Mindsets Writing

Writer’s remorse and things you can’t take back

Writer’s remorse is a horrible, sickening feeling. It’s usually accompanied by the thought (or words), “I probably shouldn’t have told you that!”.

There are days, weeks even, when stuff happens and my first impulse is to start writing about it and sharing it with BIG BOLD CAPITAL LETTERS because, as we all know, that Makes It All Alright. Actually, it rarely does, but it seems like the Right Thing To Do at the time.

I’ve written about why writing is so important to me (quite a lot) and when I have one of Those Days, writing is one of the few outlets that work for me. I’m not the only person who resorts to words in challenging times. Take this advice by Chuck Palahniuk, for example:

The challenge in times such as these is how to express yourself constructively. By “constructively”, I mean not in a way that wrecks your career, relationships or results in the sort of outcome you know you will regret later.

Flying off the proverbial handle and publishing your most visceral thoughts on the public Web may seem like the right response to a difficult situation, at the time. Unfortunately, it is also often conducive to that profound regret and shame you may feel the morning after a questionable encounter in a dimly lit bar.

In times like these it is usually wise to follow suggestions that you not click the “Publish” button right away. Even if publishing immediately seems utterly necessary and delaying means not having the desired impact.

Just don’t publish yet. Give the fog time to dissipate, give yourself time to process it all. Then edit and publish (if it is still relevant).

There are times when that expression of rage or profound disappointment needs to be expressed. Other times, it’s ok to relegate your verbal fury to your growing folder of post drafts to gather digital dust.

Some days, just the process of taking those thoughts and feelings and expressing them are enough. Publication isn’t always the answer, as easy as it is to do it.

Today is one of Those Days for me and the one piece of advice that bubbles up from the recesses of my foggy mind is this: Don’t be bitter, be better.

I’m going to publish this one, though.

Image credit: Pixabay

Blogs and blogging Writing

Facebook can’t censor your blog posts

I came across a post on Facebook that is a great reminder that Facebook can’t censor your blog posts when you publish them outside Facebook’s sphere of influence.

Two days ago, Facebook deleted my personal account of the Holocaust, my intellectual property, for no reason in the world and under the sole justification that it “violated Facebook standards.”

I don’t know if Facebook actually did delete the original version of this post but this sort of thing happens on services like Facebook (and not just Facebook) all the time (often for good reasons, too).

Essentially, services like Facebook can (and do) remove posts that they feel are in violation of their terms of service. Reasons can include posts that advocate racism, incite people to commit violence and other bad things.

Sometimes, though, posts are removed simply because they offend some troll’s peculiar sensitivities. Examples of this include posts depicting breastfeeding.

Ran Shirdan’s Facebook highlights the importance of having your own space on the Web that companies like Facebook (and others) can’t censor simply because your content doesn’t meet their standards. It is almost trivially easy to create your own space on the Web which can share from to other services. Start with or even Medium.

Sure, the flipside of this is that racists, bigots and other offensive people can also publish their crap outside Facebook’s sphere of influence but that is the trade-off for your ability to publish the stuff that is meaningful to you and that you feel should be shared with the world without fear of being arbitrarily censored. By the way, there are ways to deal with bad stuff being published on independent sites too but they aren’t perfect.

Sometimes you have something important to share. Sometimes you just want to share something that isn’t that important. You should be free to express yourself in legitimate ways without worrying that some troll will have you censored.

Blogs and blogging Writing

Blogging for 10 years and still going

This blog began its life under a different domain on 6 December 2004. It has survived in one form or another until now, thanks and no thanks to me. I started my blog after tinkering with blogging back in the primordial days of the social Web when blogging was the New Thing, after interactive fora. Keeping a blog alive for 10 years feels like an achievement. Having 3 527 blog posts under my metaphorical belt (not counting this one) feels like I have made a meaningful contribution towards documenting my life and the things that interest me. It is something worth commemorating.

I’ve created multiple blogs, merged them into this one, almost killed this blog on many occasions (my most recent attempt was particularly spectacular). After blogging here very sporadically, this blog started to become more meaningful and almost losing a decade’s work (some of it probably wasn’t worth saving but it all represents aspects of me at some point or another), I decided to make a point of using it more often.

Blogging seems to be having a sort of Renaissance. You may have noticed a number of prominent bloggers returned to blogging with a 30 Day Challenge they took on to blog every day. I was tempted to do that but didn’t see myself sticking to that and still posting something worthwhile every day. I’ve thought about podcasting through SoundCloud or even doing video posts but as much as I enjoy consuming audio and video content, creating it hasn’t stuck with me. Writing remains my favourite way of expressing myself, followed closely by my photography.

10 years is a convenient time period to commemorate blogging. It certainly feels like a substantial period of time. At the same time, the underlying writing habit pre-dated it and will probably stay with me for decades to come. I blog because of some compulsion to share stuff and as blogging tools become easier to use, I expect I’ll blog more often. It is still one of the best ways to express yourself in your space that won’t vanish when terms of service change (at least, less likely, I hope).


