Archive | December, 2011

Thoughts on Twitter – I don’t really care what Demi Moore has for Breakfast

19 Dec

 

Twitter: Part 1 – I don’t even care what Demi Moore has for Breakfast

 

I recently published a little cross-over novel on Amazon Kindle called Lancelot & The Return to Hades Chimneys. Now here’s the link: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B005U444US

 

The whole epublishing experience is new to me and I found the process interesting though hopefully I’ll have a better handle on it next time round. Successful, kind, accomplished and hard-working literary friends, together with two highly techno-savvy young chaps advised me to get on Twitter. The techies in particular assure me that it is probably the best free marketing tool ever created and suggested I conduct a six week campaign and see how it goes. If I didn’t make any progress, well at least I would be able to find my way around Twitter for future projects or even just for fun!

 

I quickly became like a child in a sweetshop and wanted to link up with every careers blog, every current affairs, fashion, travel & science magazine and journal, every organisation, every product, every publisher & agent, ever artist & writer in the world. As for my own modest marketing campaign – it was like shouting (which I can’t really do any more – but that’s another story) like shouting out in a crowd of millions of people and organisations and hoping that someone, somewhere in that immense swell of humanity would hear the plaintive little cry and say ‘ah yes what a witty riposte!’ I will immediately rush to my laptop or kindle and download Lancelot and The Return to Hades Chimneys. What me naive??

 

I quickly armed myself with all the anxieties of being out there! What if nobody likes me? What if the only followers I get are porn merchants? What if I’m banished for being boring, talentless, middle-aged and clueless with Social Media? Was that passing comment about fake animals really a dig at one’s poor attempts at subtle self promotion? And what about the pointed tweet of only speaking when spoken to? Does that mean butt out little last book only published electronically lady in American Publishingese? What are the accepted courtesies and civilities of Twitter? Did I put my foot in it when I asked Roy Keane if he would appreciate a dog like Lancelot when he recovers from the loss of his beloved Trigg? When somebody famous tweeted back to my devilishly witty remark about the Vancouver Olive Branch, was it unbelievably twee of me to tweet back and say thanks so much for noticing? When a follower with a hundred thousand followers of his own retweeted one of my tweets, was it just plain foolish to be so excited about it? There is also the awful possibility of unintentionally hurting a friend in full view of the entire universe. Or drawing the wrath of some dragon in a den somewhere. Not to mention the worry of accidentally slandering someone or providing misleading information. Do others share these anxieties or is it just people of my generation and older?

 

Another annoyance is that Twitter shatters the mystery of writers and columnists I admire – splendid writers of note, columnists whose opinion is respected because it is born out of reason, knowledge and experience. Their comment is measured, it is in most cases unstintingly fair and often funny. Such columnists make us think, challenge us, leap to the defence of the weak or persecuted, verbalise our own inexpressible emotions at times of great joy, sorrow, turbulence or fear and sometimes simply make us laugh at our own foolishness. But really I can make enough vacuous, ill-informed and occasionally cruel comments of my own while watching telly late at night and do I really need my head cluttered up with the unkind and cutting remarks of others, even if I do otherwise admire their work? I really don’t care what Demi Moore has for breakfast. Life is sufficiently cluttered already with virtual stuff – email, text, blogging, skype, skype text, internet, endless searching, researching, referencing, down-loading. And that’s before the business of actually living gets a look-in – eating, working, washing, dressing, house-keeping, real socialising. It’s possible to live for days in this eerie world, possible to trade in virtual life for the real thing.

 

For anyone who does a bit of writing so many interruptions to one’s time and thought processes, can leave little time for actual creativity. Moping about in an aimless sort of way is essential for human creativity. History has shown that some of mankind’s most wonderful inventions and discoveries have come about as a result of idleness, boredom, frustration. Archimedes and Newton, Steve Jobs, great literature, great art, great music. How in the name of all that’s beautiful and innovative in the world, can Twitter contribute to the creative process? It’s all very well to say oh I just do my twittering early in the morning or in the evening when all my creative work is done for the day. But the point about that is – the evening is for focussed indolence and idleness, two essentials for the creative process. You can be damn sure that if Gauguin or Picasso had to sit down in the evening and spend an hour updating their blogs, another two hours composing and sending out articles to various online journals in order to maintain their profile out there, followed by a final hour of tweeting frantically, the quality and quantity of their work would have been affected. Picasso might have had less time for eviscerating the women in his life but that’s another issue. Likewise James Joyce or Samuel Beckett. It would be all fun and games for a while and swipes at the auld country and enigmatic references to Godot, then who knows where it might have lead. Actually that would make a nice little humorous column in Phoenix or The Irish Times and could run for years. The Samuel Beckett Blog. The Complete James Joyce Twitter Archive! I wonder what other creative people think about this aspect of one’s virtual life??

