4 Things You Can Do Instead Of (Or In Addition To) Participating In Vacuous Social Media Campaigns

First, I’d like to get something out of the way:

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry if you participate in social media campaigns; if you participated in today’s big social media campaign (#bumpday).

18j2p8l1obzyxjpgI’m sorry if you posted in a vague Facebook status where you put your purse when you get home in the evening to let people know breast cancer is out there.

 

I’m sorry if you did the Ice Bucket challenge or posted a #nomakeupselfie or whatever.

I’m sorry.

I’m not saying you are vacuous. I’m not saying you are lazy.

I’m saying your campaign is vacuous and lazy.

I’m not saying you sit behind your computer and do the easiest things possible, without ever actually lifting a finger or volunteering your time or donating even just a dollar to really help those in need you claim your social media challenges and campaigns help.

I’m saying that a lot of people – in the general sense – are.

A lot of people are posting their social media challenges and literally doing nothing else.

They posted pictures of their favorite childhood cartoon character on their Facebook status to raise awareness of child molestation – and really thought that stopped molesters and helped children. And really did nothing else but pat themselves on the back for their high level of philanthropic outreach.

They did the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge to get out of donating money. Sure, the Ice Bucket Challenge did raise an obscene amount of money for ALS research – from people that didn’t do it. (It was either do the challenge, or donate the money; and while a lot of people did both, a lot of people sincerely thought taking the bucket of ice was an adequate contribution).

So today is Bump Day – a day to raise awareness of motherhood and growing healthy babies. A day to support mothers – new, old, to-be; and band together for the overall health of moms around the world. I get it, and a lot of people I know have done it. Some are pregnant right now, some recently had babies. Some haven’t had a baby in over a decade.

I get it. But I’m also fucking sick of it.

One of the women that posted a photo in my Instagram feed is 8 months pregnant. She posted her #bumpday pic with a little caption about it being in honor of maternal and prenatal health. I happen to know she’s smoked cigarettes for the entire 8 months.

Another “friend” (read: person I knew of in high school over 15 years ago) posted her “bump” 6 months postpartum. It was a flat stomach shot. In the comments she rambled on and on about how she’s glad she isn’t a “fat fuck anymore,” like she apparently felt she was when she was pregnant. Sort of missed the point.

And then there are those with bump loss, and by that I mean #bumpday is just another fucked up reminder that not everyone is destined for an easy path to first time or repeat motherhood. If I were to post my bump photo, it would be for the multiple miscarriages I have had over the last few years, the most recent being just three months ago.unnamed

The point is this: for every well-meaning and good person out there participating in these vacuous social media campaigns, there are so many others just participating with no good intentions whatsoever.

Too many.

The bottom line is that if you want to participate in these social media campaigns, the important thing is to follow up the photos and the posts and the Tweets with actions. Here are just a few suggestions.

1. Donate Money

This is the easiest thing you could possibly do in addition to or instead of participating in social media campaigns.

Donate money.

You can literally do this while sitting on your ass, binge watching Orange Is the New Black, eating pizza directly from the box because you’ve given up so much that you can’t even be bothered to walk 10 feet into your kitchen to get a plate.

Some social media campaigns have even made it so easy that you can just text a number from your phone – it isn’t even usually a full length phone number – and they automatically tack on $5 to your phone bill, which gets donated.

You literally only have to hit five numbers on your cellphone keypad and click send.

2. Donate Time

 This is obvious. Every charity needs volunteers. Every organization needs people to help. Sometimes it’s as simple as making an hour’s worth of phone calls, or stuffing envelopes.

The only caveat is that this will require you to get your ass off the couch, if even just for long enough to sign up to help from home.

3. Learn About the Cause You Are Supposedly Supporting

I guarantee you that a vast majority of people posting their #bumpday photos haven’t a single fucking clue what it’s about.

I also know from personal experience that a lot of kids who were participating in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge had no idea what the hell they were doing besides pouring ice on each other and laughing.

And this it the ultimate folly of social media campaigns: they often don’t raise awareness about dick.

I still have no idea what the #nomakeupselfie thing was about, and while I didn’t participate in it I should have at least taken the time to get to know the issues at hand. It seems as though we – collectively, as a world – have forgotten that knowledge is power. Or we’ve somehow confused our Instagram photos and bullshit Facebook status games with knowledge and understanding.

4. Listen To Someone You Know That May Be Affected

We don’t always know people that are affected directly by the issues having to do with the campaigns we portray to support in our posts on social media.

But we all know where we could find one. We all know someone that may be, but we just haven’t taken the time to learn about them and their experiences.

I feel as though people don’t communicate with others in their lives anymore, particularly about things that matter in the world.

They don’t know enough about each other – the big stuff.

They don’t ever ask “how are you doing,” rather they sit and talk about themselves.

Unless you know every single aspect of every single person’s life, they may be affected or afflicted by one of the many causes out there on social media daily – and you could never have a clue, because you never stopped to listen. You won’t know unless you ask, or communicate, or just listen to the people around you.

