Monday, 26 May 2014

You looked better on MySpace (OR why things were cooler... in our memories at least!)

I loved MySpace.

In fact, I deleted my MySpace a few months ago, only because they have changes the platform a lot since 2008, and I don't love the idea of all that information being, well, out there. I didn't mind so much when way back when.

Here are some thoughts about the Internet from, well, my point of view.

Back in 1997 my Dad decided that we would get the Internet! We would buy blocks of time (100 hours for $100... or something like that). Eventually we went to proper dial up, then broadband, and now wireless. I've had my own email accounts since 13, used MSN until it was kindly taken in by Skype, tried my hand at Internet dating, had several blogs with reasonable readership and taught myself little bits of HTML, most of which I can't recall apart <u>from</u> <b>formatting</b> <i>text</i>.

You could say the Internet and I have been BFFs for ages.

The cool thing about this huge amount of time of the Internet has meant that I have seen online communities grow over time. I often think that way back when, the Internet seemed like a much nicer place. Only a few of my friends had access to the Internet at home, let alone the computer skills to use it. Some had the skills but weren't so much into the socialising bizzo - actually, those people still aren't. There were long nights in chat rooms, stupid emoticon packs (I loved them), spamming friends to find out the answers to a quiz.... Sorry. I'll snap out of it.

I'm an early adopter of MySpace, and also Facebook.

MySpace was really awesome. Mostly what I loved about MySpace is that it was reasonably interactive and fully editable. You could do pretty much whatever you wanted to make the page your own. I tried so many different skins, so many little badges and gadgets and tried my had at looking much more interesting than I actually am. The only thing I didn't do on MySpace was set up music, thanks to my dial up connection.

Some of the users of MySpace were really dedicated, others were much more casual in their use of the platform. It was easy enough to use, but it really relied on looking at other people's profiles and trying to follow the 'comments' left on a profile. And then, along came Facebook.

We, my friends and I, hated Facebook.

Unlike our pretty little MySpace world, the options to personalise your page quickly dwindled, so much so that an autobiography is no longer an option on the 'About' page. With some cool gadgets for Apps, my favourite being SuperPoke, the idea was cool, but soon FB became a lot more similar to how we know it now.

I guess though, what I do like about Facebook is the simplicity of it all. Though it may take a few days, or weeks even, most people can work out what the platform is about. It is constantly changing the way things are done, and although there is ways some kind of outcry from users, most eventually go along with it anyway. Forget collecting email addresses, or stalking someone on MySpace, finding and interacting with people in your life is often as simple as using Facebook. There are privacy concerns, and part of that comes from the lack of realisation that you pay for Facebook through your personal information. That's why they want to know what you read, watch, do, live. It's all a bit Big Brother, but it is also a highly logical way of using advertising which best suits the needs of customers.


Was the Internet better way back before Facebook?

Probably.
I mean, you had a smaller demographic of people who used the Internet, and quite often they were people who had the Internet as a luxury, rather than a necessity. People were using computers, not mobiles and tablets, and used their time a little more wisely, seeing as the cost of the Internet and data usage was pretty high. Socially, try going without your chosen social media platform for a few weeks (excluding holidays) and you'll see how ingrained it is in our lives.

I probably shouldn't conclude this blog without discussing Google+. I think it's a little like how the Internet used to be, providing your niche is covered. It is really different to FB and even MySpace - it is a little like a hybrid of both, but with the ability to be part of communities, rather than "groups" or being a fan of a business page. I hope that eventually more people head to the land of G+ because it's a lot less commercial than the Zuck's FB world, and perhaps a catered towards your interests, with the exception of the gossip column the blue and white platform tends to be.

If you want to see some of your old websites - https://archive.org/web/

Monday, 12 May 2014

Faith, Hope and Love (OR Footprints)

One of my most favourite poems is this Footprints. The authorship of Footprints has always been hotly contested, and I have heard some incredible stories about the creation of this piece. It's about a person who is watching his life pass by on a beach, and notices that there are mostly two sets of footprints in the sand, his and God's. But when the tough times come, there is only one set of footprints. He cries out to God, demanding to know why God would leave when He was most needed. God replies:


"My son, my precious child,
I love you and I would never leave you.
During your times of trial and suffering,
when you see only one set of footprints,
it was then that I carried you."

