Here’s a Thought: Download Whatever the Hell You Want

There are some people—and full disclosure here, I’m one of them—who will download every new social app that comes along.

A short list of some I’ve tried:

  • Pheed
  • Ello
  • This one I forgot
  • That other one I forgot
  • The one you were probably using when you clicked through to read this
  • Google+

… and most recently, the mobile-only app, Peach.

I know I’m not alone in doing this. Here’s a funny thing I’ve noticed and I’m sure anyone reading this noticed as well—a ton of people seem embarrassed to admit it when we check these things out.

For some of us it’s just a self-effacing joke. Others still are just joking, period, because everything on the internet can seem vaguely ridiculous sometimes. But I have to believe there are a few people who genuinely feel embarrassed to be curious about whatever app caught their eye when a friend tweeted about it.

If there isn’t a sense of embarrassment, there’s an immediate skewing toward cynicism. ‘Oh what’s this bullshit app about? I’m supposed to love this now?’

This I get. I’ve felt that way too. A lot.

Today, though, it occurred to me: I’ll download and check out whatever fucking app I want. For whatever purpose. I might make fun of it after I use it, sure—I’ve been on Facebook for eight years and honestly refuse to ever stop making fun of it.

I felt kind of angry at myself because I’d downloaded Peach and posted the same sort of first post I see so many of my friends throw up on such services: “WHY AM I BOTHERING WITH ANOTHER ONE OF THESE.”

What made me angry was this sudden sense I had that there’s an element among those of us who immediately feel embarrassed or something when downloading a social app that there really must be something wrong about doing it. I joked to a friend on Twitter that I’d felt immediate shame at downloading Peach, but you know, I did feel a minor burst of that.

It occurred to me, though: why am I ashamed for wanting to be social? I live in a place I like and do a job I like but the place is over 1000 miles from old friends and extended family and I’m a freelance worker. I communicate mostly with co-workers through Slack. (A messaging app designed much like a good social app but skewed toward workplace use.) I’m also a dad and my two youngest kids still at home are on the autism spectrum. Since I have the work-from-home job I have to do a lot of the kid-related legwork that parents do as well. Why wouldn’t I want to reach beyond my everyday and chat with friends on the West Coast? Or friends in the U.K.? Or, of course, in Canada?

When I was home for a visit in Nashville recently, I told my sister Sherry I thought she and I both were by nature introverted people who had to learn at some point to be extroverted. Like, I think extroversion is to some degree acquired. Perhaps for everyone. If you met Sherry or me you’d think we were loudmouthed peas in a pod (‘Huffs are loud and talk over each other and everyone else’ is how I imagine many friends and even extended family have seen us as a group over the years), but we talked a lot about how much we like being alone sometimes.

Fact is, I did acquire both some social skills and the occasional desire to socialize. I have certainly liked talking to people in the past. Getting to know them. The older I get, the more I realize I’m stuck with that social part of me, as long as I feel I have a certain amount of choice in the matter.

And social apps provide a pretty damned safe route into doing that, on the whole.

What the hell is wrong with wanting, or even admitting to needing any sense of connection to others? Not a goddamned thing.

Think about it: in prison the most brutal thing you can do to an inmate isn’t even beating him or her. It’s prolonged solitary confinement.

Without any social connection at all, humans tend to lose their minds.

Yes, there are volumes of criticism of social media still to be written. It promotes mob behavior. It can encourage bullying and trolling. Nuanced thinking can get lost and binary thinking rules the day. Of course social apps all come with the same curses, because they come with other people using them.

Still, I’ve made friends online. Hell, I met my wife online back when people generally considered doing such a thing some kind of thrill-seeking act of self-destructive insanity (as opposed to today, when it seems like the norm). I love some of the friends I’ve made online as much as I ever loved a friend made in school, in rehearsal, or backstage at a show. It seems to take longer to feel like a friend from the internet is a real friend—I read body language and tone, and you mostly miss that—but eventually, you do.

That’s actually pretty beautiful, if occasionally a little strange to an aging Gen Xer like me.

Social media is full of silly bullshit and can often reflect the very worst sort of lazy behavior both intellectually and emotionally, but social apps are here to stay. They’ll evolve as we do. There will be new ones hitting app stores or being linked to every year.

Chances are I’ll try them all. I’ll abandon some right away. Others I’ll stick with for a time then forget. Still others I’ll stay steady with, use once a week at best. And of course there will always be mainstays I check every single day. Because that’s where I have some pretty good friends, folks I’d hang with anywhere.

There ain’t a damn thing wrong with that. For me, or you.

