Die Antwoord vir Facebook

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I’ve been listening to a lot of Die Antwoord lately because as a late-30s, married Hispanic male who only drives Japanese imports, I’m obviously their target demographic. Like every single one of my friends, I hadn’t heard of Die Antwoord until I saw them in Chappie. Then I checked out their music and got seriously hooked. Now I can’t stop watching their videos and blasting Doos Dronk every time I get the weepies. Wait, no, that doesn’t sound right. It was while listening to Doos Dronk for the 117 thousandth time that I boarded a train of thought that went straight to HateMyself-ville. I’ll explain.

I’ve been falling out of love with Facebook for almost a year now, probably since the run-up to the election. I tried several times to make it work for me by hiding people who posted nothing but gun porn, by only posting haikus, and penultimately (?), by simply withdrawing from posting, commenting, and liking altogether. Then came Cambridge Analytica and several days in a row of logging into Facebook and being presented with what I’d call absolute garbage.

So I deleted my Facebook account. And Instagram. Same difference.

Back to Die Antwoord.

I’m sitting there rocking out (every Fok jou by Yolandi makes me smile) and thinking about how since Die Antwoord is a South African group and the company I work for does business in South Africa, there’s an outside chance that I could one day travel there and maybe see Yolandi and Ninja in concert (provided they’re not too big to play SA anymore).

This thought made me happy.

I imagined myself flying over there, helping out a customer during the day, then changing into my J-Crew Punk Outfit to head out to the concert. I thought about the heat and the alcohol and the music and the drugs and the danger.

These thoughts made me happy as well.

But then, I imagined the stage and me getting close to it to snap a selfie. Ooooh, I thought, I can post it on Facebook to show everyone how cool this thing is that I’m doing.

That thought did not make me happy.

I’m currently reading a book about relationships (I do my research), and the author mentions the connection between adoration, admiration, and Facebook, and how social media can create unfair standards for couples to live up to. Adoration and admiration are both emotional needs (See: John Gottman), and the feedback we get from Facebook is so intense (comments and likes) that no one person could possibly compete with it.

Over the last decade, I’ve totally developed a need to entertain because being entertaining garners the most positive attention. Comments and likes are validation. And don’t me started on the laughing emoji or the coveted wow! I’d been off Facebook for only a few days when I read about this idea of unrealistic adoration standards, but it made sense to me. It makes me wonder how it affected my past relationships.

Since deleting my account, I’ve been spending more time interacting with people in person. And also emailing. Not everyone likes that. As my graphic artist Lauren put it: This personal email thing is weird.

And yeah, it’s a little weird because it’s much more personal (intimate minus the sexual connotation), and Facebook has more or less killed intimacy. Everything we do is now out there for the world to see and measure and buy. Conversations about Trump or Die Antwoord are never just between two people anymore; they’re publicly posted on walls for extended acquaintances to comment on.

Personal is good. Intimate is good. In just a week without Facebook, I’ve already rediscovered the joy of interacting directly with people.

I don’t need to know what my 8th grade typing teacher (Hi Mr. P!) thinks of my photos from a Die Antwoord concert. I’d want to know what Dom thinks because I know she would be proud of this socially anxious novelist travelling to South Africa to attend a concert. And really, as my wife, she’s the one who’s committed to giving me the adoration and admiration that I need to be happy.

That’s not to say family and friends can’t provide you with that as well. They absolutely can. Finding Die Antwoord fans among my friends (strange no one has brought it up) is a lot of fun as we discuss which song is the best and which video the most disturbing. But all of that has to happen directly.

Intimately.

I don’t miss Facebook, but I have missed these direct connections. I’m looking forward to reestablishing relationships that can’t be used as data points for advertising and political influence. I’m going to reconnect with my friends and family and fellow JKD students and fellow writers and everyone else who have been just pictures on a website for far too long.

And that thought makes me happy.

Love, Angst, and Marriage

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Last week, at the ripe old age of 37, I got married. It was a small affair with family and friends, just west of Dripping Springs, Texas in the Hill Country. The weather had been rainy leading up to the day, but on Friday, the sun was shining and a cool breeze was blowing. Dominique was beautiful, the flowers were beautiful, and everyone we hired to play music and serve food did a great job. We danced the night away with friends and later, listened to stories from drunken family members as we sat around a fire. All of that was expected… what I didn’t expect was that in the course of writing my toast for the reception, I would finally nail down where my writing style came from.

I’ll explain.

As religion fades from popularity, traditional church weddings will surely follow. We were no exception, and through a series of compromises, we settled on a non-denominational ceremony. I was surprised to learn, upon meeting with our officiant, that we could write any ceremony we wanted. What an opportunity! A writer who has written about love all his life with the chance to write his own ceremony? Surely, he would not pass that up, right?

