Phantom Birthdays

To this day, my mom keeps a calendar crammed with details of every anniversary, birthday, vacation, doctor visit, and celebration to be observed, all kept up with the upmost accuracy.

Many years ago, however, she participated in a practice that only spread widely with the creation of Facebook. She continued to list birthdays even after the people celebrating them had died. This in itself wasn’t a problem, except that she kept adding to their years. Someone who had died at 83 would find themselves miraculously turning another year older the following year, despite being dead the entire time.

One day, my dad noticed that the dead were aging and stopped it with much humor and incredulity. Facebook doesn’t have the benefit of my dad, so unless one of the living has access to the account and takes it down, these phantom birthdays will continue, and like with my mom, you can see how old someone would have been had they not died years ago.

The first person I discovered this phenomenon with was Roger Ebert. His wife Chaz chose to keep both his Twitter and Facebook accounts active, and so every year on what would’ve been his birthday, she celebrates his life.

At least in his case, most people know he’s dead. With people who aren’t famous, it’s easy to wish someone a happy birthday without looking at their page, and so not see the large post announcing that person’s passing — particularly if they weren’t that active on Facebook.

When my friend Shigemi passed away, I didn’t find out until a year later, and so became the person who tried to tell her other Facebook friends that she was no longer alive. It was a shock when she died, as she wasn’t that old. More recently, another person I knew died, and while one hopes the number of tributes that line her page will alert anyone wishing to post birthday messages that she is no longer around to receive them, that’s only if you go to the page itself. She also sold her artwork through her own website. One wonders if people, even now, are attempting to place orders that will never be fufilled.

So that got me thinking about COVID. How many people have passed away who still have active Facebook accounts? How many birthday wishes are celebrating phantom birthdays? Unless the living have access to the accounts, there’s no way to close them. Depending on the permanence of Facebook, these accounts could survive long enough for their grandchildren to come across — a chilling reminder of a year like few others in history.

Nowadays, my mom only celebrates the living on her calendars. And I don’t have to worry about her becoming a phantom birthday on Facebook.

She doesn’t have an account.

Too Much to Write About

Writer’s block exists for people who only focus on one thing at a time, and try to force that creation into being. I discover it when not diversifying my projects or when my self-editor appears during the rough draft phase. Not all solutions can be solved quickly, and I often have to put a work away for an extended period and come back to it before I find writing or revising it easier than extracting water out of an ice cube frozen to the side of a polar bear, but that’s not my main problem with writing. My main problem is that I have too many things to write about.

Let’s say I only wrote about my life. To do that, I have to stop living for several moments in order to get that life on paper. To wait is to forget, which results in an entry filled with “I think”s and “I believe”s and “I’m not sure”s and where chronology is suspect. I also must set aside time to reflect and recall all the important details. If I remember details later, they arrive as footnotes marked with asterisks.

Or let’s say I only wrote fiction. To find subjects for fiction, I must read, and study, and live. Bonded to a computer is no way to write a work of art or entertainment. Poetry writes itself in the first draft, but I must come back to it when the rhythms are still fresh in my mind, and then again when they have become stale. Personal essays? Same thing: they take time, and always more time than I think they will, and when they are finished I have another idea for something to write about.

For example, I’ve thought about writing another post on copyright law, specifically international copyright law. This was spurred on by the news that rarefilmm.com, a website that streams public domain and non region-1 movies (you can watch for free, but a membership gives you more options), had its accounts frozen by PayPal, possibly due to an anonymous complaint about copyright infringement. In this article, I would’ve started out by writing about Wagner on the Web, a review website that got on the bad side of Bayreuth lawyers who didn’t realize that the site “featured” its recordings only in the sense that it featured reviews on them, and so sent cease-and-desist letters to its creator, who was not a corporation and didn’t have deep pockets to fight this injustice. The post would’ve been labeled “International Copyright Law and the Corporatization of the Internet.” Of course, with a title like that, I’d have to prove that this is the case, which would require hours of research — otherwise, I’m the same as everyone else who airs unsubstantiated claims as if they’re trumpeting the second coming of Christ. And then if I didn’t find any information on this phenomenon, I’m left with a memory of what happened to one site and a possible motive behind PayPal freezing the account of another.