Faith

A few things have been happening beyond my world lately, and it was while reading a blog by Chris Arndale that I recalled the Footprints poem. Chris has written two blogs (here and here) about being a "fallen atheist" (his words, not mine). He says this:


Some have suggested to me that maybe if the addicts stopped having false hope it would be incentive for them to get clean, to get this life in order.

Addiction and the forces of poverty are stronger than that.

The belief that there is happiness beyond this earth is often the only thing that gets them through tough days.


I used to say to them, “I am thinking of you.”

I now say, “I will pray for you.”
I am in danger of becoming a fallen Atheist. 

If you have never seen the work of Chris, I strongly encourage you to do so. He photographs in Hunts Point with a journalist approach. He photographs a lot of moments - the good and the bad, and mostly the faces of addiction who also happen to have become his friend. I would say subjects to imply that Chris takes photographs of them, but that isn't truly valuing his relationship with them. Why photograph addicts and do so in many public forums? Simply because he cares and he wants their stories to be told. The two blogs I read today made me cry a little, because I pray for them too. When Shelly decided to get clean and took on a new job - and perhaps turned over a new leaf - I was so excited, until she went back to her addiction. And I don't know Shelly, or Sonya or Eric or any of these people. But I care about them because they mean something to someone who cares enough to share them with the rest of the world.

Love
On a very different note, I read a book last week by one of my colleagues, who wanted to share his cancer story with others. What I really valued more than anything (other than football references) was that there were two lists in the book of people who visited him during his stay in hospital. There were two reasons why the lists were created - he wanted to acknowledge them and also, because he didn't ever want to forget who had made the time to come and see him. Friendship is extraordinary and I am constantly amazed at the care and concern that people share for one another.

For a long time I thought that it was the teachings of Christ which led people to be so kind to one another. Now I realise that despite religious differences, despite disagreements, despite almost everything, people will pull together when the time calls for it. Even the small things are treasured, and to me that is vital to ensuring that communities stick together when time is tough.

Hope
For anyone who has ever had to cling to hope to get through the day, there's a great reason why it is bunched between love and faith.

For a very long time I believed that while there is life, there is hope. In many ways that isn't incorrect - people can be healed, cured and live long lives. But still, I have now changed that to while there is love, there is hope. Why change that? To quote Tully, we beat on. Because we love we can continue to hope for a better tomorrow, always.

The stories Chris tells are still ones of hope, and of faith, and of love.

Love is what gets us through the hard times, even when we don't deserve it, even when distance gets in the way, even when we are a little bit cuckoo-bananas and stop coping.

Faith is the acknowledgement of the presence of a Higher Being - whatever your flavour of religion (or not) is. Faith can be believing what we cannot see, or, believing and acknowledging what we can see. And hope?

Hope is believing in tomorrows.

Hope is Scarlett O'Hara declaring 'After all, tomorrow is another day.'

Hope is that expectation that something will come to fruition, even when it seems impossible.

When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:11-13)

The Footprints Prayer

One night I had a dream...
I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord, and Across the sky flashed scenes from my life. For each scene I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand; One belonged to me, and the other to the Lord. When the last scene of my life flashed before us, I looked back at the footprints in the sand. I noticed that many times along the path of my life, There was only one set of footprints.
I also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times in my life This really bothered me, and I questioned the Lord about it. "Lord, you said that once I decided to follow you, You would walk with me all the way; But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life, There is only one set of footprints. I don't understand why in times when I needed you the most, you should leave me.
The Lord replied, "My precious, precious child. I love you, and I would never, never leave you during your times of trial and suffering. When you saw only one set of footprints, It was then that I carried you.
- See more at: http://www.prayers-for-special-help.com/footprints-prayer.html#sthash.M1ijB2NV.dpuf

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Some randown writing advice, from others to you from me.

I've been studying writing and literature at tertiary level since 2006. I've sat through countless workshops, read thousand of words by other aspiring writers and, quite frankly, written a lot of rubbish myself. Here is some advice I've been given, and also some I'll give to you as well.