Ha! Wrong.

With El Matador going on 10 months, a book to finish, a wedding to finalize, and so on and so on, there just wasn’t any time. So we compromised again and Frankensteined a new ceremony based off the officiant’s past work. That did not, however, keep us from having to write our own vows, and in my case, a toast.

I went through several iterations before settling on a final version. I kept the political jokes at bay and removed anything vaguely sexual (I’m so glad we decided to wait until marriage, sweetie, as El Matador looks on). Early on in the process, I found myself sitting and thinking about a single question: what is love?

Baby, don’t hurt me.

It dawned on me that I have been trying to understand love since a very young age. I continue to explore the concept in my books, rifling through the variants as if choosing a flavor of ice cream: I’ll have one scoop of unrequited love, a scoop of romantic love, and two scoops of pragmatic love with a cherry of infidelity on top.

One draft of my toast started like this:

I started keeping a diary when I was fifteen. It was in a Word doc that I named dec6.doc and it’s still on my computer. The first line? Fuck the world. I was fifteen. Also, I had started using fiction to help deal with my problems. So I would sit down and write as if my life were a story, and I’d make things out to be bigger than they were, and I’d get my rage and frustration and sadness out that way.

My diary wasn’t about my day-to-day life, and I didn’t write it in more than a couple times per month. What I wrote wasn’t an accurate depiction of my life either, and over time, I realized I’d created a second, fictional Daniel.

What I wrote most about was love, or at least, what I thought love to be. And over the years, I noticed I was constantly redefining what love actually is. This continued to present day in my books. I’m still trying to figure out what makes relationships tick. Relationships… not love. I’m no longer trying to understand love. At 37 years old, I’ve taken a stand on what I think love is.

Love is a choice.

At that point, as I started to meander towards describing love versus attraction, I abandoned this thread. I didn’t need to tell a room full of people what love was. They either knew or they didn’t. And regardless, my opinion on the matter shouldn’t really hold any water for them.

Also, worse, love is a choice just sounds kinda shitty. Too pragmatic. It implies that we choose to love someone but that we aren’t compelled to love them. That sounds a little more like codependency to me, not love. You may be compelled to love someone, to feel a connection you can’t explain nor would ever want to, but you choose to be with them, you choose to work on that love and make it into a relationship.

My early novels are blatantly focused on the idea of love, but there’s no discussion of how that love came to be. In Xronixle, X loves his high school sweetheart C, so he makes a copy of her in virtual reality after she breaks up with him. But why does he love her? Even if it is simple puberty-fueled, high school love, it should be addressed and investigated. Having lived and written the book, and having come out the other side, I know, as the author, that what X felt wasn’t love… but how do I express that in a story?

I didn’t. 24 year old Daniel didn’t even try to explore it. Shame on you, young Daniel.

I feel like I did a better job of questioning love in my latest book, Por Vida. There is love between Sepideh and Natasha, but it’s because they fill holes in each other’s lives. There’s love between Doyle and Vida, but it’s revealed to be more obsession than anything else.

And spoiler alert for my newest book, but there are two characters, a male and female, who by all rules of storytelling, should fall in love. But they don’t. The story, the situation, and the characters themselves don’t allow it.

There always has to be a reason people love each other. There has to be a reason people choose love.

Last night, Dominique wanted to watch the first episode of Altered Carbon, which I certainly didn’t mind seeing again. After it was over, I asked her thoughts and she said it was interesting. We talked briefly about Science Fiction in general; she’s not a big fan of the violence and futuristic technology.

To which I replied:

That’s the thing about Science Fiction. You have to look past the technology and the guns and the gratuitous nudity, because at its core, it’s just a story about people, and relationships, and love. The story is always about humanity.

And that’s how I write my books. Technology, both real and fictional, allows us to look at our humanity in ways never thought possible. Eternal re-sleeving. Memory modification. Virtual reality. Augmented reality. Instant communication. I mean, look what social media has done to us in just the last few years…

Lastly…

I think love, relationships, and humanity are at the core of every good Science Fiction novel (and other genres as well). Books like Replay by Ken Grimwood and The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger come to mind.

Hell, even 1984, with its bleak dystopian setting and eerily prescient system of government, comes down to one single, simple, devastating act of betrayal between two humans. That’s it. Do it to her. The reader feels something in that moment, and I’ve always wondered if that was the one true emotion George Orwell wanted to communicate to people, so much so that he built an entire world just to support it. Who did he betray in his lifetime? Or who betrayed him?

Anyway, choose love, my fellow writers. Choose relationships and humanity. You can still have your mechs and your spaceships and your vorpal swords, but if there aren’t any people in your story… what’s the point?