What I Did for Like

In this social media-saturated (and media-about-media-saturated) era, in which both of my parents, one of them an octogenarian, have active Facebook accounts, and in which people who have told me to my face that they do not understand Twitter themselves have a couple thousand followers apiece on that service, drawing attention to one’s writing or art or craft or charitable work without purchasing advertising time on the radio to scream for 30 continuous seconds can seem difficult. For me, a naturally quiet sort, sharing the publication of a new piece feels unnatural, like actually recording that 30-second Janovian advertisement. Screaming is so unseemly.

(Perhaps I will go ahead and record that.)

In the Peter Cook-Dudley Moore film, “Bedazzled,” poor Stanley Moon (Moore) wants the affection of Margaret (Eleanor Bron). The Devil, George Spigott (Peter Cook), offers him seven wishes to win her. In one, Stanley is a gold-lamé-costumed rock star whose new hit song “Love Me!” drives all the young women, including Margaret, wild. The lyrics, and Moore’s performance, are little more than him yelling, “Love Me!”

The very next act, Drimble Wedge and the Vegetations, wins the entire screaming audience over to the Devil, George, as he speak-sings his dripping contempt for their affections. “I’m self-contained. Leave me alone,” goes the new hit, and his dry loathing for them makes the women in the audience desire him all the more. Stanley gets run over by the crowd that once briefly adored him as it rushes to the Devil at the end of his song. (The video clip that follows below the fold here both takes up too much space and is set too loud. Brace your ears.)
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Put a #Hashtag on It

Many writers will claim that they “write for themselves.” This is true enough, but attention, constructive criticism, and a few “attaboys” will make the days creep at a better than petty pace.

In this social media saturated age, in which both of my septuagenarian parents have Facebook accounts and people who state that they do not understand Twitter have a couple thousand followers on that service, drawing attention to one’s work without purchasing advertising time on the radio to scream for 30 continuous seconds seems difficult. For me, a naturally quiet sort, sharing the publication of a new piece naturally feels unnatural, like recording that 30-second Janovian advertisement. Screaming is so unseemly.

But here I am, addicted to my numbers, measuring my metrics each day. It is an inner battle between believing that what I write is worth being written (does having readers or a reader equal “worth”? No, of course not) and wanting people to discover this (un)certain idea for themselves.

In the Peter Cook-Dudley Moore film, “Bedazzled,” poor Stanley Moon (Moore) wants the affection of Margaret (Eleanor Bron). The Devil, George Spigott (Peter Cook), offers him seven wishes to win her. In one, Stanley is a gold-lamé-costumed rock star whose new hit song “Love Me!” drives all the young women, including Margaret, wild. The lyrics, and Moore’s performance, are little more than him yelling “Love Me!” The very next act, Drimble Wedge and the Vegetations, wins them all over to the Devil, George, when he speak-sings his contempt for their affections. (“I’m self-contained. Leave me alone,” goes the new hit, and his dry loathing for them makes the women in the audience desire him all the more.) Stanley gets run over in the crowd rushing to the Devil at the end of his song.

 

I want to be like George Spigott, the Devil, and declare my lack of outer needs like affection (so banal) and love (so, ugh, human), so that all life-forms on planet Earth will run over each other to cover me in kisses, but really, I am like Stanley. The mere thought of wanting to be like the Devil makes me that much more like Stanley, too.

There are tools to get attention in the cacophony of voices making themselves heard in our social-media-saturated world. (I used to teach freshman college English, and any time that I write something like “In the world” or “In our such-and-such world,” I always hear the nonsense phrase that I saw again and again at the beginning of my students’ papers: “In our world of today.”) But if I hit “publicize,” a fine WordPress tool made available to those of us who use it, and my post goes to Facebook, there it sits as a reminder to people who already know about this website right here. My personal friends. If it gets publicized to Twitter, it gets lost in the dozens of posts per second that whiz past any number of readers.

The hashtag tool seems to be one item that helps the world of noise organize itself. And it has helped me direct some attention toward some columns. And it has not helped me at all, also. Like all imperfect things, it is imperfect. And that is perfect, because it is something else to learn about, experiment with, and use.