From university lecturers:

Write what you know.
I hear this less and less, but let's face it, in some ways this does make a lot of sense. Without proper research, or at least a well imagined world you have created yourself (think Hogwarts), you might either isolate readers or create a story which is completely unbelievable or unfathomable. 

If you do create your own world, map it, draw it, write about it first. And then add the characters.

If you don't enjoy reading it, who will?
I'll be honest - I do enjoy rereading what I write. When I don't, I realise that very few people would be interested in it either. Write about what you enjoy reading and speaking about, and chances are others will find it and feel the same.

Don't use cliches. 
I have heard this often, but in two of my short stories, cliches have been used to account for the character's inability to communicate beyond phrases they are already familiar with. Mostly though, this advice is fair and should be taken seriously.

Know your audience.
Simple fact is plenty of people are writing things, but often they don't have an intended audience. You can find one or you can change your genre or interest area. It's as simple as that.

Have a twist.
I wrote a great short story one, and my lecturer said "But we decided that every short story has to have a twist! Where is the twist?" Look, there doesn't need to be. A twist needs to work on the element of surprise, and quite frankly, most twists fail at surprising the readers. Do what you want, as long as you end the story somehow. Anything other than "and then I woke up" will suffice.

Truth is stranger than fiction.
Some of the crazy stuff I have seen, heard or experienced is just unbelievable in a story. When you write autobiographically this can come off as completely bogus and you'll lose your reader. Surprises and twists are okay - as young as they are reasonably plausible.

From me:

Don't overshare.
Some things only belong in journals. I've read far too many intimate details in autobiographies of people I know (or authors I don't), and quite frankly, this makes me feel incredibly uncomfortable.

Memories - stop over thinking it.
As with above, writing autobiographically means that sometimes you can get hung up on memories which don't need to be shared. Often these are things which will mean a lot to you, but your readers won't always know your context or relationships with other people in the memory. If you write it down, go back and reread it a few weeks or months later to see whether you have attempted the anticipated impact.

Create characters and keep using them.
I created a character called Jorge, and I keep trying to find places to put him.
I am seriously in love with Jorge. He is named after a guy who was on Australian Idol who thought he was too good for the show and could make it on his own. He didn't. Jorge finished his BA (Musical Theatre) and has worked as many characters including Homer Simpson and a giant termite. Jorge is a jerk, but everyone who reads him likes him because he's crazy and memorable.

Characters you reuse are good because you get to know them better and your audience will have a back story about them too (think Maeve Binchy).

Choose names wisely.
I can't stress this enough. A bunch of names which are either made up, spelt in a variable way or from one or more different countries (other than the country it is set in) can make for difficult reading.

Basically, there are two types of readers, those who memorize whole words and those who memorize sounds within words. I have always only memorized whole words, which makes spelling and reading sometimes challenging. If I am having to learn four or five or twelve new words (even if those words are names), this can be very difficult, especially if they are spelt in a similar way.

The author may have chosen their name for meaning rather than working within the context of the story. Choose carefully young grasshopper.

Overarching advice:
Write all the time. Lots of what you write will be complete rubbish and you'll throw it out. But there will be some gold somewhere along the way. Cherish it, because such gold is rare and is usually born out of madness, or genius, or both.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Lisa and Matt go to see the Young Endeavour



This one time me and my brother went to see the Young Endeavour. It were sitting there, in the Lady Bay with the waves gently rocking against it.

Gran thought we would be soooooooo excited. “It is Captain Cook’s ship he sailed on to Australya,” she explained. 

“Gran, it isn’t his real boat is it?”

“No, it’s not his real boat. Lots of young people work on it.”

“What’s wrong with real sailors?”  I ask.

“Nothing’s wrong with them Lissy, it is just a special boat for teenagers.” Gran sat on the beach while Matt and I flung wet sand at each other on the beach.

Matt said that when he grew up, he would work on the Young Endeavour too. Matt also wanted to be a Ninja Turtle and a park ranger, he would be very busy.

We turned out back on the big boat. It didn’t seem quite right that it was hogging our beach. This was the place we came to to ride our boogie boards and play in the little rippling waves. Once I met my friend George here. He had a brand new boogie board too. George was cool. His mum and dad owned a fish n chip shop. My dad installed antennas so  people could watch all the good stations, not just ABC and Channel Nine. Gran watched Channel Nine and it was sooooooo boring. The only good 
thing on there was the man with an eye patch on ‘Days of Our Lives’.

