A Novel in 30 Days

I’ve done it now! I’ve gone ahead and signed up for NaNoWriMo. What is that? You might ask. Well, it’s an online event where every November people from around the globe sign up to write their own 50, 000-word novel.

Many of you may know that I’m currently working on a novel as part of my Master of Fine Arts degree with Southern New Hampshire University. It’s going well, and I have about 20,000 words invested in it. However, it’s slow and very meticulous work.

I’ve decided to let my hair down with this little side project and get my debut novel jitters out.

September was a difficult month all around, and in October I basically flew under the radar. This month I’m ready to get back into the blogosphere with this fun event. I hope you’ll join me, either by signing up yourself or simply helping to cheer me on. I’ll be sharing my progress here and on the Mothering Humanity Facebook Page.

Where did this new book idea come from? I wrote a short story a few weeks back for SNHU’s Fall Fiction Contest, based on a dream I had. Trying to boil the sprawling concept down to 1,500 words was impossible, and I hated the finished product. I ended up writing an entirely different story two nights later between 1 and 5 a.m., and submitting option two to the contest after confirming with a couple trusty readers that it was the better of the two choices.

Now, as part of NaNoWriMo, I’m going to unpack the unsuccessful bit of flash fiction that was option one, and convert it into a fun-loving little novel in 30 days, giving my characters the room they require to grow.

Since the event starts today, I’ve already wasted 24 precious hours debating whether or not I had the guts to go ahead and sign up. You see… I’ve been wanting to do this for years, and I could never fully talk myself into this madness. But, here I go!

If you think you might enjoy (or need) a welcome distraction from other events this month, please follow me down the rabbit hole as I try my hand at romance writing:

The Shamrock: Pub, Grub, & Love: Everything exciting happening in Maitlin makes its way into The Shamrock, eventually. That’s why this novel takes place in the only interesting hangout this one-horse town has to offer. Steal a bar stool and saddle up to this story about second chances, bromances, and women getting what they deserve.

Thanks for reading!

*Kristine*

Logo: Image courtesy of NaNoWriMo.

Where Are All My Friends, Facebook?

Living alongside a Spanish Navy base with a large American population for all these years has turned me into “the friend who always stays.” I meet amazing American military-affiliated friends, we bond for the time they have here, and then they move on to their next duty station.

This summer marks my 16-year anniversary of moving to Spain. I have officially lived here longer than any other place in my life. In that time, I’ve said goodbye to some amazing friends.

I keep in contact with many of them to varying degrees. A couple of them I speak to monthly, others quarterly, and still others maybe yearly. Even though these relationships sustained me for a period of time and vice versa, each of my gal-pals has moved on and undoubtedly made new friends at new duty stations or in their civilian lives. Likewise, I have picked up new friends looking for a local companion here. It’s a fact of military life that you must create “framily” wherever you are stationed, so you have a reliable support system while you’re so far from home.

Some of these lovely ladies remain on my friends list on Facebook and we never interact except a like here and there and an annual birthday message. Others I’ve lost contact with completely. But I keep them in my heart, always.

Our shenanigans may prove good book material someday too! Similarly, our shared tears may be shared with future readers via various characters in my fictional works to come.

I love the saying, “God sends us friends for a reason, season, or lifetime.” It also makes me sad, though. I wish I had enough time and energy to keep up with all of my girlfriends, equally. We had some really amazing times together.

Summer is traditionally a high-transfer season for military families. This year, a treasured church buddy moved to the other side of the world.

Even with social media, it’s hard to check up on all my peeps, because Facebook keeps getting noisier and noisier. It was once a place to really connect with family and friends, share life stories, display photos of our latest happenings, and really comment (not just drop an emoji and a word or two and move on).

Have you noticed that social media is barely social these days?

I have to sift through political posts, get past sponsored garbage, climb over individual soapboxes, connect with causes, read newsworthy articles, and check out what some of my favorite pages and groups are up to occasionally. It seems like all these things vie for my attention daily and I forget to visit the people who actually enrich my life.

