This Week’s Puzzler

The upcoming week offers a sad anniversary and a happy birthday, both of which will be commemorated in these virtual pages on the appropriate dates, but something has me perplexed today.

Yesterday, I received my copy of the English translation of Raif Badawi‘s book, “1000 Lashes: Because I Say What I Think,” a few days before official publication. First things first: I urge everyone to buy it, as proceeds from the title are slated to aid his wife, Ensaf Haidar, and his children; I will be writing about the book this week; and in the interest of full disclosure, my columns about Raif Badawi have appeared on the website. Today is the 1172nd day Raif Badawi has spent in prison in his home country of Saudi Arabia. He was sentenced to 10 years in jail and 1000 lashes for writing about liberalism. In the last year, hundreds of people have created a social media movement to attract and maintain attention on his case and Amnesty International reports that public involvement in his story has set records in that organization’s history. In a concert this summer in Canada, Bono spoke of the case from the stage while singing U2’s hit “Pride (In the Name of Love).”

Other than the fact that he should not be in prison for writing, none of the above is perplexing me today. This is:

I do not take many selfies because the only person on Earth who makes me feel like my face is one she wants to see is my girlfriend, and she can see my face whenever she wants, live. So when I do take a selfie, I do so “for a cause.” It took a dozen attempts to get a photo that I thought was worth sharing:

This laptop's webcam is not very good.

This laptop’s webcam is not very good.

I posted one photo and was startled to discover within a few hours that it was viewed more than 5000 times on Twitter, “engaged with” (whatever that means) 339 times, and shared more than 40 times; and it was shared two dozen times on Facebook. All of these numbers continue to increase. They may not be large numbers but to me they are eye-popping. Most of these shares were by people whom I have (virtually) met through our activism regarding this terrible story, including Raif Badawi’s own Facebook page and his wife’s page. What all these numbers mean is simply that a lot of people are paying attention to this story, and I might have received more re-Tweets if I had used the photo with the book completely blocking my face. But that one that I copied up above, from “Susan Zakin, Writer,” that one confuses me.

There are no other public posts on her page regarding human rights issues, or the Raif Badawi case, or the matter of religious fundamentalism and state prosecutions of human beings for not being religious enough in different countries. These are no other engagements with me or The Gad About Town’s Facebook page. She is a “writer,” as per her online name, a novelist. Her Facebook page has 400 followers.

So she shared my selfie (from my page, not from my “The Gad About Town” page) of me holding a new book, which I had captioned with these ringing words: “Arrived in the mail today, in Goshen, NY.” She shared it publicly, which is how I saw it at all. (There may be shares out there ridiculing me gloriously but if they were not from friends or shared with the globe, I would not know about them.) And she captioned it with these perplexing words: “And here we just become unemployed – or have to take jobs producing ‘branded content.’ Not sure which is worse. Quick and painful or slow and agonizing?”

I have not written to ask her what this means, and I will not, simply because I am enjoying the puzzle. She might be a fan of mine! Her sentence might be supportive! Does she think I am the author and I am holding up my own book? If I am, and this is “branded content,” what of that? Like many published writers, she calls her Facebook account “so-and-so: Writer.” Is that different?

It may be nothing. The issue(s) of “unemployment” and “branded content” may be one or two of her issues and when she saw a photo of someone holding up a book (someone whose name is different from the name on the cover of the book, by the way), a photo that was getting shared many times in a short period of time, she decided to share it as part of her issue with the issue(s) of “unemployment” and “branded content.” It may be praise for me and/or Raif Badawi.

It could be a misunderstanding or it could be evidence that she understands things more deeply than I do. I do not know, and I have not written to ask her even though I could, simply because I think I am enjoying the mystery more than I will ever enjoy any explanation. In the seeking is the finding, after all.

* * * *
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  1. lifelessons · August 9, 2015

    I was puzzled from the offset as well. No solutions here! But so glad you seem to be further spreading the word regarding this travesty!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. loisajay · August 9, 2015

    There are usually more puzzles within the puzzle. It is wonderful that so many people are reading this, though.


  3. LRose · August 9, 2015

    Ooo, yes. ‘Tis a puzzlement. Keep us posted on any developments. Inquiring minds want to know!


  4. lifelessons · August 9, 2015

    Mark, I have figured out what the woman who published your picture on Facebook meant!!
    She said, “And here we just become unemployed – or have to take jobs producing “branded content.” Not sure which is worse. Quick and painful or slow and agonizing?” She is comparing writers in the west with Raif. What she means is that he receives imprisonment and floggings whereas writers in the west are punished by losing their jobs or having to write ads or copy in lieu of their own thoughts or what they really want to write. Both suffer–the writer prostituting herself is the slower punishment, I think she is saying, while his floggings are quick and painful. Unfortunately, since they stretch out into his future, I disagree with her that they are quick. I do think, however, that this is what she is suggesting…


  5. nonsmokingladybug · August 9, 2015

    I found this woman’s comment very superficial and very uneducated if she indeed compares the unemployment to imprisonment, lash sentences and worse. If she means the U.S. with “here” than it’s just sad. I am glad you keep posting about Raif Badawi. Thank you Mark! Sorry for my bland comment.


  6. wscottling · August 9, 2015

    I think she fails as a writer in all ways since no one can discern the meaning of her comment without having to puzzle it out. And therein lies your answer.


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