Why do people perceive you differently?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Some of it’s from personal experience and some is just observation, but I remember thinking during my Dark Teenage Years that I’d really enjoy getting past 18. For some reason I had this idea that 18 was the age when you’d be treated differently… not so much that your ideas would be right, but at least they’d be listened to before being shot down. I suppose it was all the fuss about turning 18, having rights to drink and vote – you’re an adult, so you’d be treated more like one.

I was naive, I know. Of course nothing changes when you turn 18 – you can vote, but you’re only a day older. The reason it bothered me then wasn’t because I felt downtrodden or anything, but because I’ve always felt more mature than my age. I wanted to be involved in social discussions; I’ve always been interested in mature topics, so being dismissed so callously annoyed me.

Over the last few years I’ve tried to change how people perceive me; people who know me (family, friends) I’ve never had a problem with, they know the things I think and write about… but amongst others, socially I’ve been careful to talk about topics and not get emotionally involved. I thought I’d built up respect, that age and experience didn’t matter as much… and then today I experienced a u-turn so abrupt I almost got whiplash. I felt ill yesterday, like I couldn’t breathe for an hour, so I thought I’d better go to the doctor. I’m someone who goes very rarely; I know my body well and I only go if I think it’s something new. Well, he didn’t find anything, but what I didn’t like was being told I was 22; I should be going out, being 22 and not worrying about these kind of things. I wasn’t worrying; I just go so rarely that I had hoped he knew I thought it needed checking out, even if it was nothing. Instead I was left feeling stupid. I hate that.

I wouldn’t say it was an eye opener, but it was a reminder. In the end it doesn’t matter how old you are, or who you are – it’s easy for anyone to be dismissive of you and it happens all the time. Someone might take offence at something you’ve said, or think you’ve presented it in a juvenile way; or there might just be something about you they don’t like. The way people tend to have conversations doesn’t involve debate as much as feeling – if someone’s wrong, they’re crazy. It’s easier to dismiss something you disagree with than to try and explain why you don’t agree.

Anyway, this has just been on my mind, so I thought I’d get it out. I’ve replayed the scene a thousand times and I honestly can’t think of anything I might have said differently, how I might have been clearer… probably it didn’t matter. I just hate the feeling. But that’s one difference between the real world and being online which is interesting; there’s more of a clean slate – people aren’t more tolerant by any means, but they make fewer assumptions unless you give them reason to. Ah, if only that were true in real life… 😉

Explain

Sunset on Beach

Explain
CJ Levinson

Overslept again, so I got up late
Forgot the day and the time
Burnt the toast and lost my head
Somewhere in the in-between
And even in this endless night
I still remember what it was like to dream

Do you see the strange light in the sky?
Feels like time’s standing still
And it’s a strange kind of irony
That the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen
Comes only at the end
Reminds me of you

Surrounded by this silence, I try to pretend
That life has meaning and I know where to begin
But I lost all my illusions
Standing by the sea
And how can I make you understand
When it’s something I can’t even – explain?

Licenced under a Creative Commons Licence

Time on Earth

timeonearth.jpgSeems like it’s been a busy few months in music. Groups and bands we’d all thought had played together for the last time have reunited; while the Spice Girls grab the headlines, news that The Police, The Verve and Rage Against the Machine have reunited has brought equal excitement to their fans. In contrast I think Crowded House‘s reunion has been more low-key, reflecting the group’s first album without Paul Hester.

I wasn’t sure if Crowded House could be the same without Paul Hester. It wasn’t just his musical contribution that was important to the group, but his very presence and energy as well – it helped to make the band work live. But Time on Earth doesn’t pretend to be the same kind of album; it’s a more mature Crowded House and I think it works very well. It’s melancholic but beautiful, and there’s a hopefulness beneath it that I’ve really enjoyed as well.

Neil Finn’s brilliance as a songwriter always amazes me, but it’s interesting the quality time has given to his voice. His vocals have a gravelly weight and you can feel the emotion from song to song. As far as the songs go, I think “Don’t Stop Now” is the perfect first release, but “Pour Le Monde” is the highlight. Hauntingly beautiful. “He imagines the world/as the angel ascending/like the ghost of a man/who is tied up to the chair/and he tries to believe/that his life has a meaning”. Sigh. Welcome back, Neil.