The problem with social media campaigns is that it’s all about you, when you are often nothing more than a casual supporter. It isn’t quite the same as going into your community and listening to survivors of domestic abuse, or volunteering to sit with cancer patients during their treatments.  Whenever I say these things to people, they say they only have so much time in the day. Then they promptly change the subject to what happened this week on The Bachelorette, or what they’ve been doing at work lately.

There’s more to life than selfies and TV and Facebook and workplace drama. Maybe – just maybe – all these social media campaigns wouldn’t be vacuous – so empty and meaningless – if there was more of a discussion and more action behind every post.

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There is no room for literacy at my local pub…

Sadly, my local pub is apparently among those that prefer idiocy and ignorance to intelligence and education. Gladly, I don’t care if  anyone’s feelings are hurt that I honestly share my experience in coming to this conclusion. If you’re ever in California, don’t waste your time at Brendan’s Irish Pub and Restaurant (Camarillo, CA) if you think reading is important. Because there is no room for literacy at my local pub…

Some time ago, I was terribly disheartened by my own experience as a writer trying to seek out publication, and as an avid reader desperately searching for like-minded people who love books as much as I do. To say “I love books” is probably understating it. I am obsessed with books. I read all the time. The only thing that I love more than books are words, which always gets weird looks when I tell people this. I think a word is one of the most beautiful things in existence, and no one can ever take them away from you. So when I was disheartened a while back, I did some research and learned some startling statistics, which I reported on this blog. Among the most startling of things I learned when writing that blog was that as many as 33% of people that graduate from high school never read another book again after graduation, with 42% of the remaining never reading past college. Additionally, on a daily basis the Pew Report estimated that Americans spend an average of 4 hours watching television, 3 hours listening to radio or music, and no more than 14 minutes reading (usually in a magazine or news online). Every, single day – no more than 14 minutes. I came to the conclusion that in a world like this, there is no room for good literature.

But then you have a rare event promoting literacy, such as happened today across the country – an event that lifts your spirits and gives you hope amidst all the statistics and stupidity. Last year in Europe a movement began called World Book Night, which spread to the United States this year and created an unprecedented movement of people encouraging others to read. The idea was that the 501(c)3 would get (through contributions from individuals, organizations, and publishing houses) 30 books distributed in large amounts to volunteers who would then give the books away for free to members of the community. You could give them away anywhere – the mall, senior centers, the library, the grocery store, restaurants, bars … whatever you wanted, you just had to give them away for the event, and for free.

So I signed up and got my first choice for books – The Poisonwood Bible. I got twenty copies, specially printed with a letter on the cover about World Book Night and a list of all the contributors that made the event such a success. A book club I’m in had some ladies that were interested in participating as well, so we organized a meet up at the local watering hole to give away the book (and other used ones we had collected) to passers-by.

When I walked in, the hostesses at the front door welcomed me and my box of books with open arms. They each took one and said they were so excited we would be there. We had communicated with the place about the event, so this seemed only natural. The others in our group showed, we ordered drinks, and set out the books on the two tables we occupied. We gave out a few more books. We snapped a photograph. Then I saw our waitress talking to the bartender and looking at us, and as she walked over I knew things were going to go downhill. The conversation went something like this:

Cocktail waitress: “So, what exactly are you guys doing?”

Us: “We’re participating in World Book Night. It’s a national event where we have been given free books to distribute to people in our community at local hang outs.”

Cocktail waitress: “Hmmmmmm… who did you speak to about doing this? Did you talk to Chuck?”

Us: “We sent an email and also communicated on your Facebook page.”

Cocktail waitress: “Huh. I’m trying to figure out how to say this without being rude. We really can’t have you approaching people to solicit them.”

Us: “Okay, can we stay seated here with our books on the table?”

Cocktail waitress: “Oh sure, you are welcome to stay and drink but you can’t approach people.”

Us: “Can we move somewhere that more people will see this.”

Cocktail waitress: “I’m really just trying to say this without being rude, but no – you see none of us even know what the book is about, having never read it. If someone walks by and asks what you have on the table, you are welcome to give those away.”

She came back a few minutes later to make it clear that we could still give people the books if they walked by and asked, and when we asked if we could put up a handmade sign she said “no.” That was the end of our World Book Night as we thought it would be. Disappointing, but we had to move on.

After finishing our drinks and getting out of there, we ended up walking around the rest of the mall and distributing the books (mostly) to employees of the other shops and fast food restaurants in the area. Some of them were very appreciative, a few looked like they just wanted us to leave. One guy acted surprised that people were giving out books and actually acknowledged that illiteracy in our country is a big problem that things like this will really help fix. In the end, we successfully got all of our World Book Night books distributed and had a good time, but that really isn’t the point.