Most of us are still posting photos and life events, but I get the impression that the majority of the interaction around these posts has become so surface… so superficial.

Aren’t these the sorts of posts for which Facebook was designed?

I mean, it’s become so impersonal that Facebook even gives me suggestions on how to respond to posts by showing me meme options and text/emoji combos and such.

Instead of talking and connecting, I feel we are shouting and subdividing. Instead of sharing our lives with an intimate group, we are sharing our time with strangers on third-party sites. And when it comes time to interact, we are offered rubber-stamp options by an aggregate.

These distractions are only going to get louder and more attention-grabbing as advertisers inundate social media. I know, because I’m learning about social media marketing. There’s a whole field of study into how marketers can target, entice and attract you, and then get you to pass on their message. I think social media marketing has a place, but I also think it should not be given the center stage it has been given in my Facebook feed.

I feel like I’m being smacked with all kinds of ads. They pop up after looking at a friend’s story. They are peppered into my newsfeed. They show up between videos. They top the right side of my computer screen. They even show up in Messenger.

The fact that the ads all relate to things I’ve viewed or discussed with my Facebook framily is creepy. Like… stop monitoring me, please!! Also, stop selling to me while I’m trying to say hello to my fam.

Maybe I’m weird, though. Maybe you like to be sold to all the time. Maybe social media is your one-stop shop for everything: news, entertainment, shopping, and socializing.

If so, you’ll be glad that Facebook has been taking notes for years from various other social media platforms on how to better market things to you. I get the impression from the social media giant that people are no longer viewed as users, but consumers.

According to a study done in Strategic Social Media, Brazil’s former number one social media site, Orkut, shut down in 2014, because other platforms were offering more social features in addition to satisfying the country’s advertising market. With a bit of digging, I learned that the majority of Brazilians switched to Facebook. The platform had apparently successfully merged marketing with social networking, for the perfect online experience.

But why is online marketing so important for Brazilians?

Photo Courtesy of BuzzFeed

In Brazil, outdoor marketing is banned. Bye-bye roadsigns and billboards. No more posters and publicity. How beautiful their country must look, free of advertising! According to an old BuzzFeed article, people actually started taking notice of Sao Paulo’s architecture, while the advertising industry was forced to move online or indoors.

Sadly for me, the successful fusion of marketing and social networking–as Facebook continues to find ways to monetization my online experience–is really taking away from the social experience the site once offered.

If only there was a way to opt-out of social media marketing, or relegate all that sort of media to a separate feed I could tap into when I have extra time.

If you think that the mixture of social media and marketing doesn’t have an effect on you, I’d beg to differ. If we weren’t being conditioned to absorb advertising constantly, we wouldn’t have started “marketing” our own messages to each other and trying to sell each other on certain issues, people, ideas, movements, products and messages.

I can’t even call up my parents anymore without getting into a debate over something they saw or read on Facebook. I want my family and friends back! I want to talk about the weather, what new recipe they’re gobbling up, what milestones my kids are reaching. I want to find out how their relationships are going, what they’re struggling with, and how I can help. I want social media to enhance these relationships by reducing the miles between us, helping us “see” each other, and engage intimately.

I’m tired of all the “squirrels” that are snagging my attention. I’m weary from all the debate. I’m sick of social media not being social. I want a friendly Facebook experience, and I can’t remember the last time that really and truly happened.

Luv&Hugs,

*Kristine*

Featured Image Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Friends Photo by Adrienn from Pexels

How Chinese Censorship Practices Could Effect You

“The great mask debate in the free world no longer interests me, if there are people being virtually gagged in the pandemic’s country of origin.”

-Mothering Humanity

Continuing in the same vein as last week’s blog post on censorship within social media. I was surprised and alarmed to find that it’s not only private Facebook groups that are being moderated and their narratives steered. An entire application can be commandeered, its message dictated, and its users silenced. It happens in China, daily, and it’s happening right now with the coronavirus.

