I read an interesting article about Facebook the other week. Apparently there was a study done that made it appear as though using Facebook made people happier. Or that people had a tendency to put forward their happiest face on Facebook. Which can in turn depress people who read their friends’ feeds and see nothing but success and happiness that they feel compelled to measure up to, or feel insecure at having failed to do so. So in other words, Facebook makes us look much happier than we actually are, and feel much more depressed than we should be because everybody else seems so much happier, even though they aren’t.
I’m a big advocate for plenty of wry observations, witty repartee, and offensive yet mostly harmless observations in Facebook statuses, sprinkled with a little mild gushing about how wonderful your life is. You’ve got to give the people something to think you’re well-rounded, otherwise your one-note Facebook is dull and difficult to read without a bottle of Jack and a straight razor. Sure, go ahead and gush about the wonderful time you had at a nice restaurant with your beautiful spouse and perfect children, but I may be forced to hide you from my news feed unless you can hate on your in-laws or bitch about coworkers a bit, injecting that tiny dose of reality that convinces me you’re really more than a self-propagandizing Stepford Wife.
I’ve been thinking about writing a novel lately. The last time I seriously tried it, I was in 8th Grade and I turned out the most useless crap every written (although I’m sure Harlequin probably would have picked it up). My characters were far too sensible, too faultless, too out of touch with the way people really acted. Villains were villains for no reason, good people were completely infallible, without any sort of flaw, and static, minor characters were completely flavorless.
Fast-forward a decade and a half and I’ve been seriously considering it again. And I’ve been thinking about going about it for real-real. You know, doing things that real novelists do, like traveling to the town they’re thinking about setting their novel in (in my case it’s Bellingham, WA) and doing crazy things like sitting on a curb with a thermos of 7-11 coffee watching the world go by and envisioning how random people would fit the story, and going to the local library and printing copies of old newspapers (it’s historical fiction) to get a taste of what sort of local color hued the world of the characters.
Regardless of how one writes – like Austen (alone in a room with the door cracked) Thoreau (naked under a tree with a plant in every orifice) or Joyce (with one hand under the table) the trait most good writers share in common is a power of accurate observation (which Shaw famously quipped was called cynicism by anybody who didn’t possess it) that is head and shoulders above the general populace.
And age. Age helps. Children and teenagers aren’t the greatest writers because they’re basically still rote-learning, and it manifests itself in a ghastly pastiche of tired old clichés and overblown hormones. There’s a certain subtlety and refinement that comes with the learnings of age once the idealist haze of youth burns off like a fog in the mid-morning of early adulthood. The path ahead used to seem easy. Finish school, couple up, meet success and proceed. It’s not until one is nearly 30 with no real property save a sizeable collection of debt and designer handbags, single and finally coming to the frightening realization that some people actually do spend their lives alone and that’s an avenue that must be considered once gritty realities (and fewer dates) come pounding the walkway to one’s door.
It’s no wonder the best writers were mostly single and spent much of their existence bordering on drunken insanity.