Had my local pub not been in a complex with other places, they could have ruined our efforts for the night. I get not wanting people to bother their patrons. I get not knowing what the book is about and being worried we might represent something they don’t believe in. But had they taken the time to look into it, or had they considered even just letting us set the books up in such a way that passers-by could see and inquire, this wouldn’t have made me so mad. Instead of doing that, though, Brendan’s Irish Pub and Restaurant let us show up and order drinks, only to shoot us down. Because the people working tonight had never read the book. Maybe they’ve never read any books, or they don’t believe that reading is as important as making money and discouraging anything but drinking at their establishment. Do I really believe that it was some grand conspiracy theory on the part of the place to actively discourage intellectualism? No. But it still is true that if their patrons decided to read more, they’d likely spend less time glued to the bar stool with their eyes on the many big screen TVs that cover the place.

In the end, it’s just a big disappointment in a locally owned restaurant and bar, and a reminder that for the majority of our present society, there really is no room for good literature. We weren’t selling things. We weren’t trying to convert people to any religious or cult-like groups. We weren’t interrupting people’s meals or breaking up their attempts at love. We just wanted people to see what we had to offer, and to have an opportunity to read and expand their minds.

It’s too bad that there is no room for literacy at my local pub… is there room for literacy anywhere anymore?

Four Holiday Mantras

Well, faithful blog followers, it looks like it’s going to be a long holiday season.  Hunker down – just yesterday I saw some idiot had put up and already lit his Christmas lights, including a large Santa face on his roof.  Everywhere you go, you are already inundated with holiday ads, holiday music, holiday sales – so get in the spirit because they are coming whether you like it or not.

If you are like me, your response to “whether you like it…” is in the not.  For me, the holidays have always been a matter of feeling forced to spend time with people I would otherwise never associate with, buy gifts for those that as a general rule tend to act relatively ungrateful or who don’t need anything, and just all-in-all turn in to two months of exhaustion and feeling overwhelmed.  It was only until recently, though, that I realized there is no reason any of us should deal with some of the drama that comes along with the holidays – for the majority of us, it is not only unhealthy but unnecessary.  So I’ve created these four holiday mantras for us all to say to ourselves every morning as we go in to the busiest time of the year.

I will not pretend that things are perfect for the sake of holiday unity.

Nothing is more obnoxious than a group of people that gets together and acts like a perfect group, when they all spend the other months of the year talking shit and treating each other like the absolute scum of the earth.  I imagine it to be like a perfectly constructed ice sculpture – every edge is delicately carved so that the fine sculpture of snow and ice does not fall apart.  But underneath, it’s nothing but dirty ice that is going to melt and become a pile of dirty sludge the moment things start to heat up.  For our first mantra, let’s vow to take a chainsaw to any group events this holiday season – and chop that perfectly structured sculpture to pieces.  Note:  this doesn’t mean to cause drama when everyone just wants to have a nice holiday.  It just means be honest to who you are and how you feel.

I refuse to participate in family gossip.

If your families or in-laws are anything like both of mine, there is such uninhibited levels of gossip going on during normal times of the year that the holidays only makes it worse.  As a general rule, we should all vow not to participate in family gossip all the time; however, it is all the more important during the holidays for the sake of minimizing stress and avoiding unnecessary holiday drama.  There are a lot of things that shouldn’t be discussed with family – from finances to living situations, to marital problems, even to problems conceiving.  The thing about families today, though, is that they have become enmeshed family systems that are so over-involved in each other’s lives that they often do not even believe that what they are doing is gossiping.  Especially during the holidays, talk about something intelligent – books, films, art; stay off the gossip.

I will stop comparing myself and my life to the lives of others.

There is a current phenomena going on called Facebook Depression.  It states that many people spend a lot of their time on Facebook and other social network sites comparing their lives to others, and successively getting more and more depressed.  One of my friends recently told me that this is exactly what she does at holiday parties:  watches other people in the perfect lives, all-the-while she is getting more and more depressed because her ass is just a little bigger than someone else’s, or because her job is not as exciting as the next guy’s.  Just after the holiday season, statistical rises in depression and suicide have been reported for decades in the United States – quite obviously for this comparative mode of thinking, as well as general loneliness.  Don’t depress yourself by spending the entire holiday season comparing your miserable life to that of everyone else.  Remember:  what is on the surface is very often not what is inside.  Life sucks.  Life sucks a big, fat snow dick.  Take your chainsaw to the comparisons as well.

For the entire holiday season, I will reserve judgment on the homeless and look at them as people in need, rather than as worthless, alcoholic bums.

The funny thing about people that judge:  they often do it as a way to make themselves feel better about their own insecurities.  This actually applies to all of our mantras, but is particularly important in this final one.  From now until the end of the holiday season, force yourself to reserve all judgment when encountering homeless people in your community.  Rather than assuming they are irresponsible, lazy, alcoholic, or crazy, consider the horrible economy and the hardships people have had to face in recent years.  Have a little charity and at least try and remember that you could one day find yourself in a similar position.

Ultimately, faithful blog followers, the holidays are a miserable time in which many of us dread doing things we don’t want to do.  Set some boundaries, do what you want rather than what you feel obligated to, and remember that life is way too short to deal with some of the crap that always seems to come up every year.