I’ve been reading some reviews and I agree, it’s possibly the kind of album that takes a couple of listens to truly be rewarded, but I know fans won’t be disappointed. It’s a fitting tribute to Paul Hester and brings a sense of familiarity, as well as a new direction. Highly recommended for anyone interested, and it’s definitely not leaving my iPod.

Do you feel sorry for Lindsay Lohan?

I feel like I’m going crazy. Every day it seems like there’s another story about Lindsay Lohan or some young celebrity spinning out of control. It’s everywhere. Rehab, jail, speeding, drugs… it’s like some high school soap opera. Except it’s not a soap opera, it’s real life, and to be honest I’m not sure what I should feel about it. In most circumstances I’d probably feel sorry for someone like Lindsay Lohan, but it’s hard to when she’s brought this on herself and has shown little remorse.

This article about the situation is quite interesting. It suggests that the attitudes young girls have toward celebrities like Lohan, Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie isn’t being changed by the media reaction or by their bad behaviour; they see people facing repercussions for their actions, but it doesn’t change how they look up to them. I must admit, I didn’t expect that. But I suppose it isn’t so surprising when you see that Madame Tussauds has the wax figure of Lohan (now in jail coveralls) on prominent display – there’s obviously still a lot interest.

Does anyone else find this troubling? Because I’m starting to wonder what someone would have to do to shake that admiration. I’m not a judgemental person or someone who likes to say who children should look up to, but we have to be honest – these “It Girls” have done nothing to deserve such loyalty in their fans, and their behaviour is out of control. They party like it’s 1999 7 nights a week, get paid for doing little work, and they have turned rehabilitation into a trivial matter. What would they have to do, kill someone?

If anything they seem to be becoming this kind of reverse role model; because they’re in trouble, people relate to them even more. And some say they’re being made examples of. With Hilton I’d have to agree – she was given at least twice as long as an average sentence, and the whole thing was just farcical. But Lohan is a different case. If the allegations are true, she was involved in a car chase, intoxicated, and possibly endangered lives. She deserves the benefit of the doubt, but they are much more serious allegations and cannot be ignored.

Still, having said all that, I do feel a bit sorry for Lindsay Lohan… I can’t imagine seeing your life spin out of control before the eyes of the world, and of all the “It Girls” she’s probably the most talented, the one who does work; her film credits are respectable, unlike Hilton or Richie whose fame tends to be more media-driven. Her family life has also been difficult. One thing I haven’t heard much is, what about the person who sold her the cocaine? If that allegation is true, Lohan was only out of rehab for a week before somebody, despicably, provided her with drugs. Now there’s a real danger to the public.

Perhaps in the end the truth is simply that part of being in the public eye is having the power to ruin your own life. And if that is the case, then no matter what people feel, whether they feel sorry for you or not, no-one can help you but you.

5 books for children to read after Harry Potter

Have your kids just finished reading Deathly Hallows but aren’t sure what to read next? Here are five suggestions (1990s onwards).

5) Sabriel
Garth Nix

4) The Lightning Thief
Rick Riordan

3) The Secret Hour
Scott Westerfeld

2) Twilight
Stephenie Meyer

1) The Lost Years of Merlin
T.A. Barron

Back to the past

So I’ve almost finished Deathly Hallows; started it on Sunday and should have it finished later tonight. I’m enjoying it so far; the beginning is one of the best in the series and the pace is good throughout. I’m not going to give away spoilers, but there was something which caught my interest halfway through the book I’ve been thinking about.

There’s a scene where we finally learn the date that Harry’s parents, James and Lily, died. It’s not a plot point, but if you don’t want to know, stop reading now… still with us? The Date is 31 October 1981. The reason I found that interesting is because Harry is 17 – which means Deathly Hallows is set in 1996/97. It’s been a while since I’ve read the other books so I could be wrong, but I don’t remember Rowling alluding to Harry Potter being set in the past much before; there have been references, but nothing as definitive as this.