Moderating yourself in the Information Age

Mike makes an appealing argument for integrity informed by a complete representation of your self online in his post titled “The Measure of Character in the Information Age“. He argues that we shouldn’t have to delete anything we publish if we conduct ourselves responsibly. At the same time, I believe he is also arguing that we should be authentic and express ourselves from that authenticity (at least, that is how I interpret what he is suggesting):

Knowing full well that I am the kind of person who enjoys this reality, I want to be the kind of man who never has to delete anything. Who never has to worry about that email I sent to my tax man about that loophole getting published or passed on somewhere (that was a hypothetical example :)). Who never has to delete a WhatsApp message. Who never has to delete the updates or tweets I publish. Because if I do, I’m lying to someone. More importantly, if I do, I’m lying to myself. Which is a great barometer for weak character. Nobody wants that.

I have made some spectacularly bad decisions when it comes to publishing my thoughts about a range of topics and I have even deleted a couple of posts and updates after either reconsidering them or having people I respect approach me to reconsider my publications. My tendency to publish impulsively, especially when I am annoyed or upset, has probably cost me quite a bit in terms of my credibility, potential business and personal relationships.

I’d like to live in a world in which the people we engage with form a bigger picture view of who we are and what we stand for despite the occasional emotional storms that rock our inner oceans. There are times when it seems we are living in that sort of world but, for the most part, the things we publish have a much more immediate and profound impact on perceptions and relationships regardless of who we are from a broader perspective. People, it seems, rarely adopt a meta view of each other, they’re usually being tossed around by the choppy water too much to look around and into the distance.

Where that leaves us is that moderating yourself, our public expressions of our thoughts and feelings. On the one hand that leaves us with a somewhat diminished sense of personal integrity when we don’t speak our truths completely and confidently but, on the other hand, moderating ourselves enables us to function in our society more effectively.

If the measure of character in this Information Age is what you feel you need to delete and censor, be the kind of person that doesn’t have to.

Mike’s conclusion is compelling but I’m not so sure that this is the solution. Very few people are the sorts of people who don’t need to “delete and censor”, either because they are immune to public perception of their controversial views or because they are credible people with integrity who don’t have a mean tweet in their literary bones. Most of us are flawed, irrational, compulsive and have far too many ways to publish our thoughts and feelings without thinking too much about it beforehand.

This comes up for me when I think about defamation (wearing my lawyerly hat, if lawyers wore hats). An analogy that comes to mind is this quote by late US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis in his opinion in the case of Whitney v. California, 274 U.S. 357, 376 (1927):

Those who won our independence by revolution were not cowards. They did not fear political change. They did not exalt order at the cost of liberty. To courageous, self-reliant men, with confidence in the power of free and fearless reasoning applied through the processes of popular government, no danger flowing from speech can be deemed clear and present, unless the incidence of the evil apprehended is so imminent that it may befall before there is opportunity for full discussion. If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.

The emphasis is mine.

The reason why this comes to mind in the context of Mike’s post is that I keep thinking that instead of finding ways to close the net around people’s self-expression because of the myriad ways that expression offends others and may even result in some sort of harm (I don’t include categories of hate speech and incitements to do harm – that is not and should not be protected for good reasons), we should all grow up a little and remember the nursery rhyme:

Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never harm me


The parts of me that wants to …

I have a copy of Hugh Prather’s “Notes to Myself” which is a collection of thoughts and ideas which a friend of mine recommended a few years ago. I eventually bought the book, started reading it and then put it down for a couple years. I picked it up again recently and have carried it in my bag.

I’ve done a little travelling lately and the book has come in handy in that time between when the plane begins its descent and we’re supposed to pack away our devices and landing at my destinations. It’s the sort of book you can read piecemeal. Prather’s thoughts are anything from a line to a paragraph or two and each one is a gem. One quote that appeals to me is this one:

There is a part of me that wants to write, a part that wants to theorize, a part that wants to sculpt, a part that wants to teach…. To force myself into a single role, to decide to be just one thing in life, would kill off large parts of me.

This speaks to an ongoing internal debate I have about my identity and how I present that identity to the world. Am I a lawyer, strategist, writer, photographer … what defines me and how does my chosen identity affect how I present all those other desires I have to express myself in other ways? Prather’s point, of course, is that creating these false distinctions between different parts of our selves or even forcing ourselves to choose one “role” is ultimately harmful. How to reconcile them isn’t so easy, especially when your different “roles” are diverse.

Just the same, I suppose a healthier starting point is “Parts of me want to do different things and I don’t necessarily have to choose which to do, only when and how to do them.”

Art Creative expression Politics and government

Spear to the heart

This Zuma painting debacle is becoming sickening. An artist paints a work that criticises the president and the response is outrage and an implicit insistence that the president is beyond reproach and criticism. Today two people protest the painting in a bold but non-violent protest by defacing it (and apparently ruining it) and their protest is met with violence by security which failed to prevent the defacement in the first place.

The irony is that the security guard’s response, while it’s probably what he is trained and paid to do, is a physical expression of what the ANC is trying to do in Court this week. Why didn’t the gallery take more proactive steps to protect the painting from an inevitable protest like this? This was foreseeable and there must have been ways to stop this from happening. Instead we have this violent response to a protest action where a camera just happened to be rolling (boy, that does seem a little contrived).

I certainly didn’t see the younger guy resisting the security guard or trying to evade capture. What I saw was a disproportionate response to an act that could have been avoided or certainly handled better.