And what does a hashtag do? When one posts something on the different media platforms, a label with this punctuation mark: #, is what is called hashtagged. It helps the post get clumped together with anything else so labelled, so that people who might be interested in what it is about might find it. The title of this piece, “Put a #Hashtag On It,” will automatically be clumped together with anything else containing “#hashtag” in the title or description. (How many of those might there be today? We will see.) For the last week or so, the hashtagged phrase, “#ICantBreathe” (minus the quotation marks) has been getting a lot of attention, for good and obvious reasons. It is a shorthand way of saying, “Here is a good article about this topic or concern” or “I am showing solidarity with this concern.”

Here is a good article about this: “Now Trending: Hashtags.”

But it is an imperfect tool. Yesterday was Tom Waits’ birthday and I tweeted two tribute tweets. Both had #TomWaits in the statement. One Tweet was shared and re-shared, by people I have never before encountered on Twitter, hundreds of times according to Twitter (the first one below), and the other? Well, it was not.

What was the difference between the two? I have no idea.

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The WordPress Daily Prompt for December 7 asks, “What’s the most important (or interesting, or unexpected) thing about blogging you know today that you didn’t know a month ago?”

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Daily Prompt: Unasked Questions

“AMA” no longer stands for the “American Medical Association” or “Ameliorating My Attitude.” (Never heard of that one? Neither have I. It doesn’t exist.) In our Twitterverse and Redditworld, AMA is now the acronym for “Ask Me Anything.”

And we can. Even Pope Francis (yes, THAT pope) has a Twitter account, @Pontifex, as does the Dalai Lama, other religious figures, and every politician. Or at least their offices have Twitter accounts. Here is a recent papal Tweet:

The sentiment may be true enough, but what stands out is that the pope gets a lot more retweets than I do. This is irking, as I have been on Twitter (@MarkSAldrich) for far longer.

For the last few years, public figures from the president to famous actors have scheduled AMA sessions on Reddit, on Facebook, and on Twitter, the start of which is usually announced with a photo of the famous person holding a handwritten sign stating “Ask Me Anything” and the day’s date. The “holding a sign” part often makes the famous person look a bit like a hostage. Like poor Bill Gates (well, those three words do not often appear in that particular sequence!) here:

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In the old days of any time before now, if one wanted to ask a famous person a question, one had two available methods: A. Study and work very hard and become famous oneself and learn to befriend other famous people, one of whom is the person you always wanted to ask something, anything. Sidle up to that famous person and say something like, “You know, I have always wanted to ask you something. In fact, I worked and studied very hard to become famous myself and I became famous and I became friends with you just so I could ask you something. And now I do not remember what it was. What an amazing short story this would make! More caviar?” B. Write them a letter, purchase a stamp, place the letter in an envelope and the stamp outside the envelope, mail it and hope to receive a reply.

Somewhere, my mother has a scrapbook filled with autographed photos of Hollywood celebrities of the 1950s; in some rare cases the movie star hand-wrote a note of thanks. I do not believe she “asked them anything” personal, so she did not receive any news making replies. (Luckily, she did not have this mailman working in her neighborhood: “Brooklyn Postal Worker Arrested for Not Delivering a Decade’s Worth of Mail.“)

Part of the appeal to the contemporary social media “ask me anything” sessions, and to the fact that many famous actors and writers and some famous politicians personally work on their Twitter/Facebook accounts and reply to us everyday sorts, is to be impertinent to them. Call it the “BaBaBooey Effect.” This is the opposite to the “Access Is Everything” attitude which we sometimes see in the press, the “‘Meet the Press’ Effect,” in which reporters whose employment depends on continued access to important people do not ask difficult, impertinent, questions, questions that might make the important person cut off future access. People who are not reporters might shout a verbal graffito (“Bababooey”) and make some noise, become a part of the story. They are easily ignored, but so are the Sunday morning talk shows, on which news is rarely found or broken.

Instead, news is more often broken when a reporter who knows that he or she will lose access to a famous news maker if they in fact ask them anything, goes ahead and asks that one question. Or when, as with shows like “60 Minutes,” the show reports on some shady business whose practices are worth exposing by sending a national reporter who will not face backballing in his or her own neighborhood because he or she exposed a neighbor’s shady business practices, like a local reporter would.

Early in my brief local newspaper reporting career, I actually heard this from the sidewalk below my second-floor apartment: “We can’t talk here. I see the light on in that hack’s room.” That felt like a huge compliment coming as it did from someone I was publicly writing about. “I’m a hack! I’ve made it.” Then I thought, “How does he know where I live?”