I’ve been thinking about that and I think it’s a good move; it’s subtle, but it makes it clearer for people like myself who aren’t diehard fans. And the date explains a few things. I’ve wondered why little from the modern world seems to appear in Harry Potter; I can understand it being shunned in the magical world, but even amongst Muggles there never seems to be mention of the Internet or cell phones. If Harry Potter is meant to be set in the 90s, before the net exploded and cell phones were quite as prevalent, that makes more sense. It also shows the growing differences between the magical and Muggle worlds, science and magic divulging.

But there’s something else it does – it allows Rowling to make the story as dark as she wants. Even without finishing it yet, Deathly Hallows is by far the darkest in the series; it needed to be to create the sense of fear that permeates the book. The danger in making something that’s read by millions of children so dark is that it could be too much for them. But by setting it slightly in the past (and making that more obvious), it gives the story some hope. No matter what happens to the characters, we know the world didn’t end in 97; even in its darkest and most tragic moments, the reader knows there is still light. And perhaps that’s part of the success of Harry Potter, that its readers, fans, have always sensed hope.

As a writer, there’s a lot of power in setting something in the past. I wish it was something people would pay more attention to when they think about a book; they think of it as the setting, but it’s more than that. The past offers a chance to explore themes through the prism of a particular time, accentuating feelings of nostalgia and familiarity, and often the amount of work and detail that goes into making that world feel real goes unrecognised. It’s also a tool to make a work stand out from the crowd. With CSI being so popular with its forensic tools, it’s no wonder there’s such a plethora of crime writers writing in the same vein – and so it’s interesting that Sue Grafton is so popular. She sets all of her Kinsey Milhone books in the 80s so she doesn’t have to deal with technological advances, and it also makes them different to what’s around.

I don’t think many writers consider setting works in the contemporary or recent past, though, the way Rowling has. I’m not sure why. Perhaps they think it’s a risk; they’re not certain how it will impact the story’s relevance, but sometimes it can help. Distance from current events can make themes more subtle; something like Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, set in the contemporary past but a changed world, is a perfect example of a work that would not have been as powerful if set in today’s world – if anything, it feels more relevant.

So I thought it was an interesting aside, something worth mentioning; so much is being made of the sales of Deathly Hallows and whether Potter will live or die that this surprised me, made me wonder why it’s not used more often by other writers. It’s definitely helped Rowling to venture into darker areas, and while I’m sure it’ll be overlooked in the praise Rowling gets, I thought it should be mentioned – it shows how meticulously she planned the series, and how cleverly.

Exploring netiquette

A few things have been going round in my head for the last few days. The first thing is that I’ve been helping my mother get set up online. She’s used computers for awhile, but she’s never really gone online more than to shop at Amazon and some fabric stores. For the last couple of months I’ve been trying to convince her to get online more, partly to talk with friends overseas, and partly because the net is changing so rapidly that in another 5 years it’ll be a lot harder to learn the basics. Finally she said she’d give it a try. Sounds good, right?

Wrong. What’s that saying from Robert Burns? The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry (actually it’s “the best-laid schemes of mice and men gang aft agley”, but let’s not get into that). She’s getting the hang of web-surfing and email, but the problem I’ve been having is explaining netiquette to her. She uses all caps sometimes which people consider SHOUTING and she rarely uses line breaks. But the main thing has been explaining the differences between email and letters. Email is much more concise and she thinks I mean that email should be short, but that’s not what I mean. You can write longer emails (and for that matter long blog posts. as I’m doing now!); what matters is that your thoughts are clearly expressed and to the point. Email is immediate and really nothing like a letter; it’s another form of communication, with it’s own rules.

The other thing that’s been on my mind ties into this as well. My most viewed post at CJWriter so far has been the one on Creative Commons Licensing. I never expected that; I was just putting it out there as an announcement for anyone who reads my work, but it’s kind of taken on a life of it’s own. I’ve had a few comments and about as many emails regarding that post; I’m still trying to catch up on them a week later. I feel badly about that because I can’t stop thinking that I’ve violated some kind of netiquette rule – Thou Must Respond To All Messages Within 36 Hours. But if I’m being honest, I’ve never been sure what the protocol is for comments. Do you reply directly to a comment, or do you edit the comment and put your reply inside it? Are you required to acknowledge comments or are there some you just leave to speak for themselves? My posts are often more editorial-style and I’ve never expected many comments from them, so it’s something I’ve not thought about much before. Even around WordPress there doesn’t seem to be much of a consensus.