Other people we liked who had eye patches:
1.       John Wayne, Matt’s favourite actor. He liked his cowboy movies mostly. I thought they were boring boys things so I never watched them.
2.       Garfield, when he went Trick or Treating in a Halloween cartoon. Mum wouldn’t let us go Trick or Treating, but if we did I know we would get lotsa lollies from our May. (Matt would get more than me coz May liked Matt the best.)
3.       Captain Hook. And maybe Captain Cook if he had an eye patch which I don’t reckon he did.
4.       Me. I wore an eye patch once when I hurt my eye.

Me and Matt were sick of looking at the big ship and throwing sand at each other. Gran was nodding off while sitting on the beach, so we ran over and waked her up.

“Didja see the big boat?” she asked.

“Yeah, it was so so so cool. Go boat go!”

“Isn’t it a ship?” I asked. Mrs Tucker told us that boats were little and ships were big.

“Yes Lissy, it is a ship.” Matt pouted in my direction. “But some people call ships boats Matty.” Gran reached into her handbag and pulled out a Deco container filled with Top Deck chocolate. She gave two to me, two to Matt and kept one for herself. We watched the waves strike the boat, the sugary chocolate filling my mouth like a little lava explosion.

journal entry extract No. 1 Vol. 1


Some things can’t always be fixed the way we want them to, and there’s not a lot you can do about it. Some wounds are just too deep to heal, despite all the band-aids we try to put on top.

I’m not the only one who has been messed around by silly boys. Far from it. I just wanted to put it out there that there are options, don’t feel that you can’t escape.

And if you’re sitting there thinking about your friend’s loser boyfriend who is jerky and spends her money, tell her so. I really wish that more people had actually said to me at the time“You know Lis, he’s kinda a tool.”

That’s all.

No disclaimers. I only speak the truth.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Dear Rest of the World,

Please stop hating on people who use social media to connect with their friends and family. You move hundreds of kilometres away from your entire family and two hours from your friends and you'll quickly find that sometimes social media is the only social outlet in your life most days. Some people think social media disconnects us from those around us. I disagree. When you are far from home with your two best friends being your husband and a cat, knowing you can watch your friend's latest antics on video, see photos of new babies or hear some news you wouldn't have heard otherwise makes a world of difference. We are blessed to have so many ways to communicate.

My friends on Facebook are actually my friends.

With love from Lisa
(and everyone else who doesn't live three minutes drive from everyone they know.)


With four of my my fab friends.
Another social gathering organised, documented and photographed using social media.
  

Loving, not loving. (or: Why I no longer have a sponsor child)

I thought that maybe I should share something about my experience with child sponsorship. Basically, I was really moved by a presentation about volunteering overseas and I wanted to make a difference in a child's life. I decided I would use some of my paycheck as a tithe for child sponsorship way back in 2007. I sponsored a little boy, who was 5 at the time, from Thailand. We wrote letters every few months and I had intended on visiting him once I had finished uni and could make some real money.

Things stopped being so nice in 2010. Basically, my post office box was chockas with Spam from this particular organization, asking me to give more money for a whole of bunch of things (birthdays, Christmas, natural disasters, an inventory of things to choose from for my sponsor child's family). There were five page letters in huge print and too many spaces. I got tired of the administration and the constant fundraising effort tripping out my emotions to make me feel compelled to give. And then I received a letter, and then another, and another from my sponsor child who asked me to pray for his grandmother's gambling addiction.

After making contact with a Supporter Engagement Officer (?!) and requesting some find of investigation into what was actually happening in my sponsor child's life, here is what I receieved:

Dear Lisa,

Thank you for taking a few minutes to speak with me today. I DO hope that you were not late for your appointment.

Shown below is a copy of the information that I received back from Thailand in regards to ____. You will notice that the staff have written a response under each of my questions..