And what was the effect? It prevents art from being spread to people who have no means of seeing it in the case of rarefilmm, and it leaves the reviews of various Wagnerian recordings to professionals who write behind paywalls — or Amazon.com — in the case of Wagner on the Web. Now, I’m all-for getting paid for writing, and if Wagner on the Web had been closed down due to that copyright infringement, I would’ve understood, but not for trumped-up charges. And if studios aren’t making movies available in the U.S., then why not have a website where you can see them? They aren’t hard copies and could be removed if the rights to those films were purchased over here, but glancing at most of the titles still in copyright, they aren’t going to make money for the studio, so what’s the motive? Artists want their work to be seen, heard, and read. Copyright law gets longer and more punitive, but we should be going the other way: shorter copyright times, longer public domain holdings. After all, the conceit that we own any of these ideas is a Western, writing-based society one. Pay me for the idea, but after so many years, let it go out into the world and fend for itself. And then I’ll release another idea into the world.

So yeah, I have too many things to write about, and the only time I get around to writing about them is when I sit down and write about them — as I’m doing now. 🙂

Schedule of Events

Looking at this blog recently, I noticed that I haven’t posted anything in 2015 (I’ve been more active on my other blog).  This was bound to happen, as work on my novel, plus procrastination strategies I have perfected over the years (i.e. becoming obsessed over this-or-that historically remastered recording of this-or-that piece of music), leaves me little time to post on anything that isn’t confined to the strictures of a review (see my recent reviews on Murmurs from the Balcony and Goodreads as proof).  Plus, since I want to be paid for my poetry, short stories, novels, plays, etc., the only things I post on here are the occasional poem or short story, which I will often revise after posting, and since I’ve been working on the novel…

Therefore, I’ve decided to list my current schedule (in no particular order), from which you will see leaves little time to nourish my first foray from obscurity into notoriety (i.e. this blog, back when I started in on Blogger in May 2009).  There is, however, a project coming up that involves this blog, but I don’t want to say too much; after all, past lists of promised blog posts have left many broken promises.

1. MY NOVEL

The biggest of my projects, which reminds me of an onion: peel one layer away, and you are confronted with many more.  At least it hasn’t made me cry yet, which would complete the metaphor.  Frustrated, yes, but not to tears.  Checking in with my awesome first reader, I’m not lacking for ways to revise the novel; I’m lacking in how to accomplish these revisions.  The main culprit?  The narrator.  Sure, some characters could use more fleshing out, but it’s the goddamn narrator who’s causing me to want to throw things at the screen.  The good news is, if I figure out that problem (and yes, I have ideas), the novel shouldn’t need any other major revisions.  Minor ones, yes, but once the major ones are dealt with, I can start shopping the novel around to publishers.

2. MOVIES, BOOKS, AND VIDEO GAMES

I’m trying to see fewer movies, read more books, and play more video games in my free time.  I’m doing pretty well with one, very well with two, and dismally with three.  Since one is necessary for two, and three is so that I’m not working all the time, I consider it successful.  Plus, with the weather getting nice, I’ll be ditching all of these for photography and walks around Greenlake soon, anyway.

3. MY JOBS

Any writing or reading I do has to work around my jobs.  Reading is easy, since I can read on the bus ride to work, but writing has to be done when I’m at home, and not being tempted by the sun to ditch everything and get some Vitamin D.

4. GOODREADS AND OTHER REVIEWS

Every time I finish a book, I write a quick review of it on Goodreads.  Since I want to balance thoroughness with speed, some reviews end up taking more time than my novel does.

5. STUDYING JAPANESE

More properly, reviewing what I already know so that I may start studying new material and progress from the height of my knowledge in Japan to something that approaches fluency.  I also want to brush up on my French.  And learn some Korean.  And American Sign Language.

6. BUYING FOOD

It takes time, as I have to write out a list, then walk to the store and come back.  And, if I have to work later that day, I must remember to buy food that I can prepare quickly and transport easily.

7. OTHER LONG-TERM PROJECTS

These include writing diary entries, printing out photos I’ve taken over the last seven years, scanning objects into my computer, and burning items to disc.

8. FUN ACTIVITIES

I can’t work all the time, so occasionally I plan fun activities around my work schedule.  Last year it was tango (doing) and ballet (watching).  This year, I’m trying to attend more symphony concerts without paying too much for tickets.

And then, of course, there are emails to write, Facebook comments to leave, online articles to read, YouTube videos to watch, and people to call.  And meditation!  And exercise!