Moving on from the Twitter-sphere

To be fair, I’ve been ‘quietly quitting’ Twitter for about a year now. I realised a while back that I would go on Twitter and immediately find myself sad, irritated or angry about something I saw, and thought that maybe a place where you go to feel bad is not a place you want to spend too much of your time. 

The last thing the world needs is another “dramatic flounce off” note on Twitter, I know, but really, I’m just interested in trying to understand and work out how my own feelings about these spaces has changed the past few years. 

It’s my own personal experience, and many people have fine times on Twitter or whatever social media platform they’re on. But for me, Twitter has become a loudmouthed and toxic bore of a place. I’m not alone.

I unfollowed hundreds of people over the past year – nothing personal, mates – but basically tired of the endless echo chambers and social media bubbles, of outrage merchants and people pointing out other people’s stupidity or arguing with strangers. I stopped interacting so much or blathering my thoughts, mostly just posting links to my own work elsewhere – which honestly, get less interaction on Twitter than they do in other places online anyway. Pretty much my main reason for sticking on Twitter is habit and its utility in following breaking news, but there are plenty of alternate places one can do that now. 

When social media was fresh and new there was the novelty factor in posting memes, dad jokes, hot takes and quick-fire reactions (I look at my Facebook posts circa 2010 and cringe at how open and carefree I was with my life, not knowing how dangerous that could be). For the first time, anyone anywhere could broadcast their thoughts to a global audience instantly.

Things changed. I saw it unfolding clearly in the past few years: social media became weaponised. What were once cutesy status updates and thoughts became fodder for warfare. A casual post erupts into a hate-fest. Lingo like “main character of the day” as a term for online pile-ons – some deserved, many not – became normal. I’m a straight white male on the internet so it’s been relatively mild for me, but know so many women and LGBTQ+ people who are subjected to terrible, dehumanising treatment every single day online. Misinformation has exploded to the point where a good part of my paid work is debunking it. 

The change in management on Twitter to yet another loud-mouthed arrogant rich wanna-be messiah figure drunk on his own power and its increasing vibe of a dark, angry place for me makes it easier to finally leave entirely, which I’m doing at the end of the month.

I’m not giving up all social media. This blog will stick around as long as I write, and while I don’t post much personal stuff on Facebook any more, I’m happy to have my own “page” dedicated to my writing and Amoeba Adventures comics work that you’re all more than welcome to follow. 

Social media hasn’t been all bad for me and I’ve “met” many lovely people, like the terrific writer and actress Michelle Langstone, who I guess I’d call a “digital acquaintance” and who left social media sometime this year herself. In a recent interview she nicely summed up the house of mirrors effect these spaces have on us very well: “At some point, I realised I’d come to rely on other people’s responses to the material I was posting and that was shaping who I was, and how I felt about myself.”

Social media feels increasingly performative, and I’d rather focus my energies more on being truly creative with things like this goofy website, my freelance and paid writing, and my comic book scribbles.

That’s just my solution, and for everyone else, hey, whatever works. 

I’m not leaving “the internet” – I mean, geez, as a writer and creator in 2022, I really can’t, unless I want to be the tortured artist in the attic muttering away to myself alone. But I can certainly choose where I want to spend my time online, and on places that make me feel good.

The life and times of a newspaper columnist (plus a free e-book!)

Once upon a time, I was a columnist. 

I’ve written thousands and thousands of words for work and pleasure, and drawn hundred and hundreds of pages of comics. I’ve written music reviews, breaking news, feature profiles, police reports, posted tweets and edited more stories and wrote more headlines than I can bear to count in my 25+ years in the industry across several countries.

But I have to admit, my columnist days are still close to my heart. I was a newspaper columnist in the fading days of when such things mattered, in the glittering early days of the internet and long before social media was a gleam in pre-pubescent Zuckerberg’s eye. I admired the great columnists who were big in the 1990s – Leonard Pitts, Lewis Grizzard, Jon Carroll, Molly Ivins – or the ancients like Herb Caen, Mike Royko or H.L. Mencken

I wrote a newspaper column under various dire titles in various sometimes dire places for more than 10 years across several states, starting in my university newspaper in Mississippi and carrying on across California and Oregon newspapers too, until one day around 2005, I just kind of stopped. I sometimes wrote about the issues of the day, but more often, I just kind of wrote about me.

Back in 2006 I put together a little book of what I thought was the best of my column years for friends and family. I’m glad it exists, as a kind of hefty memorial to one part of my life. And hey, you can view and download the PDF of said book for free right here:

Spatula Forum Greatest Hits 1994-2004

Some of these pieces are among the best writing I’ve ever done, I think, and some of these pieces are kind of embarrassing to read now – but also, I’m glad they’re there. They are a time capsule of friends and feelings I had, of people I’ve lost touch with and people I’m still very good friends with. Your twenties are like no other time in your life, and boy, they go by fast. They’re artifacts of a time when every moment in my life seemed filled with drama and I sure wouldn’t have imagined what the world of 2021 turned out like. 