I hate to admit it

But I’ve actually been so busy it’s barely occurred to me to use any blog I have at all. I’m a contributing editor for Maxim magazine, editing their website on the weekend, and in October I wrote a book. I can’t tell any more about that right now because of contracts and confidentiality and just being cautious, but needless to say—I worked my ass off, man.

And I’m still working, and though I am surprised at how tired I am sometimes, I cannot complain.

I did buy a URL and may just direct it at this blog soon, because why not.

For a while…

… as an experiment—and to be clear, I view almost everything I do with blogging and social media as an ongoing experiment—I will switch what personal blogging I do back to my Tumblr: http://stevehuff.tumblr.com/. If you are on Tumblr as well, please follow me there. I will preserve this WordPress blog to keep my options open.

My ongoing work for Maxim, which continues to be ridiculous fun, is here.

Huh…

I’m always meaning to update more. Recently I got a freelance gig writing for Maxim Magazine, though, the last week and a half has been about adjusting to that.

I haven’t had a blogging gig in a while (if you’ve only read this site recently, my bio will tell you they aren’t new for me) and realized I may have even missed it. My specialties, if I have them, have been crime and tech, but I’m re-discovering pop culture blogging with Maxim and it’s fun.

In fact it’s sort of made me re-think my old ‘writing is blogging is writing’ philosophy. On the one hand, that’s correct. Writing is a skill. If people pay you to do it in any capacity, you should work hard to be good at it. But I’m remembering how the pace of blogging is so different, compared to, say, drafting and then polishing a short story, essay or a long piece of reportage. A lot of conventional writing wisdom says you draft sloppy first, then re-draft, refine and so on. You can do a truncated version of this when blogging, but for me at least, it won’t go fast enough unless I edit on the fly. And I can do that. It doesn’t always end up in a perfect product, but it’s often one I can live with and don’t feel dumb directing friends to read.

What I’ve begun to realize is I think I had an idea that blogging might be bad for other writing. It’s not. In fact, it might be excellent practice, and a route to instilling something too many writers lack: versatility.

I can’t promise I’ll do this–I’m also a dad and since I work from home the main housekeeper/cook most weeks (my wife is a better cook than I am but we tend to save her wicked skills for holidays)–but I could see how my gig with Maxim might actually lead to me updating this blog even more. I see stuff every day that I consider pitching to post for Maxim, only to see it doesn’t quite fit what they’re going for. But I think I may start popping that stuff here–which would actually make this blog what I intended it to be when I made it: one guy’s curated newsfeed of the weird shit that interests him.

Posting more stuff here, writing about a broader range of stuff than I’ve covered so far, will only feed and add to what I do for Maxim. Blogging is writing, sure, but after doing it for the better part of 15 years I’ve come to see it is its own particular skill, and there is no shame in my mind in making a conscious effort to get better at doing it.

On being boring

Every day I write a little in a moleskine. I date each entry. Most entries are just a paragraph, and often just things I tend to observe–the weather, something that happened with one of my kids, sometimes my exercise. Anyone finding that journal hoping to see some sort of Secrets of Steve situation would be disappointed; it’s seriously fucking boring.

I don’t do it in lieu of blogging, I just do it for me. It feels like, at this point, an oddly necessary practice. And for someone who has always prized trying to make his writing interesting, it feels almost like a zen thing: let yourself be boring.

A brake on my blogging–there are many–is that fear of being boring. I only recently realized this, and realized it was keeping me from writing at length in a way that I used to do every day. That daily or near-daily blogging, even before I had paying jobs doing it, mattered to me. I feel confident I can tweet something mildly amusing once a day–tweeting is pretty easy. But a whole blog entry? Apparently I’ve developed the attitude it must be Received Wisdom of the Ages or nothing at all. That’s arrogant bullshit, because honestly, I kept blogging after I began the practice (and blogging is a sort of practice) 15 years ago because I enjoyed it, not because I thought I was great at it. Having blogging and writing jobs later was a total surprise to me, and sometimes still is.

I think I still might do this thing on a regular basis if I just chill out and don’t worry so much. I’ve said before (I think) that I keep this space open for a reason, even though I don’t touch it for months. I think that’s true.

I recently read somewhere a good way to fuck up a goal is to tell people about it. So I’m not going to get into any goals I have re: blogging from here on out. I’m just gonna give it a go and see what happens. Practice is practice.

On Midnight in the Month of June, On Fiction

At some point I decided this was my main blogging space. This is recent. What happened was I found myself dissatisfied with a return to Tumblr and casting about for a space that would by name and content give me the most latitude to blog what I wanted–personal stuff, true crime, history, weirdness, you name it.

I realized that space was sitting here all along, I’d already established it, and I’d been ignoring it since September of last year because–no lie–I forgot the elaborately complicated password I made to sign in to WordPress.

