Something of an Update
I have given up on the possibility of ever getting this thing back on schedule again—apparently, even once a month taxes my faculties to their utmost. The truth is, some months, I’ve got nothing to report that doesn’t have anything to do with fixing projectors and popping popcorn. Maybe this is of some interest to you guys, but trust me, it gets old really quick.
Nevertheless, some things have been happening. I’ve been writing, and sending stories out, and collaborating with no fewer than three people now on various projects, and I’ve even been co-editing a fiction collection with a fellow Robert E. Howard-Head named Chris Gruber. We’re putting together a benefit book, the proceeds of which will go straight to the Robert E. Howard House for upkeep and other necessary repairs and improvements.
Most recently, I’ve been podcasting over at RevolutionSF.com. You can click on the audio tab and listen to our amateur efforts. Fair warning, though: it’s Geek-Talk. Listen at your own risk. Skype is a marvelous thing, I tell you what.
Living in a Small Town
I continue to adjust to this, and it’s hard, really hard sometimes, to bite my tongue or hold back large pieces of my personality, in the interest of “fitting in.” Sometimes, though, it pays off: I’ve been elected to serve on the board of directors for the Vernon Chamber of Commerce. What does this mean? Not sure, really, but I’m GONNA use it to try and push through a couple of campaigns aimed at the consumers and the retailers here in town.
It’s been suggested by many old friends who have known me for more than a decade that this is as “grown up” as they have ever seen me, and I think I would agree with that. Instead of insisting that I be accepted, Hulk T-shirt and all, I’m channeling those pushed back parts of my personality into becoming a community advocate for downtown revitalization. Of course, I know that my real motive for doing all of this is so that me and my wife can own a number of successful businesses in town—including a book store. See, it all gets back to doing what you love.
I like living here. It’s got its drawbacks, to be sure. But nowhere else could I become so politically involved so fast and be able to make changes that can be seen and felt by all. My voice (and Cathy’s voice) can be heard. That’s very attractive to me. However, there are some quirks that come from small town lifestyles in Texas and I find them slowly overtaking me.
For example, no one says “I went to Wal-Mart today.” They say, “I went to the Wal-Mart.” Everything is singular and emphatic. After all, there’s only one Wal-Mart. Why be vague and confusing? You went to the Wal-Mart. This applies to any business, from fast food (the McDonalds) to state institutions (the T.Y.C.). It’s a tiny verbal crutch, so insignificant that I dare not try to correct it, lest I be accused of putting on airs.
Something else has happened to me; nomenclaturally speaking, I’ve gone back to the Middle Ages, when a man’s profession was part of his name, e.g. John the Baker or Roger the Shrubber. I am now known as “Mark at the Plaza.” It’s okay, I suppose, because we’ve got “Jimmy at the Paper” and “Jerry Lou at the hardware store” and even “Jeff at the Sherriff’s department.” This is apparently necessary, since there could be more than one Jeff and Jimmy in town. Why, I know two women with the exact same first and last name (who aren’t related, by the way) and I have to constantly say “Sue Ann at the bank” or “Sue Ann the realtor” to differentiate them. Personally, I’d rather be known as Mark OF the Plaza, or Mark du Plaza, but that’s just not going to happen because that would be French and just what do you have against Freedom, anyway?
I’m Starting to Hate the Internets
This is ironic that I’m complaining about the very mechanism that allows me to do it; not quite as ironic as Wired Magazines’ 15th annual “print is dead” issue, but close. I really don’t know what the purpose of the Internet is anymore. I know that, ostensibly, it allows for a fast and seamless exchange of information to large groups of people for a number of reasons. But I wonder: is any of the information any good?
Take Wikipedia, for example. It seems like such a great idea; a community-created encyclopedia that can be updated instantly by as many experts as care to do so. Furthermore, since it’s open ended, it would have entries that could conceivably be more relevant because of their immediacy. Great model. But the problem is, you can’t create or edit an entry nilly-willy, because there are people who fact-check you, and in some cases, flat-out undo what you change if they don’t agree with it. Some folks have taken to guarding certain entries against vandalism or well-meaning people, because they constantly include biased information, speculation, or things irrelevant to the topic at hand. Allegedly. Other folks just like messing with the online experiment. Even if you don’t have a watchdog on, say, an entry for a particular author. How, then, can you be sure you’re getting accurate information?
You can’t. The Internet is anonymous and in being so, invites everyone to wallow in their id. No reprisals means that the most common, most base behavior is routine, and in fact, many people go online for the specific intent to disrupt and cause mayhem. Anyone can post anything, and it doesn’t have to be true for it to resonate to other people. In fact, I think it does more harm when there’s a mass of inaccurate information at our fingertips that we, by default, merely skim (because no one save for Generation Y likes to read from their computer screen). I think this mass of badly organized, badly written, wrong-headed bunch of opinions is actually making us dumber.
Granted, I am still participating in social networking—right now, on FaceBook, though I still prefer the book-nerdery that is GoodReads. But these social networks are out to make a buck just like everyone else. Pop-up ads, banners that flash like an epileptic’s nightmare, and all the rest of it is just another head on the media hydra that needs me to consume like a Conehead.
So, what’s the answer? I don’t know. I still enjoy reading my friend’s blogs. I appreciate the daily effort that goes into it. I like re-connecting with old friends. By necessity, I do my geek shopping online, since I have no other close alternative. What’s my problem? I think it’s because, prior to leaving Austin, I didn’t have to rely on the Interwebs so much. I got daily stimuli from my friends and colleagues, so there was no need to hit the message boards to find out information about stuff that mattered to me. And the message boards...
Talk about a level playing field. You don’t have the luxury of only talking to people in your peer group, nosiree. You get the leet-speeking youth, the curmudgeonly older folks, the potheads, the overly-sensitive people that take great offense to, well, everything, and the hard talking, hard typing hardcore people with cynicism, sarcasm, and little smiley face emotes to let you know when you’ve been told off. There isn’t a thread online that isn’t going to spin out of control at some point or another and turn into a slap fight. It’s inevitable. And for what?
Is winning a fight online even a fight? Can you savor a virtual victory? Do you get more hit points? I don’t know, either. All I know is this: Right now, someone is typing something, badly, and wrong, about something that I care about, in a blog or on their website or on a publically-accessible message board. Whether or not I engage this chucklehead is proportionate to the bad and wrong with how much I care. Meaning, if someone mislabels an episode of Star Trek, I probably won’t notice, but if they botch a detail of Robert E. Howard’s biography, my wrath will know no bounds. I suppose in the end, we’ll have to take the good with the bad.
Merry Christmas, everyone! May all of your fruitcakes be rum-soaked!