Various news agencies including BBC News, NPR, and the New York Times, as well as the internet watchdog The Citizen Lab from the University of Toronto, Canada have all reported on the oppressive and tyrannical actions taken by the Chinese Government to silence social dissent and unrest on social media, and most recently in regards to the coronavirus. Although it’s been hard for the government to keep up on the sheer mass of social media and government criticism as of late, it seems one of the country’s most popular social media apps, WeChat, is only getting better and better at its monitoring methods and its censorship tactics.

WeChat (also known as Weixin)–with 1.15 billion users–is an all-in-one, super-charged social media app that is hailed by some critics as the future of mobile app technology. In Mahoney and Tang’s book Strategic Social Media, they claim:

“It offers a wide range of functions from sending a baby photo to friends, getting news, text messaging, to finding a cab on the street. Weixin is more than a combination of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and eBay. Audiences can do almost anything via Weixin, which makes the platform particularly appealing.”

“Sure, over a billion users have a highly-functional app in the palm of their hands that helps them avoid app-hopping for different services, but at what price to privacy and autonomy?”

-Mothering Humanity

One thing the book fails to mention in their glowing review of the app is the criticisms and backlash WeChat and its parent company Tencent has received for its cooperation with the Chinese Government to monitor and censor its users in an unethical way that infringes on individual freedoms and human rights.

Sure, over a billion users have a highly-functional app in the palm of their hands that helps them avoid app-hopping for different services, but at what price to privacy and autonomy? China is a dictatorship, and they are not shy about it. If the popularity of this app spreads around the world (there are already thousands of international users) and becomes a mainstay in social media, what will we be agreeing to?

This is an application owned and operated under a communist dictatorship. Privacy and security laws there are much different from the protections I enjoy as a European Union resident, and as a frequent user of U.S.-based app technology. Until coming across WeChat and researching their background, I have to admit that I would hop on my app store and download an app without even taking these sorts of things into consideration. I can’t tell you how many times I breezed through a “user agreement” to accept it and just hit download.

Not anymore!

The great mask debate in the free world no longer interests me, if there are people being virtually gagged in the pandemic’s country of origin. If you want to read up on the type of word combinations WeChat specifically monitored and censored as part of the coronavirus, and how the Chinese government sought to spin their response to the pandemic in the news, I would highly recommend checking out the report from The Consumer Lab.

If you’re wondering why I’m bringing up this sort of subject two weeks in a row, it is because I want to share my media literacy with you, so we can grow together as an online community. Media literacy is defined in Strategic Social Media as “the ability of users to critically access, analyze, evaluate, and create messages in a variety of forms.” In other words, I’m becoming a more intelligent consumer of online information, so I can more effectively discuss powerful and note-worthy messages with you!

Looking forward to our future conversations…

Best,

*Kristine*

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Featured Image Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

Facebook Groups: Community or Conditioning?

Post updated August 9, 2020

Have you ever felt like virtual groups you joined to lift you up and support you were actually having the opposite effect? When I was pregnant with my first child and struggling as a first-time mom, I found amazing support on Facebook from breastfeeding groups, to cloth diapering groups, to local parent support groups, and numerous pages and blogs in between ready and willing to answer all my questions.

Navigating the waters of motherhood would have proved a lot more difficult without them.

Lately, however, I’ve been searching for connection and not just information—what with the current world situation and finding myself at home with two small kids more often than ever before.

This virtual sisterhood that I’ve come to cherish over the last five years has recently been bringing me down, and I wanted to share my struggles with you.

One particular Facebook Group that I joined a few years back, which I believed would help me create the type of homelife I desire, has turned out to be a scary place to hangout. Whereas the group’s title is exactly what I thought I was seeking, the conversations held there—especially this year—have not reflected the group’s name. It feels like the group is being shaped or molded by the moderators and admins. More and more, I’m beginning to wonder if this is because it’s an American election year.

The group is a “moms” group. It is international, with members from around the world, but its membership is predominately American. It’s supposed to support spirituality and the crunchy kind of lifestyle I dabble with in different forms.

Since the beginning of the year, I’ve seen this group’s message become more and more narrow. Diverse voices from women of color were being silenced in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, the subsequent demonstrations and riots, and Blackout Tuesday. Sadly, many women left the group during this time.

