in a given list, but Facebook doesn’t offer this option. It should.

Even if these numbers are expected, I know exactly what they’re telling me: Internet friendship from people you never interacted with in the first place is meaningless. Exactly what everyone knew all along. Some things never change.

The shiniest are the grossest

I have a cold. Snotty nose, sore throat, and sudden desire to increase liquid and chicken soup intake aside, this recent bout of sickness has made me think of an experiment my human anatomy class did in high school. We went around the school in groups and swabbed areas that we thought were filled with germs, stored them for a day, and then compared the bacteria growth.
As few of us suspected, it wasn’t the toilet seat or other places thought to be unsanitary that produced the most germs. The doorknobs, the money, and the pen at the attendance clerk’s desk (places that everyone loves to touch!) were some of the best places for germs to party. This was in 2004, but no one thought to swab a mouse or keyboard in the library or even their own cell phone, possibly because the latter would get them suspended. I wish I were kidding.
I spent quite a bit of time on the computer today, despite my fits of illness. Yes, I was a good patron and got up to wash my hands regularly and sneezed into a tissue. How often do we wash our hands when we’re well, though? Think of the things your hands come into contact with on a daily basis before you touch your keyboard and mouse. Now think of reintroducing your clean hands to your keyboard. Your phone is the same way, if not worse. Since very few of you probably clean your gizmos compulsively, take this as a lesson and clean your stuff.
Interestingly, these are the most expensive things we own, and yet they are probably the grossest. What does this say about our society?

Snow on my birthday

Today’s my birthday. Today was also a snow day, a rarity where I live. Here snow means a few flakes falling to the ground and immediately melting, but it’s the thought that counts, yes?

Interestingly, it’s supposed to be colder tomorrow, yet no snow. I confess myself disappointed, weather.

And 2009 comes to a close

2009 has come and is almost gone. This decade has come and gone, and despite the year and decade not even being over yet, the best of and worst of lists are already appearing in full force. Maybe it’s my ability to procrastinate or maybe it’s my nondesire to think about the future at a time when today is frightening and my life situation is approaching the point of no return. Sure, money isn’t everything, but when you can’t even cover your basic needs, Maslow’s hierarchy starts to kick in, and the desire to take care of basic needs overrides everything else. Good to know that he got something right.

So, goals for 2010? Resolutions? I’ll figure those out. First though is figuring out my life situation and how to make things better.

But that’ll come in 2010 when I can evaluate 2009 properly. You never know what could happen in the next fourteen minutes.

Santa shenanigans

Christmas was fun when I was a kid. My brother and I would stare at the presents under the tree, trying to see through the boxes and figure out what wonders were contained inside. Our parents would tell us to be good because if we didn’t, Santa wouldn’t bring us anything. The real fun began when my grandfather told us he’d sit on the porch and shoot Santa when he came along. This distressed me greatly as a child; who in their right minds would shoot the person who gave me gifts?

Thinking back to those says, I now see that Santa’s really quite creepy. Kids sit on his lap and tell him what they want, and Santa welcomes them. He breaks into your house at night and leaves evidence that he has been there. He eats your food. Food that you’ve left out for him, sure, but he eats your food all the same. I love cookies. I don’t want Santa eating my cookies. Then somehow he gets back out and rides off into the night. He’s the reverse criminal in a really strange way.

None of this stopped me from watching NORAD’s Santa tracker tonight, though. I opened it when someone mentioned it on Twitter, I believe when Santa entered North America. Santa chilled out in the islands, which brings up another point–this man must dress in layers in order to stay comfortable for the whole night. Then he swooped back into South America before visiting the US and visited the stop nearest me.

NORAD tracks Santa in Atlanta

Maybe Santa didn’t stop by my current town at the moment because I’m still awake, another remnant of what my parents told me about Santa. Maybe it’s just another element of Santa magic. Who knows?

Whatever it is, may each of you have a very happy holiday, or may you have already had it if you’ve already celebrated. Be safe and enjoy.

Marriage proposals and my not-so-secret love for them

I have a confession.

Despite being nowhere near accepting a marriage proposal, I’m a sucker for unusual marriage proposals. For me it’s an insight into the human psyche: how exactly does one ask to stay together (in theory) forever? Throwing a website online and letting the proposed one find it? That’s been done. Proposal via Twitter? That has been done–several times, in fact. Proposal via LiveJournal? Done. Facebook? Unfortunately, that has been done, even through the ever-growing Mafia Wars.

But there’s something new out, something that won’t become popular until smartphones are the norm: Foursquare. It’s still new, and thanks to my lack of web data plan on my phone I haven’t had a chance to explore it yet. The gist of the site sounds silly to me: claiming places and checking in to places you’ve been. Today someone used it for a marriage proposal. Not kidding.

So what’s next? Going back to basic principles?

Where do the perks end?

I was away from home all afternoon and for the better part of the evening today, from 3pm to 10:30pm. Besides bemoaning my local public transit system for turning what was a twenty-minute trip by car into an hourlong trip, I then calculated how long I would be traveling on my evening outing and wondered if more time would be spent on the bus or train than actually out and about.

While approaching my front step, I concluded that the answer was no. However, this brings up an interesting question: at what point does the travel make the outing not worth the effort? If you’re driving, certainly you can’t get too many other things done while driving. Yes, there is a laptop desk for a steering wheel, but for humanity’s sake, please don’t use it. However, on a bus or train I can actually do many things: read, write, edit, knit (this assumes I have something to knit), the list goes on. That’s certainly a perk, but where do those perks end? Variables include desire to go to event, ability to do other things while traveling, length of travel time, and length of event.

Is life really that complicated, or did I just notice?

Is this decade really the decade from hell? This Time writer thinks so. I remember thinking that life was so worry-free when I was a kid, and the only thing I had to worry about was which crayon to color my drawing with. Then things got more interesting, and let’s face it, more worrisome. Then I got to hear about everything going on in my family, and I started paying more attention than a cursory glance at the news, and suddenly things just seem so complicated. Is life always this complicated and I grew to realize this, or did life actually grow more complicated as I grew up? No conclusions have been reached yet, especially when you consider the fact that somewhere out there, someone else is wondering the exact same thing. This is not an easy problem.