 

At this point I must own up and say I am as mercenary, egotistical, vain and deluded as anyone, I have the same marketing goals as all corporations and organisations that patrol the realms of Twitter – that is to raise my profile and sell my product and attract good business contacts. I read Guy Kawasaki’s tips eagerly and admire their honest functionality. It’s just that it has opened up an awful new realm of anxiety for someone who is uncomfortable with verbal swordfights, who was brought up on the old fashioned principle that if you’ve nothing good to say about someone then it’s best to say nothing at all – except of course when driving and when watching telly late at night. That you shouldn’t tell anyone your business, that talking about yourself is boring and can be interpreted as showing off.

Yet I’ve learned to like Twitter and to feel quite at home there. How did that happen?

 

Next: Learning to like Twitter – Learning to make it work for you

Next after that: The Middle-aged woman’s TEN TWITTER COMMANDMENTS

Meanwhile you can follow me on Twitter 😉

@lanceybesthound

or for Careers

@MaryHosty

 

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What’s it really like to be Tee-Total?

15 Dec

 

Alcohol has always been one of life’s great pleasures for me. In my mind it is associated with friendship, fun, companionship, moments of great excitement and celebration. Friendships that have long endured were forged over a few drinks. Disagreements that might have festered were dissipated by the simple act of sharing a couple of easeful drinks. Is it any wonder that so much of male bonding is tied up with alcohol in some way, from those half daft initiation rites beloved of public schools, posh universities and rugby clubs, to the club soccer trips abroad. Take the alcohol away from any of these events and it would be a sober affair in more ways than one.

My relationship with alcohol has also and always been tempered with caution. Like many people in Ireland I saw plenty of the dark side of it growing up, the horrible stench of it on breath, that dreaded squeak of the cork as it was hurriedly and furtively plucked from the bottle neck. The sight of anyone collapsed on the floor in a pool of vomit is not to be recommended for any child. As a result, I have always had a special sympathy in my work as a guidance counsellor for the child of an alcoholic parent – the dreadful guilt, the deep shame, the sense of responsibility, the constant and crippling anxiety about what would happen next, the fear of adult life being an entire process of pain. The ongoing questions of why and how the lives of good and much loved people can be so hammered into despair by the battering of life is another story.

Needless to say, as I grew up, alcohol and I quickly became friends. I found like many young girls that it gave me confidence to be wittier, prettier, cleverer and far more daring that I could possibly have been otherwise. Over the decades, there have been many, many late and great nights, wonderfully warm and companionable nights (and on rare occasions days too), glowing memories of silly and mostly harmless escapades, all night parties, heated arguments about literature, art, the right ingredients for a Cosmopolitan, the fireflies in Ambler PA, the utterly unassailable status of Brian O Driscoll as the greatest Irish sportsman of our time, politicians, Bono, Economics, Bacon versus Freud, Dickens versus Joyce. Alcohol has always helped me to summon up particularly finely tuned arguments and comments on such issues. With alcohol I have been able to become a political commentator of quite staggering insight, a sports pundit with a surprising breadth of knowledge, a literary critic whose talent (though as yet largely unrecognised) will be snatched up any day now by The Times Literary Supplement. An Art Critic par excellence! A singer with exquisite pitch! With alcohol I have walked the walk on six inch heels through the streets of Dublin, London and New York. With Alcohol I have been the life and soul of the party and entirely without holding a note or tune of any kind, have croaked my way through entire back catalogues of everything from Callas to Cobain. With alcohol, I have danced gracefully and not without elegance at many glittering occasions and held my own in the dress and deportment department at those same glittering occasions, amongst women taller, slimmer and prettier than I. And not ever made a fool of myself! What Never? Well hardly ever!

Wine in particular has been one of the finest pleasures to me and there is little in this world to beat a fine bottle of vintage Bordeaux and a plate of well chosen cheeses in the company of friends and good companions. I can tell you that the Shelburne does a fine Cosmopolitan as does Ashford Castle. There is hardly anything worse than a tepid Irish Coffee and do not ever drink Greek Retzina. It is the work of the devil!

But delicious alcohol that can so infuse us with joy and bind us to friends old and new, has the horrible dark side too and it can take hold of us, not let us go and destroy us. Raymond Carver’s excellent poem Wine is a compellingly honest description of how alcohol can unravel even the most successful lives and devastate even the most devoted friendships.