I wrote with my heart on my sleeve a lot more than I’d ever do these days – the struggles and egos of a twenty-something trying to figure out the world, slowly morphing into a thirty-something married and with a kid on the way. I admit, sadly, I think I was less angry and the world less angry then. 

Young idealistic journalist, pasting up actual pages for actual newspapers on an actual composing desk that must’ve been 200 years old.

There aren’t lot of real columnists left now. There’s a lot of what I call “outrage merchants,” who spout off political opinions aimed to get the clicks or terrible pieces complaining about sausage rolls, but the art of crafting a kind of gentle, thoughtful essay printed on an actual newspaper or its website is kind of vanished. 

The great writing has migrated online to other places, magazines and websites, and unlike when I started scribbling thoughts about old friends and familiar places almost 30 years ago, there are plenty of outlets for it. There is still a lot of wonderful writing out there, but the column as it once was is pretty much a dying art form. Hey, things change. It’s the never-ending story.

I started blogging regularly in like 2004, stopped that in 2010 or so and then picked it up again a few years back. I never stopped writing, but I started writing about different things, some for money, some for pleasure. 

Writing columns also is a finite thing for most. In previous lives, I’d hire columnists myself for various newspapers, and often people would come in with one great idea, maybe two. “And what will you write for the third column?” I’d say. I wrote a few hundred columns myself over a decade and then I knew that the well was kind of dry. 

I gave it up when I realised I didn’t have much more to say in that candid columnist’s fashion about my life and times, and I had little new to add to the debates of the day, and went on to write other things in other ways. These days, everyone shares their feelings all the time in a never-ending fashion on the internet and social media in real time, and I have to admit, like many people, I’ve kind of gone from being eager and excited by social media to loathing a great deal of it and its effect on the world. 

I’d write a column about that, but honestly, do we really need another outraged column these days, at all? 

Still, I’ll be back with more bloggery in 2022. Have yourself an excellent holidays.

So, this is 50

It’s not quite the 50th birthday I once planned – from pre-COVID plotting of having an epic holiday in Japan, to maybe going over for a weekend in Sydney. Then as countries locked down it became possibly a jaunt to Wellington or maybe just stay in Auckland for a nice restaurant dinner, to today, under ongoing Delta lockdowns that hopefully will be a thing of the past by my next birthday.

So, for my gala celebration, it’s takeaways with family, Skype with parents and maybe a quick ocean swim to shake off the cobwebs.

That’s good enough, really.

Kurt Vonnegut, 1990, by Yousuf Karsh

There’s a quote by another guy who was born on the same day as me, Kurt Vonnegut, that kind of sums up the vibe of being here, alive and at a half-century in a world not quite like I imagined it would be when I turned 20, or 30, or 40:  “I was a victim of a series of accidents, as are we all.”

I’m 50 today, and Kurt would be 99 years old.

It’s a kind of happy accident that I’m here at all, that any of us are, and in the end, you get what you get.

Again, to quote my birthday buddy Kurt:

“That’s one thing Earthlings might learn to do, if they tried hard enough: Ignore the awful times and concentrate on the good ones.” 

New Zealand: In the summertime

img_0767I’m in my 12th year as a New Zealander now, a statistic which kind of stuns me. That’s about a quarter of my life now, and I’ve been a dual citizen of two nations for several years. And I’m finally starting to think of January as summer.

One of the biggest inversions of American life to adjust to for me was Christmas no longer being the icy, sweater-wearing time of year. I grew up in the mountains of California and had many white Christmases. In New Zealand Christmases are the sparkling blue of the ocean and clear skies (or the splashes of early summer rain), the white of clouds and sun bouncing off golden sand, the red of blooming pohutukawa trees. Instead of sleigh bells it’s the growing buzz of cicadas echoing around the bush. 

In New Zealand, EVERYTHING shuts down for about two weeks from Christmas through New Year’s. Many businesses close entirely. It’s not just Christmas, it’s our summer school holidays, our big break in the year. Throughout January, I get tan, I constantly have the feel of sunblock on my skin, and sand seems to be everywhere. From our house, there’s about 10 beaches within a short drive; hundreds within an hour. 

img_4609I’ve finally noticed these last few years that my mind has shifting toward accepting January as the summertime, toward seeing Christmas as summer holidays. The heat and sun seems normal. In a way, it makes a lot more sense to roll everything together – the bustle of Christmas, the optimism of a  New Year, the languorous stretch of school holidays. By early February or so, things start to get back to normal. Most people return to work in January sometime, and by February, while it’s still summer heat for months to come, school’s back in session, the commutes and chaos of ordinary life all normal. 

It’s Christmas. It’s New Year’s. It’s summertime in New Zealand, and all’s well.