An ode to AIM.

This bit of news almost slipped through the cracks of my newsfeed, but I thought I owed a few words to the platform, before it is cancelled forever in December.  In college, AIM was the first platform I communicated with to my then boyfriend, now husband.  It’s how we stayed in touch (for free) when I moved to Australia for a few months after we started dating.  It’s how I virtually met a group of amazing fan fiction authors that I’m still in touch with today (although we use Discord).  We would spend hours in a private chat rooms, hatching out plots and developing stories — getting me through a particularly terrible employment situation on more than one occasion.  It’s the only platform I have to remember a friend who took his life a few years previously, and one of the last ways we ever were in contact.  In fact, after I heard of his suicide, I thought ‘What if I had logged in more?  What if I could’ve been there for him?’  As an expat, MSN Messenger and AIM were critical ways to keep in touch with friends back home in our early years of living overseas.

I only have a few conversations from AIM saved (mostly about story ideas or funny in the moment chats), but from my first experiences online to roughly 2010 or so, it was the program I always made sure was downloaded onto whatever computer I happened to be on.  I imagine I started logging in less once Facebook messenger was introduced to the point that as of yesterday I couldn’t remember the last conversation I had on AIM.  And yet, part of me longs for the silly icons, noises, and away messages — a simpler time in my life and the world.

I logged in for the first time in many years yesterday, surprised the same password worked for my handle ‘cbrandtwright’ (one of my later names… I believe the first was CSailorV17 in 1995 or so).  There were actually a few people logged in, but I didn’t hit them up for a chat (mostly because they live on the other side of the world, and secondly, because I didn’t believe they were actually logged on to receive my message).  Instead, I went through my list of buddies… Names from versions of myself that no longer exist — former bosses and co-workers, early supporters of me as an author, and, the oldest one, from a high school friend with a name involving an inside joke that I helped come up with.  Literally, a name from my life in 1995.  One that we made up while sitting in her basement, typing away at an old desktop.  Courtney at 37 looks back at Courtney at 15 and shakes her head.

As I looked at this list, I thought of the hours of conversations.  Sometimes important.  Sometimes just checking in.  Sharing links or pictures.  Learning how to flirt.  Logging in to see a name that would make you smile.  Checking an away message to see if there was any hidden meaning.

The technology made it into my first four books.  Before text messages, before all the ways we can talk to each other now, AIM was the largest platform.  Part of me wants to ‘modernize’ my novels, and part of me wants them to live on as a testament to outdated technology.

So, here’s to AIM.  While for the most part, I think technology moves forward and modernizes and we all move on without marking time, for this moment, here’s to my formative years and the countless conversations that made me, me.

On using one’s voice in social media.

This is a subject that has actually been on my mind for a few months, made more relevant by recent tragic events around the world, but especially in conjunction with my home country.  So, I’m American.  It is not a particularly lovely or good time to be American.  As an expat, I’ve already explored this topic a bit.  I feel helpless, frustrated, stressed, and anxious and pretty much every day it gets worse and not better.  For better or worse, I check Twitter twice a day.  In today’s world, 140 characters is about all I can take.

Obviously, as a social media platform, anyone can write whatever they see fit.  Celebrities, authors, your best friend, your best friend’s mom, etc.  Like any form of social media, it’s a place to quickly disseminate an opinion.  For those who have more people following them, an idea is expressed to a larger group.

Where am I going with this?  There are a few authors I follow, many of whom have a much (much!) larger platform than I do.  And in recent events (and past events) they’ve remained utterly quiet.  And I don’t know why, but this completely disappoints me.  For the most part, the authors I follow are quite vocal and unrelenting in their support of social causes.  They use their network to speak about important issues (just as I do).  The same goes for many celebrities I follow, many whom I have gained respect for.  While there is no law or best practice, I’d like to think that if I had a larger platform I would use my voice to champion others who don’t have a voice.  To issues that mattered to me.  But for those who choose to remain silent and acknowledge nothing?  I have a hard time understanding why.

The worst part?  I’m a huge hypocrite.  If you look at my A to Za’atar accounts, you won’t fine much, if anything political.  I justify this by telling myself it’s because people follow me for food/culinary opinions and do not particularly want to be reminded that the current American leadership makes me sick, frustrated, and angry on a daily basis.  I rarely, if ever, post my feelings on Facebook, mostly because as part of my self care, I don’t want to be reminded of all the terrible things that are taking place.  It’s as if I can easily compartmentalize where I want my thoughts to go.  Of course, there are certain things I can’t be quiet about and choose to share my opinions across literally any platform I have access to.