As I mentioned, I actually found it quite a positive response despite some of the sadness in Beem’s life. It very caring of the staff from the Compassion Project and the Church to visit his home on such a regular basis to encourage ____ and pray for the grandmother. It is unfortunate that his mother moved away to work as a labourer overseas to help the family, and I hope that she is not taken advantage of as can happen to many foreign workers.

I know that you had some hesitation and concerns about how your monthly support was benefitting ____, but please be assured that he is definitely much better off being a Compassion sponsored child.

Blessings to you.

Mrs Support Ladyskippy_corp_sig
Supporter Engagement Centre


RESPONSE FROM THAILAND OFFICE


Regarding sponsor’s concerns, kindly find my feedback as below:

      Can you tell us how many people live in the same house as ____ and how they are related to him?
I checked with the PF and found out that there are 6 people living together in the same house. They are grandma (mother’s), his older brother, his uncle and auntie and their son and himself.

2.       Can you confirm who is currently considered as his guardian or guardians?
At present his guardian is his grandma. His mother is not living at the house anymore. She moved to live in Israel for Laboring.
By this case, we will make a child revision of child’s guardians from grandma and mother to the grandma.

3.     We realise that this is a sensitive issue, but Is the project aware that the grandmother may possibly have problem (gambling)?
Yes, the project is aware of grandma’s behaviour.

4.      If she does have a problem, does it cause troubles for ____ and the rest of the family?
The project said that it affects  ____ obviously that he tends to spend almost of his free time playing computer games. The project goes to visit them often and encouraged grandma that gambling is not good thing to do and suggested ____ to value this spare time by playing music and doing some sports other than playing computer games. At present he attends the project regularly because he loves playing guitar and he joins the agriculture club as well. He reduced time to play games now.

5.       Has anyone from the church been able to minister to the grandmother?
Yes, the project and the church visit the house often and pray for grandma and family.

I hope this information helps. For further information needed, please let me know.
  

I was really unhappy with this response.

Here were my questions, most of which went unanswered.

1. If my sponsor child is of the "poorest of the poor" (as staff at the supporter night a local church in my town sponsored kept reminding us), why does his grandmother have money to gamble? How is he playing computer games during most of his free time? 

2. Is my money being used to support this habit?
(Support Engagement Officer said no because the money gets used by the local churches to pay for things just for the sponsor children or the whole community.)

3. So, other than prayer, what else is being done?



I had a chat with my family and decided that I could no longer give to my sponsor child with a "giving heart". Support Engagement Officer Lady told me I was punishing my sponsor child for his grandmother's addiction. I don't know whether she was right or not, and her last email said they would be finding someone new to sponsor him soon.

So, that's all I am? A supporter with a number? Sheesh.

But I do think about my sponsor child... often. I wonder about how he is doing and whether he is back with his mum again. And I pray of course.

I don't have enough answers, and now days I would rather give to a project rather than a charity who uses children's profiles to generate funds. I have been challenged though in my tithing and generosity - after all, I was punishing my sponsor child by not giving him money, right? Fortunately I am from a family who was into putting coins into the Guide Dog boxes and doing things for a cause. I guess my money is spent... well, elsewhere, on other people's children mostly, through buying Guide biscuits and helping support sporting clubs. It may not be what I had intended when I wanted to make a difference, but while I was sponsoring a child I often would limit my charity donations due to the $44 I was coughing up a month. I don't spend that on donations now, but I also see time as money, and as a Guide leader and someone who volunteers for things at the drop of a hat, I have well paid my little volunteers dues through my sweet time.

I mostly wrote this because I needed to get it off my chest. But also because I think it's okay to stand up and say no when you see see something that just doesn't sit right with you. To me, giving money to a family struggling with gambling addiction was unethical. If anything, I would have loved to have seen some kind of support program set up, but this was not an option, and if it had been, maybe the Supporter Engagement lady could have engaged me a bit better.

 I fully support those who sponsor children - it is a wonderful way to support those in need. My only advice is that you should always seek information should you become concerned with something you hear, read or see. Stand up for what is right in your heart. You'll sleep better at night, trust me.






PS- I didn't name the charity I supported. You can ask me about this privately, but I felt it was unnecessary to name them publicly. Of course, my sponsor child's name has been left as ____ to protect his privacy. I have also removed details about where he lives.