A couple of years ago, I found that a few glasses of wine at the weekend had somehow become a couple of glasses of wine on several nights (except Mondays and possibly Tuesdays) and an extra couple of glasses on a weekend night naturally! The justification was the toughness of the work, the challenges of parenthood, the need for chill-out relaxation time with one’s partner. Alarm bells began to ring somewhere in my head and unsettling old memories stirred.

But face forward always! It was time to quit – if only for a while! Me and alcohol – we’d had a fantastic innings and I’d gotten to my early fifties without collapsing in a pool of my own vomit and with my liver, my intellectual faculties and above all my significant relationships reasonably intact! What would it be like if I gave it up? Even for a while? I’d never even given it up for Lent! And being honest, I’ve always been wary of teetotallers and pioneers (as we sometimes call them). I have in my head and in my heart labelled teetotallers and pioneers as dry ould shites! And not at all like recovering alcoholics who I have in my head and in my heart as battling heroes to be encouraged and admired!  Would anybody ever talk to me again? Would I be dropped off the dinner party list? Would unkind people make easy snide comments at my expense?

About two years ago I began to think quietly and privately about stopping alcohol for a while, to test and prove my fixedness of purpose, to see what life without my lovely warm companion would be like. The fear of failure was so immense that I told no one, not even close family. It became a sort of secret obsession. I set a date in Spring and bought a quite expensive bottle of wine. As luck would have it, friends arrived quite coincidentally for a meal that night and we had enough to drink and lots to say as usual. At the end of the night I opened the expensive bottle of wine. I remember thinking it was so lovely, such an almost celestial pleasure, the rich subtle taste of it, the sound of the wine gurgling seductively from the bottle, and the line that always goes through my head when I see red wine in a glass ‘beaded bubbles winking at the brim’ Only a fool would willingly relinquish such a delight! Even temporarily. Nobody else in the room that night knew the little battle that was quietly raging in my head.

What’s it like to be a teetotaller you may ask? How can you possibly enjoy life without alcohol? What about the parties, the banter, the warm glow of being in a group of people all nicely mellow on drink? No I don’t miss it. Not a bit! Yes if I am diagnosed with something incurable with death imminent in the morning, I may well head to the off licence and buy up several crates of wine, champagne and proper brandy. But right now, life is perfectly fine without my warm and seductive friend. Parties are still fun. People are still mostly delightful and stimulating company. Friends are still dearly cherished. And I’ve met some teetotallers who are the best fun ever.

I’m sorry to say that cheese at the end of a meal loses its lusciousness somewhat without a decent red wine but it’s probably no bad thing to ration the cheese intake at this stage of my life in any case. Diet coke is not a great companion for many fine dishes. I cannot cook boeuf Bourguignon without using at least half a bottle of red wine and I use wine in most other recipes where it is required. In certain situations, I’ll take a glass and pretend to sip it. On Christmas Day I will have a half glass of the best wine in the house. But having detested tonic water since the cradle, I have now become a complete addict. The best tonic water is Fever Tree and I will drink it with almost anything.

Please no lectures on the harmful effects of quinine! Thankyou!

A very delightful result of not drinking, and one secret that those cunning teetotallers have been keeping to themselves for far too long, is that one often gets to drive the most beloved people home and also the most interesting and the most fun. There’s nothing like a car journey late at night for catching up with or getting to know people.

People’s reactions have been mixed. Some think I’m completely mad. It’s likely that in some eyes I have now joined the ranks of the dry auld shites! Some kind souls have helpfully directed me towards the AA. Mostly however, people are bemused, amused and also more than a little interested. In these uncertain economic times, a whopping €100 has disappeared off the monthly shopping bill. In many countries beyond our little corner of the world, this sort of expenditure on alcohol would be considered variously as profligate, sinful, socially unacceptable and downright criminal. Yes of course I leave the party earlier now but age and other stuff has put me into the arrive late leave early department anyway. There have been other benefits too, including weight loss, much pleasanter nights’ sleep, fewer thumping headaches and fewer moments of regret over things that might have been better off unsaid.

I have made no commitments to teetotalism. By the time you read this particular blog, I may very well be tucking into a third bottle of wine, and if so I just hope it’s a good one. But for now, being alcohol free is fun, financially rewarding and healthy. I’m a designated driver anytime I want to be – a role always in demand especially at this time of year.

December 2011

Social Media, Careers, Writing, Life & The Large Hadron Collider

14 Dec

Social Media, Careers, Writing, Life & The Large Hadron Collider.