What am I getting at?  I wish there was a way to be more honest to myself and  my beliefs while maintaining a healthier mental state.

Doge gif makes us all feel better.

How involved are you on social media?  How often do you want to see the opinions of others?  In your opinion, what is the best way to express opinions in these difficult times?

Real Talk: Is it time to go back to the real world?

I’ve been struggling with this thought for the past few weeks (yes, before I published The Queen).  And let’s go ahead and say, I’m WELL aware of the privilege in this post.  We are a household that can comfortably exist on one income — I understand this is not the case for everyone and that I am super fortunate to have even had the chance to my little experiment.

In case you weren’t aware, intentionally, I’ve been out of the traditional job force for the past year and a half.  In that time I’ve managed some successes — published a book, finished a trilogy, traveled, volunteered with K9 Friends, kept the house mainly in order, and did fairly well with food writing stuff.  Honestly, that’s about the sum total of my efforts.  For the above, as you might well imagine, I’ve been paid roughly less than a pittance.  Sure, a few bucks for some articles and not having to pay for meals while in Dubai has been great, but those things don’t actually contribute to the overall earnings of a household.  This is magnified by knowing others who I deeply respect and are in similar positions to mine and have managed to, you know, actually get paid.  And just so we’re clear, this is entirely my opinion — I have felt zero pressure from my wonderful husband for any of this, throughout the past 18 months.  He’s never once asked, “So, when are you going to start making money?”

As much as I dislike being around people (thank you, misophonia), I do enjoy making money (and, of course, spending it, especially in this political climate).  Essentially, I think the practical and rational side of myself is telling me, “You had a good try, but when can you admit that you’re not going to earn a living from writing?”  Man, that was a tough sentence to write.  The flip side of this coin is that I am actually good at work.  I leave organizations better than I found them.  I have a better than average work ethic, work longer hours than I’m ever paid for, and have put up with my fair share of shit over the years.  Spoiler alert, that’s everyone, I know.  Still, I have stellar recommendations.

So, I decided that the end of this year was my cut off before I started looking for work (although, knowing me, it will be sooner).

I am never going to give up writing, however, even as I get compliments on my work, these kind thoughts aren’t going to pay the bills.  I am part of numerous author groups and see the successes — goals that seem forever out of reach for me.  Maybe if the Amazon clusterfuck hadn’t happened, I might be in a different situation.  Maybe if I had planned a better release calendar for The Queen, or kept after Joe, I might have a bigger audience.  Maybe if I published more novels in a year (and yes, I have those books to publish).  Maybe if I hustled more.  Or maybe, my audience is never going to be large enough to support me.  Maybe I don’t write books for the masses.  Maybe I’ll just have this little side vanity project for my whole life and that will have to be enough.

It’s tough because anyone who knows me understands how much I hate to waste time.  Thus, what has this time ‘off’ been?  I was always going to write the books, so, it’s not as if they only came into existence because I wasn’t tied to a desk.  I suppose learning that you’re not meant to do the thing you thought your whole life was intended to be isn’t a waste of time, but it certainly doesn’t feel all that great.  Or maybe 18 months isn’t long enough to determine that fact.

Let’s see what the universe holds next for me.  As always, maybe ‘author’ is just one of the things that define me.  While I wanted it to be one of the main things, perhaps there is something else.

On the topic of abandoning books.

abandoning a book

This infographic stuck out to me recently.  For the longest time, I felt the responsibility (for lack of a better word) to finish any book I started (no matter how bad it was).  And then, in the last year, with a few exceptions, I sort of changed my outlook.  While I haven’t had the luxury of a library in close to ten years, I have been able to source free books through NetGalley, or daily Kindle deals.  (I’ll also admit that I’m a bit of a moody reader, and sometimes need to be in the right frame of mind to start and connect with a book).

Now, I tend to follow a pattern of giving a book at least 20% and if I’m more or less ‘checking out,’ then I pop over to Goodreads to see what others think.  I’m not sure why I seek out opinions, but for the most part, I usually find a reviewer who has the same impression I do (and then decide if I’m going to finish the book or skim it, or straight up ‘hate read’ — much like a ‘hate watch’).

So, are you a finisher?  Do you complete any book you start?  If not, what makes you put a book down?  For me, my biggest turn off is a lack of connection with the main character.  If I’m not engaged or straight up don’t care about their story, I just won’t read on.  Similarly, if a trope is played too hard, I also find that fairly off-putting.