It was a criminal matter I was writing about, after all. But given one question to ask one person, I might go back in time to that night and yell out my window, “How do you know where I live?”

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The WordPress Daily Prompt for September 26 tells us, “You’ve been given the opportunity to send one message to one person you wouldn’t normally have access to (for example: the President. Kim Kardashian. A coffee grower in Ethiopia). Who’s the person you choose, and what’s the message?”

About My About.me Page, Online Friends, and A New Award

On March 3, I went viral. My “About.me” page was featured on that website’s “popular” list, and my page, which usually receives about 150 views per day, was seen by 3051 other About.me users, 2000 within the first hour of being listed. Another 1300 visited the next day.

It was like being famous, minus the fame or anything fame-like.

According to its own publicity, About.me profiles are viewed 150 million times per month, which sounds an awful lot like publicity. The online identity service has about five million official, registered users, most of whom, like me, use it for free. In 2010, AOL purchased the site, and in 2012, its founders purchased it back from AOL, when AOL discovered (faster than it usually does) that it was not going to become bigger than Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn combined just by adding free subscribers.

Even the founders of About.me (the link is to the company’s WordPress blog) do not seem to harbor ambitions for it to be all of those websites rolled into one; instead, it is intended to be an online identity website. It’s a virtual business card service. As you can see from my personal page, it is the only location where one can find a connection to all of my pages (Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn), and—in several places, at the top of the page, at the bottom of the page, and twice in between—to my blog. The blog you are reading. It has a nice spooky photo that I took at Olana last year and a selfie I took with the laptop I am using right now.

Now, as far as I can see, there is no reason for anyone who is already reading this website right here—my chief means of expression in the whole, wide world—to visit my About.me virtual business card, and I am not advertising for the company here. But what happened on March 3, when I went viral, told me a lot about social media and online expectations. Since I launched this website in January, the number of direct visits from About.me to this blog is 22. Total. This includes that momentous day when thousands viewed my page and saw my links and (mostly) ignored my hints to check out “The Gad About Town.”

There is a show business saying that if a performer is a great enough talent, “you could put him (or her) behind a brick wall and he will still find a way to entertain.” While I believe this to be true in idealistic theory, I also think that not putting him behind a brick wall would be very very helpful. If a website is going to be worth a visit, publicity is going to help get that visit.

When an About.me user visits one’s page, their page appears on yours. I started to see a few users re-appear and then three-appear on mine. About.me added features such as a “Like Your Photo” button, and some of these individuals became correspondents. A few dozen correspondents became Twitter acquaintances. And a handful now communicate with me via “The Gad About Town” and their own blogs. So those 22 visits out of 49,000 views (my total so far since November) are very valuable, as they resulted in real readers who are becoming that rarest of thing: real, online friends.

One of these real, online friends, Tazein Mirza Saad, lives in Singapore and maintains a very energetic, inspiration-filled website with about 3000 followers. She awarded me the fireworks trophy seen at the top of this post, the “Wonderful Team Membership Award,” a name that is a mouthful. But I still accept it.

2014 WordPress Awards Season

As with all of these WordPress awards, there are rules, which include: “1. The Nominee shall display the logo on their post/page/sidebar. 2. The Nominee shall nominate several best team members. 3. The Nominee shall make these rules, or amend rules keeping to the spirit of the Wonderful Team Member Readership Award. 4. The Nominee must finish this sentence and post: ‘A great reader is …'”

Among the readers whom I met first via About.me, then Twitter, and with whom I now communicate via our blogs, I am grateful to have “met” Tazein; Terry Irving, who gave me a big boost on his great website about writing and journalism within a couple weeks of my WordPress debut, and whose first novel “Courier” is due out in April; and Catherine Townsend-Lyon, who has created two huge and hugely helpful websites dedicated to helping people in recovery (“Recovery Ramblings” and “Just a Recovery Author Learning to Be a Better Writer“), and who has shared encouragement with me several times. All three are “great readers,” active readers who generously give other writers encouragement. My thanking them here does not require them to do anything. How’s that for an award?

There are several other writers with whom I communicate via our WordPress blogs, and I only hope both lists continue to grow. We aren’t behind any brick walls here.