I know how dumb this is, don’t give me shit about it.

Anyway, I feel like one feature of my decision to focus on this space as my only blog, the place where I’ll put everything (I plan to eventually get a standalone URL, too) should be me giving myself permission to just randomly blog my inner monologue. At least once in a while. Ello is a good space for that too (shut up, it is. I like Ello), but today I’ll say it here.

I’ve been writing poetry and fiction for longer than I’ve been writing nonfiction or journalism. As my paid work has entirely been in blogging/journalism/nonfiction, that’s easy for even me to forget.

And regarding fiction, I’ve developed a concern: what if I’m geared toward short fiction? WHAT IF I’M A SHORT STORY WRITER?

This may sound silly, but it’s a legit concern if you ever want to sell your fiction to anyone.

I mean, I don’t think the short story is dead (I swear I’ve read musings contemplating this very thing in the last few years) but I do think that unless you’re George Saunders (whom I love, and keep your contrary opinion to yourself), short fiction is not the thing that punches a writer’s ticket these days. Everyone wants to be–thinks they are–a novelist.

And hey, I am fairly sure I have a novel in me. But not yet. When I write fiction these days, it’s always short.

Is this a function of having a ferocious case of ADHD? A limited set of functional, fictional, interesting ideas? I don’t know. At least partly, re: ADHD. I don’t think so, re: limited ideas. But I do think this maybe true, for me.

What I also think is that in general, the short story isn’t appreciated these days for its fundamental power, its ability to grab even the most random reader and draw them into an imaginary world.

Many of the stories that hit me hard at an early age were short fiction. One example that always comes quickly to mind when I’m thinking about this stuff: Ray Bradbury’s amazing “At Midnight, in the Month of June.”

I first read the Bradbury story in a collection of horror fiction when I was 12, and it blew me the fuck away. Passages like this:

She stood against the door in the dark. If moonlight could have struck in upon her, she would have shimmered like a small pool of water on a windy night. He felt the fine sapphire jewels come out upon her face, and her face all glittering with brine.

Or this:

He remembered that sometimes when he played hide-and-seek they did not find him at all; he would not let them find him. He said not a word, he stayed so long in the apple tree that he was a white-fleshed apple; he lingered so long in the chestnut tree that he had the hardness and the brown brightness of the autumn nut. And God, how powerful to be undiscovered, how immense it made you, until your arms were branching, growing out in all directions, pulled by the stars and the tidal moon until your secretness enclosed the town and mothered it with your compassion and tolerance. You could do anything in the shadows, anything. If you chose to do it, you could do it. How powerful to sit above the sidewalk and see people pass under, never aware you were there and watching, and might put out an arm to brush their noses with the five-legged spider of your hand and brush their thinking minds with terror.

… Were to me the quintessence of great scene painting. Everything about this story sang of the blue-lit and silent watches of the night, of silence, of madness. I had been that secret boy high in the tree, hiding as the summer night blued then darkened to indigo, studded with stars. Bradbury was painting a portrait of wrath and murder, yet I was reading it and immersed in and sympathetic to the memories and mind of the killer. No matter how psycho crime blog readers once assumed I might be, that’s not me. Yet Bradbury put me there.

That’s magic. And the story is what, maybe 10 pages long?

God. Damn. To me, Bradbury becomes a wizard in those few pages. He invokes the scents, the taste, the light, and the howling vacuum in the soul of his essentially psychopathic protagonist.

So maybe I’m a short story writer, when we’re talking made-up stuff. Maybe that’s my general bent.

If so? If I can get even one story out there one day that in a mere 2000 words does what Ray Bradbury did for me reading his cold poetry of murder for another reader?

Well, fuck yeah. Good enough. Let’s go.

Hey y’all!

Wow, sorry I haven’t updated more often! Things have just been nutty around here, and my attention’s been scattered. First a mile-wide asteroid destroyed the closest nearby city, killing over 1 million and driving this hemisphere into a nuclear winter! Then I had a pretty bad hangnail. Also internet service is spotty. Anyway, don’t worry guys, totally updating more soon!

Puzzled

As I review this blog and what I’ve already posted here, I am a little confounded as to why I stopped posting. The original intent I had for this space–even the name struck me as just right, at the time–was for me to finally merge all my blogging impulses (news, crime, fitness, humor, weirdness) in a way that made sense. I was on my way to doing that here. Then I stopped.

I can only blame major mood disorders–chiefly depression–and ADHD. Perhaps especially the last.

And this post is a bit more navel-gazing, but it is in keeping with an effort I’m making to write more and about what’s really going on in my head.