So with this whole idea of netiquette playing on my mind, I decided I’d go and have a look at a few sources, try and clear it up. What I found was that a lot of my initial thoughts were validated but that on the whole netiquette is so complicated I don’t think many people actually understand it, let alone adhere to it. Anyone who does try is like a sherrif in one of the old Hollywood westerns; outnumbered and outgunned on a rough, unfriendly frontier.

I guess I’ve always thought of netiquette as this kind of loose concept; a guideline for social conduct that most people would recognise, even if they don’t know the term. I’ve always thought about it in quite general terms, things that make sense. Be concise and to the point in your messages. Use line breaks, don’t type in all capitals and check messages before you send them. Send or embed the whole link and check that the subject line is relevant. Delete quotes of previous messages, leaving the original. You can use emoticons to express an emotion, but don’t use them too much; don’t overuse acronyms. Likewise, abbreviations are okay (“u” for “you”), but not everybody will write like that and they will not be appropriate everywhere (particularly on Usenet). And above all, remember that nothing you post is guaranteed to remain private, so don’t include personal, hateful or confidential information.

All that seems pretty simple to me. Commonsensical. But I had a look at the official RFC 1855 netiquette guidelines and while all of that seems to fall under their considerations, you’d need to be a lawyer to understand it. There are a lot of sites which have published revised versions and synopses of netiquette as well, but even the ones on Wikipedia don’t seem accessible and some of the others are too basic. And so it’s no wonder that we have this situation where just about anything goes online.

The worst example I have seen happened in March, involving Kathy Sierra, and it came to involve much more than just netiquette. For anyone who doesn’t know, she runs a great blog called Creating Passionate Users, over at Typepad, but in March she received death threats and sexist remarks on her blog. They were so serious that she cancelled an appearance at a tech conference and suspended her blog for a time. That anyone would be subject to such treatment is disgusting and I feel really sorry for Kathy Sierra. That this kind of thing goes on should not be acceptable to anyone, and it sparked Tim O’Reilly to propose a Bloggers’ Code of Conduct which I think is a good idea but I’m not sure just how much success it will have. I guess we’ll just have to see.

So having read the articles, I feel like most of what I thought makes sense… but that none of it really matters. Far less people adhere to netiquette than I thought, if they even know it exists. And I think it’s getting worse. I’m not saying I’ve never broken netiquette rules (it took me a while to find my feet online just like everyone else), but it goes beyond that. It’s this idea people have that you can say or do whatever you like online simply because it’s not the “real world”. It’s a serious problem for respectable speech, but also for the sense of community online; if netiquette was valued, it could bring people together in much greater numbers. Maybe that’s something that will never happen, but I’ve decided to support the Support Responsible Commenting initiative anyway. I’m including the SRC button in my sidebar and I would encourage anyone else who believes in the idea of netiquette to do the same. This won’t cover everything we want it to, not by any means, but it’s a start. And maybe that’s all we can hope for.

Meanwhile I’ll keep trying to explain netiquette, because the opposite is just crazy. But what do you think? Does netiquette matter to you?

5 books to introduce people to science fiction

Ever wanted to try science fiction, but not sure where to start? Or had a friend ask you for something they might like? Here are 5 suggestions.

5) Ender’s Game
Orson Scott Card

4) Blood Music
Greg Bear

3) Spin
Robert Charles Wilson

2) The Man in the High Castle
Philip K. Dick

1) Never Let Me Go
Kazuo Ishiguro

Wasting Time

lost in thought

Wasting Time
CJ Levinson

Sometimes I feel like I’m just wasting time again
Thought I’d be someone different by now
Everything I said keeps coming back to me
Thought I’d know the perfect words
But they never came to mind

And is that really you, standing in front of me?
Is that really you, standing in front of me?
Hold me now because I need to believe again
Remember me because I need to be free

All I’ve ever wanted seems so far away
The world barely turns
I can feel every part of me, reaching out
But the words die within me

Surrounded by this confusion
And the dying light
My only joy
Is the faint smile in your eyes

And is that really you, standing in front of me?
Is that really you, standing in front of me?
Hold me now because I need to believe again
Remember me because I need to be free

Remember me because I need to be free

Licenced under a Creative Commons Licence