Contrary opinions by group members in response to politically persuasive posts were being deleted by moderators, even if the comments were backed up with facts. In various posts where a mom would ask for honest opinions from fellow members regarding specific public figures, any criticisms that differed from the majority opinion were immediately addressed by the group admin or moderators with sugary sweet aggression. Basically, “agree or be quiet, please.”

At first, I felt like this was being done to help keep the peace. We’ve all seen these sorts of groups get out of hand with drama at times. Unfortunately, I kept seeing certain voices silenced and other voices amplified, certain messages promoted and other messages removed as the conversations were clearly being steered. All this within a moms support group.

Right now in my MFA studies, I’m taking a Communications class and a Marketing class in addition to my Creative Writing studies. Both classes outside my core curriculum address the social media landscape. The COMs class is teaching students how to identify “fake news” and judge various content on the Web for hidden bias and overall accuracy. With the help of this course, I can easily put a name on what has been lost by this moms group little by little this year, and that is objectivity.

“Objectivity is the extent to which material expresses facts or information without distortion by personal feelings or other biases.”

-M.A. Tate in Web Wisdom, 3rd Ed., 2018.

The Marketing class is teaching students how to sell a brand or message online and engage readers, especially via social media. It also extrapolates on the power of social media as a social change agent, if a business or organization can foster a sense of community. This class helps me to see exactly the type of member shaping and conditioning that is taking place within the Facebook Group I’ve been discussing–and it’s disturbing.

There are studies of Facebook Groups being created or infiltrated specifically with community shaping in mind, because Facebook is where people hangout most online and can be influenced. 

This moms group is large–a couple thousand followers–and new members are added daily. I’m distressed by the fact that, amid the childcare and faith dialogue, these unsuspecting members are being (very politely) force-fed a politically-charged message by a seemingly benign group, which flaunts a name that in my opinion does not reflect the hidden undercurrent being peddled.

When I wrote to a moderator concerning her deletion of a few comments in a thread promoting a controversial figure in the news today, she was unreceptive and could not explain her moderation actions, which were not a reflection of group established rules. When I then turned to the group administrator asking about these censorship tactics, I received no answer at all.

Here is a small excerpt from my private message to her: “I have offered differing opinions in the past on certain issues and never been censored. This [new] practice is not conducive to open and honest discussion and I find it disturbing that this group attempts to steer group opinion [in] a very singular direction. I agree on so many topics and support so much of what this group stands for, but I don’t let any one group dictate to me how I shall think or feel. Are you attempting to create a safe space here, or not?”

The truth is, I’m not looking to be politically persuaded by a Facebook Group of moms that is supposed to be trading in motherly and spiritual support. I understand the need to vent frustrations over current events, but the political stance held by the administrator and the moderators is getting so apparent, I’m beginning to wonder if someone is getting paid to spin the message.

There are plenty of Facebook Groups for politics. There are Facebook Groups for professionals to network. There are Facebook Groups for learning a new trade, or new diet, or new hobbie. Facebook even opened an avenue for businesses to create groups that could foster customer feedback and can help determine the future of the brand–you know, since mall surveys are pretty much a thing of the past. 

When we join those sorts of professional or business groups, though, we do so freely with a good sense of what to expect, since the message is more straightforward. I love some of the new writer’s groups I’ve joined recently.

However, in friendly support groups regarding personal topics like these moms groups, it begins to feel more like a meet up with confidants. We get really personal sometimes. If the group fosters a supportive vibe, sometimes it’s the only place some mothers can open up about private issues. I can’t believe this group that I cherished could become so skewed so quickly.

Is it a reflection of a politically polarised society at large? I don’t know.

From now on, I’m going to be a lot more cautious of these types of groups and their thinly-veiled ulterior motives. The world is divided enough without a support group of Christian mothers being conditioned to take a side.

Seek unity, friends! …and continue mothering humanity.

Luv&Hugs,

*Kristine*

Featured Image Photo courtesy of Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels