Throwing the Book at Facebook

I am distraught by the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

In case I have any readers who don’t pay specific attention to social media news, let me catch you up. Facebook was recently embroiled in a national scandal after it was revealed that it indirectly supplied personal data about 87 million of its users to a political firm called Cambridge Analytica, who then used it to construct psychological profiles during the 2016 Election to try and influence voter opinion. Which is sketchy enough, but the issue is further complicated by the the fact that the data was supplied without the knowledge or consent of any one of those 87 million users. You can read more details about the scandal here.

Promotional poster for The Social Network, the David Fincher film about the creation of Facebook. To think this story would seem mild now.
Promotional poster for The Social Network, the David Fincher film about the creation of Facebook. To think this story would seem mild now.

In the wake of it all, Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress, debates have been ongoing about whether Facebook should have been more forthcoming about the leak or should perhaps be better regulated, and for perhaps the first time in its digital lifetime, the #DeleteFacebook movement seems to be gaining serious traction. But the real question is: Are we prepared to actually bail on the social media giant? The real answer is: Probably not.

I’ve always had a little bit of a love/hate relationship with Facebook myself. I don’t love its sketchy origin story, I don’t particularly like its design, I don’t love that despite years of complaint we still cannot display posts in our feeds in chronological order, and now, I really don’t like that they play it extraordinarily fast and loose with our personal details. But there are a lot of things that I love and couldn’t give up about Facebook. The biggest of them all being that everyone is on Facebook. It’s hard to convert to solely using the Twitter or Google+ or Instagram’s of the world if only a fraction of the people you want to stay in touch with are using them. I mean, I probably even use Facebook’s proprietary Messenger app more than I use the one built into my phone for text messaging. It’s convenient, it’s what people know, and it isn’t likely to change without a good reason for people to change. MySpace eventually collapsed to Facebook because it was better to look at, it felt more exclusive (it was originally just for college students, after all!), it was user-friendly, and nobody had to worry about encountering unexpected Creed or Nickelback songs when they were searching for their friends. Facebook is king for a reason, folks.

But it also scares me. Shortly after the scandal became public knowledge, Facebook informed me that I was one of those 87 million users who had used the “This Is Your Digital Life” app that harvested all the data for Cambridge Analytica. Though I always try to remain open-minded and think for myself, what if I think a certain way because of how events were painted on social media? What if that’s the case for what you believe? What if an organization far more sinister than Cambridge Analytica were given our data? It’s a bit of a chilling thought! I took the opportunity to download all of my Facebook data myself a few weeks ago, and what I found was pretty eye-opening. All of my posts, photos, comments, likes, etc. were present and accounted for, of course. But so was an alarming amount of details that shouldn’t have been, such as the contact information from my phone… which includes contact information for people who don’t even have Facebook accounts! Also, fitting in with the whole purpose of Cambridge Analytica’s leak, I was also surprised to find that I was categorized as “Liberal,” despite the fact that I don’t consider myself loyal to and have never pledged allegiance to any political party on my profile.

The only solution that I’ve been able to come to without outright deleting my Facebook profile is to de-personalize it a bit. It’s still an excellent tool for sharing stuff, publicizing things that I’m into, and most importantly, staying in touch. I don’t think I could give up Messenger or sharing stupid videos at this point if I wanted to. But I’ll probably be scrubbing a lot of personal information off of it soon. I’ll be posting a lot less personal stories on there. I’ve closed the Facebook page for Tigger and Rufus (sorry fans, I know they’re sooo cute!). And I’ll instead be trying to strengthen my digital presence on this blog and on my other social spaces like Twitter and the like. If you aren’t following me, check out the top of the sidebar to your right! I’m on basically all the things!

Maybe it’ll turn out to actually be a good thing for this blog. Instead of blabbing all my stories on Facebook, I’ll actually be able to reserve some of them for this space instead. And I can still use Facebook to promote that I’ve posted. Win-win? Sounds like it to me!

Tell me all your thoughts on Facebook and Cambridge Analytica below!

Universe

I don’t want to brag, but something pretty cool happened to me this evening. And I want to share for some very important reasons that have to do with magic and the universe.

My dad and I were contemplating what to buy for dinner tonight. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to spend a lot of money. I wasn’t even sure if I could spend a lot of money. At least not until payday this coming Friday. My financial concerns eventually segued to talking about paying for school. Admittedly, I’m not great at money management. In fact, I sorta have a little bit of a reputation for being something of an impulse Amazon shopper. But I know when to buckle down and focus on saving my pennies when funds start getting a little tight. That being said, three semesters into community college (which is already as cheap as it can be), I’ve had to take two student loans just to make ends meet. I knew without question that I couldn’t justify requesting another one for semesters #4 and #5. I was going to have to figure something out. Sadly, that meant very likely having to withdraw from school for a while.

I’ve always thought it was peculiar that the popular sentiment is that you should stay in school. That you should learn as much as possible and be a lifelong student! But they sure do make funding that dream close to impossible for the folks who don’t come from families made of money. I would love to do nothing but absorb knowledge for the rest of my life, to be honest, but those two loans and my meager paychecks can’t fund it forever. It’s frustrating, stressful, and disheartening. And quite frankly, I was dreading having to start taking on the label of “college dropout.”

"Life has a funny way of working out just when you start to believe it never will."
“Life has a funny way of working out just when you start to believe it never will.” Image Credit.

Putting the dread behind me for a minute, I decided to log into my student portal to check a grade on a recent database design project. I was pleasantly surprised to find instead that I had been awarded a Federal Pell Grant for both fall and spring semesters of 2018 and 2019! Yeah, you read that right! A grant! As in literally free money you don’t have to pay back! I nearly fell out of my chair when I told dad and immediately felt the weight of burden lift off of my shoulders. The grant isn’t enough to completely cover the tuition of the next two semesters, but it’ll cover a pretty good chunk of it. A good enough chunk that I don’t foresee an issue with paying out of pocket for the rest. Most importantly, it’s a good enough chunk that I can breathe easy again.

The main reason that I wanted to share this story isn’t to celebrate or self-congratulate. I wanted to share because the first thing I thought after reflecting the entire evening back to myself was this: Sometimes, this universe is beautiful. Sometimes things just work out! Sometimes, whatever power has control over all of us is just plain looking out for you. I have a little trouble sometimes convincing myself that someone or anything is in charge somewhere. Sometimes I think “fate” is just a load of garbage. But moments like this reinforce for me the belief that maybe some kind of good karma or mojo or something is swirling about out there. Maybe Alanis was right when she sang about the funny ways of life?

Maybe life will work out for us after all, friends. We just gotta stick with it, even when we think it can’t get much worse. <3

Birthday Blogging

Once again, I’ve done a little bit of a disappearing act from these pages. If you’re one of my small handful of readers, I greatly apologize! While I always hesitate to describe my life as “hectic” (because there’s always someone way busier than I am), it hasn’t exactly been a slow couple of months. Recently, thanks to a link that I followed from Ma.tt that turned into a link that turned into another link, I’ve opted to create a /now page that might one day be of assistance. It’ll let you all know exactly what I’m busy and focused on when I’ve been more than just a little bit absent from these pages.

In the meantime, before I get that page up and running, there are a few things that I wanted to share my thoughts on. Since I’m limited for time even now as I type this post, I hope you’ll excuse the bulleted list format to keep me on track and out of here as swiftly as possible!

  • This gorgeous painting of my little Rufus kitty is now hanging in my bedroom/office. It was gifted to me by a dear friend this past Valentine's Day!
    This gorgeous painting of my little Rufus kitty is now hanging in my bedroom/office. It was gifted to me by a dear friend this past Valentine’s Day!

    Today was my birthday! Hooray for being born!!! It was fairly uneventful, which is honestly how I like it as I get older. Everyone’s thoughts and well wishes throughout the day were immensely appreciated! In lieu of gifts this year, I’ve instead asked my Facebook friends to participate in a fundraiser for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. Pancreatic cancer is the type my own mother passed away from, so it’s an important cause to everyone in my family and to thousands and maybe even millions of others. Already I’ve managed to raise $295 of a proposed $1,000 goal, and the fundraiser will be open for anyone who wants to donate until the end of March. Anything you can spare, even if it’s just sharing the fundraiser to your own Facebook or other social media page, is immensely helpful!

  • A week or two after the beginning of the spring semester, I dropped a class for the first time in my college career. Though I’m disappointed in myself for not being able to keep up with it like I thought I could, I know that it was ultimately the right decision. I’m eventually going to have to make a better attempt at the class again later, but for now, I’m focusing my energies on some other topics that I’m enjoying learning about much more. For example, I was able to get into a Music Appreciation class for one of my Humanities electives, and it has been a real joy to learn and experience music through the ages in a different way. As part of a semester-long report project that I need to complete for that class, I’ll be attending “The Music of U2” concert being performed by the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra on March 16th. Seems like the perfect way to kick of St. Patrick’s Day weekend to me!
  • We can buy alcohol on Sundays now in Indiana! Yes, we were in fact the last state in the union to finally ditch the archaic, Prohibition-era law that restricted alcohol sales on Sunday, but no more!!! I exercised my new civic right, as I think most Hoosiers did, by purchasing a bottle of liquor at my neighborhood Kroger the first Sunday that I was legally able!
  • Speaking of cool things happening around Indy, I feel obligated to mention how neat the new Indianapolis Ballet is! I went to their debut performance of The Firebird at Newfields a couple of weeks ago with some good friends and followed it up by attending their New Works Showcase at IndyFringe’s Basile Theatre this past weekend. This is a hugely talented group being added to the city and worth checking out if dance and performing arts are your thing!
  • I don’t like to write much about my job or the company that employs me here too much because you never know who’s reading. But I’m excited enough to mention, at the very least, that I’m in the process of transitioning to a new role in the coming weeks! The new position is much more administrative and less results-focused, but mostly, the nerd in me is just excited to learn new things and have new sets of tools at my disposal! It’s still a work in progress at the moment, as I obviously need to fully train my replacement before moving on, but I’m hopeful and really looking forward to the eventual move!
  • If This Is Us hasn’t been nearly moving you to tears on a weekly basis, you have no heart.
  • I finally broke out my 642 Things to Write About book of writing prompts, so my goal is to start writing in here again pretty regularly. I’m signed up for practically all the prompts as it is, but you all know how life goes… The best laid plans and all that.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go finish my dinner and hit the hay. Have a great rest of the week, folks, and I hope to be back before the end of March. 😉

By the way, I’m on Snapchat now! Feel free to get your add on and send me all ya silly selfies!

What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been

Back when I played World of Warcraft, I loved the in-game holidays. In order to provide a little flexibility, and also, presumably, not to offend anyone, the game developers created completely original holiday celebrations and festivals as stand-ins for real-world events. There was the Feast of Winter Veil to encompass the winter holidays, Hallow’s End for Halloween, Love is the Air for Valentine’s Day, etc. Participating in the game’s holiday events often times rewarded players with in-game items they could not obtain during any other part of the year. Eventually, if you celebrated every holiday and participated in every activity throughout the year, you would be awarded with one hell of an achievement titled “What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been.” Said achievement would also reward the player with one hella cool dragon you could fly around Azeroth! Check it out:

Violet Proto-Drake excitement! #NerdAlert!
Violet Proto-Drake excitement! #NerdAlert!

Unfortunately, I never earned my purple dragon. Not only because some holidays were more exciting than others (I mean, what sounds more exciting to you: all-you-can-drink beer during Brewfest or dragging an obnoxious orphan through a battleground during something called Children’s Week???), but also because I just never found the time. I don’t think I’ve logged into my Warcraft account since I started going back to school over a year ago, though not from lack of my guild (aka: my family) trying to get me to. Adulting really sucks sometimes, you know?!

Strangely, I’m not the biggest fan of real world holidays. While I always appreciate a day or two off work, I spend most of my time trying to figure out how most other people seem to have their shit together. Needless to say, I don’t have the energy to spend decorating my house or office, dressing up in costumes, cooking up huge feasts, or purchasing gifts and candy for people. It’s just not my “thing,” especially since my mom passed away when I was younger. She was the one among us who was fully haunted by the spirit of the holidays. Without her exuberance, it has just never been the same. Since the passing of even more family members in the years since her death, that feeling has drifted further and further away. Example: This past Christmas, I spent the holiday with my dad and my cats, eating faux-turkey and Bob Evans mashed potatoes, and watched Star Trek movies. Basically, it was a normal evening that didn’t feel special or “magical” at all. It might seem sad and lonely sometimes, but most of the time, it’s how I prefer it. There’s some kind of peace in the quiet.

Captain Janeway is just as exasperated with me, don’t worry.

A couple of years ago though, a dear friend of mine who used to sit in the cubicle next to mine at work, began to decorate her own space for Christmas. She seemed surprised that I wasn’t that into it, but by the time she was finished, she gave me the leftover decorations. “Just in case” I decided to get into the spirit of things. It was a single battery-powered light in the form of a flickering candle and a small string of tinsel. “I can do that. I’m not a Scrooge!” I remember thinking to myself, especially after feeling guilty for admonishing her for listening to Christmas music before Thanksgiving. When subsequent holidays began rolling around throughout the year, my neighbor continued giving me “leftovers” (though, between you and me, there were some occasions she purposely brought extra just for my desk), and I would proudly add them to my candlelit shrine.

Glittery hearts for Valentine’s Day, four-leaf clovers cut out of cardboard for St. Patrick’s Day, a stuffed bunny and plastic grass for Easter, American flags and red-white-and-blue streamers for Independence Day. Ghosts, jack-o-lanterns, and a rubber bat we named “Boris” for Halloween, fake brown leaves and pumpkins for Thanksgiving. Even New Year’s Eve jewelry and a cardboard Happy Birthday hat. Even after I realized that I had just about the entire year accounted for all at once, my own real-life What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been shrine remained on display at my cubicle. Even after my friend left the company to pursue a new opportunity, the shrine continued on with others occasionally pitching in to add funny items here and there. So many different clashing holidays and themes combined together sometimes startled new employees or visitors who weren’t expecting something so gaudy and in-your-face. Those that understood were amused and maybe even amazed at how much it grew over time to take over nearly my entire allotted space. “I never have to decorate again!” I would proudly exclaim to onlookers. “I’ve just about got it all covered!”

Aren’t we all just a little bit Groot?

Today, the shrine sadly came down. Decorations were unpinned, cleared from the shelf, and packed away in a box. Even the bobblehead Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy that my nephew gave me for my desk long before I even started working there was packed away to come home soon. Not because I’m moving on to a new job or because there are memories or bad juju associated with any of the decorations now. Simply, I’ve decided it’s time for some changes. You see, another friend of mine once planted this idea into my head that, when you need to control your life, the first thing you do is chop off your hair or make some drastic executive decision about your style. Because that’s the easiest thing to control in your world, right? Maybe. And maybe a hairstyle change will still come, but for now, it was time to change my environment. The first step was to stop letting my shrine just sit and collect dust and scare away newbies. I have a new neighbor now, by the way. I don’t know her very well yet, but she seems nice. We have new owners, too. And it’s a new year. So maybe it’s time to start projecting something else on my part. Maybe it’s time to try being a little less weird.

Of course, I’ll always be weird in my own time and in my own space. No corporate entity or feeling of needing to “grow up” will ever strip that away from me. That’s just part of who I am. But it isn’t the only change I’ll be making. You might have noticed the little animation on the home page and the Almost Epic Facebook page indicating that I’ve been a little absent around these parts. I’m sure a new structure or design for this website is coming soon. It’ll probably be a little more stripped down, too. As fun as they can be, I think maybe I’m a little too old for all the bells and whistles now. Maybe you could call all of this a “New Year’s Resolution,” but let’s not pretend that any of us actually stick to those. It’ll be whatever it’ll be.

I’ll be seeing you soon.

Jagged Little Pill

Mental distress is a hell of a thing, isn’t it?

I have lived with major anxiety issues my entire life. I was a very fearful child. If I heard about any scenario that was dangerous or terrifying, I was 100% convinced it would happen to me. I’m not sure where that kind of anxiety begins, because outside of growing up in the late ’80s and ’90s when we could run free without the fear of being snatched off the street by a stranger, I wasn’t really exposed to a lot of dangerous scenarios. All things considered, my parents did a pretty good job of keeping me out of harm’s way. However, I still somehow managed to grow accustomed to feeling as though the worst possible outcome was always headed my way. And today, I realized that ugly feeling was still there. Lurking just under the surface and waiting for the most inopportune moment to say hello.

You see, the weekend immediately following Thanksgiving, I had a feeling that I can only technically describe as “wonky.” I had long moments of lightheadedness, I was getting frequent headaches, I tossed and turned because I couldn’t get comfortable when I slept. I couldn’t concentrate on different projects that I wanted to work on in my free time. I wound up spending a majority of my Thanksgiving break from both work and school in front of a television watching episodes of This Is Us instead of turning the extra garage room into my home office like I had wanted to. Quite simply because I just didn’t have the energy to do much else. I’ve suffered from headaches often but the lightheadedness and inability to sleep or concentrate seemed like recent developments that are listed as possible issues related to the anxiety medication that I’ve been taking for about a year now. And while I do feel like the medication helped me remain calm and collected in work and social situations that would otherwise make me a bundle of nerves, I wasn’t convinced that I was getting a lot of benefit from it otherwise.

So over this last weekend, I made the very stupid decision to completely stop taking it. I wanted to see if my headaches and sleeplessness would go away. And sure enough, they did! I was blessed with an incredibly long and comfortable REM cycle on Tuesday night that I didn’t even want to wake up from in order to go to work. But today at work, I felt that mental distress all over again in a very real way. It took just one, off-handed comment that wasn’t even meant the way I took it to set everything in motion in my brain. It practically woke me up with feelings of dread, discomfort, worthlessness, and general sadness. A short while after lunch this afternoon, I even had to excuse myself to go to the restroom in order to lock myself in a bathroom stall and cry. I don’t recall having cried in a public place since I was a child! What was happening to me???

This is why I had been engaging in the passive act of popping a pill every night before bed. This is the demon I’ve been silently battling. The demon that sits in my brain and tricks and deceives me into believing lies. He makes me believe that I’ll fail, that I’m worthless, and that everything is in vain. He makes me think I’m weak and ugly and annoying. That I’m too “extra” or that people perceive me in a light that I don’t want to be seen. He makes all of us that he attacks think that everyone’s talking badly about us or that everything would be better if we were gone. We doubt ourselves and we doubt our relationships to others. It divides and conquers us. We wonder if we should run away and start a new and different life. For those this evil impacts the most, they even contemplate ending life.

I’ve started my medication again and won’t be stopping it without consulting my doctor first. I’ve learned my lesson and I’m back on the road to recovery this weekend. With a memorial that I’ll be attending tomorrow, it’ll be a rough one to get through. Thankfully, I was grounded enough to at least realize what was happening to me and how I needed to fix it. There are so many others who never make it out of this. For whom these feelings are 24/7. If you know someone that might apply to, please be kind to them and help them. Understand that they aren’t looking for attention or trying to make things about them.

Your support just might mean the world to them.

Prayer of St. Francis

Lord make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy
O divine master grant that I may
not so much seek to be consoled as to console
to be understood as to understand
To be loved as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it’s in dying that we are born to eternal life
Amen
— Sarah McLachlan’s “Prayer of St. Francis”

Timeless

This page is part of a series on #WeekendCoffeeShare.

This post is part of the ongoing #WeekendCoffeeShare series! Please share your responses, thoughts, comments, and more in the comment section at the bottom of this page or in the new Talk section!

If we were having coffee this weekend, I would tell you in great detail about the recurring thoughts that have been haunting me lately. They have to do with the concept of time, which in turn leads me down a path of our own human mortality. I’m not sure why I started thinking about it all, but it’s been on my mind since I started going back to school or maybe even before then. Let me tell you about it more.

It's never too late to be what you might have been. By Inspower.co.
Example of one of these quotes from Inspower.co.

You see, I’m 32-years-old now and only just started going back to school. “It’s never too late,” people have always told me. “You can always better yourself.” Keep learning and doing the things you love. Ever since we’re children, we have been taught that we can do and be anything that we want. Which is fantastic! It’s an honor and a privilege and, quite frankly, really exciting to live in an era where we, as a society, can pursue whatever passion fuels us. For me, that passion has always been for writing or creating. I’m going after a degree in software development because it not only involves writing code, but also it’ll unlock my ability to work in practically any sector or industry. Learning a skill that could allow me to assist virtually anywhere in the world is very freeing.

The concept of time scares me now. Though I learned a lot and had a great time growing up and gaining work experience through my twenties, I feel like I’ve wasted much of that time that I could have been learning something else. Since going back to school and seeing all the different educational paths to success that I could take, I’ve become somewhat aware of just how much of life I will never experience.

I know now that I’m never going to be a doctor, a lawyer, a police officer, a construction worker, a chemist, an astronaut, a firefighter, a race car driver, an actor or a rock star. Now that I’ve chosen a profession that I’m most interested in, it feels a lot like the rest of the world’s doors are closing to me. There’s a number of successes and failures alike that I will never come close to experiencing. And while that may not be much of a loss to most people, it is to me. A big part of me wants to do it all. I want to be one of those people that has a billion degrees and certificates and even doctorates lining my walls. I wish I had the time, energy, and even natural talent and intelligence to do and just be everything.

The concept of time scares me even further when we get into the details of mortality. A lot of friends and family have been lost over the years and who knows when my time will come? One of the biggest things people on their death beds ask for is more time. How do I know if I’m making the most of mine? How do we know if we should really even bother with things like school and jobs if, in the end, we might just wind up passing on before we get to fully put those things to good use?

I wish that I had a time machine or a fountain of youth so that I could see and do and experience everything as fully as I want. I don’t know if I want to truly be immortal, because Paula Cole makes it sound pretty awful over the titles of Dawson’s Creek. But I wish that I could have just a little bit of God’s infinite power to determine exactly when and where I’m ready to depart.

But then again, He’s supposed to have a very wise and effective plan for all of us, right? Maybe I should just trust that whatever happens is part of the plan and is happening for a reason. But it’s hard to do that when I want so much to be a part of everything…

Until next time, friends!

Kindness Matters

Over the past week, since the devastating attack in Las Vegas, I’ve been feeling very opinionated. That’s probably the case for a lot of people around the country and maybe even the world. Everyone’s arguing about whether or not we could do more. Could we have done more to prevent tragedies like this one and all the others that have happened in the last several years? We’ve all discussed this to death. The issue of gun control gets especially heated. And there’s intelligent people on both sides! The value of human life is imperative, but the right to bear arms is also important. It can protect life just as easily as it can take it away. But now, perhaps more than ever, we’re struggling as a society to strike the right balance. Would restrictions placed on firearms be helpful?

Truthfully, I don’t have the answers. I’m also not sure that anyone among us does. I’ve been involved in a couple of discussions and debates this week on this topic and none of them have turned out to be very constructive. But then I stumbled across this footage of pop star Lady Gaga speaking on the concept of kindness at the U.S. Conference of Mayors here in Indianapolis last year. Until recently, I had no clue that Gaga was intelligent and as well-spoken as she is. Throughout the video, she builds an excellent case for uniting as a people, despite our major differences. And though one might argue that it’s a little naive to think we can solve the world’s problems with simple acts of kindness, it certainly couldn’t hurt. And as she states right off the bat, it’s free and it doesn’t hurt. So why not?

More than anything, I just wanted to share this video of Lady Gaga speaking. It inspired me to remember that kindness matters, which is a lesson a good friend of mine has always helped me believe in. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from. At the end of any human interaction, kindness is what’s going to make all the difference in your future relationship with them. And just maybe it’ll help make all the difference in the world, too.

After Laughter

Confession: I don’t like endings.

I’m enamored with storytelling that stretches itself out into multiple installments. Exciting stories that could potentially be developed and told forever are fascinating to me. For example, I’m probably the one and only person in the world who believes that Grey’s Anatomy or Criminal Minds, shows that have been on the air for over a decade already, could withstand airing a few more decades and still be just as entertaining as long as whoever is in charge continued doing them justice. And not just because those shows are great, but also because their writers are capable of transformative storytelling. When some of their main players, like Mandy Patinkin or Patrick Dempsey, decide they’re ready to move on, they’re still able to capture their audience and take them on a journey through what their world looks like without those people in it. I’ve always admired the ability to do that, to keep moving forward in the wake of something huge, and instead tell the story of what happens afterwards as well.

The same interest applies to me in real life. I would love to know what happens to people after I’m no longer in their lives. I especially love to find out what happens in the lives of people after the biggest stories of their lives. For years I have casually followed blogs belonging to people like Melissa Beck (who is a former cast member on the original New Orleans season of MTV’s The Real World) and Pamela Ribon (a book author and staff writer for ABC’s Samantha Who?) because I’m fascinated to see what their day-to-day lives are like away from or after their high-profile projects are all wrapped up. For Melissa especially, it’s been decades since her season of Real World and her other reality TV appearances have come to an end. She seems like a totally different person now, married and raising children in New York, and otherwise living a normal life out of the spotlight. Pamela (or “Pamie,” as she is popularly known on the Internet) chose a different route and is still working in Hollywood, having co-written last year’s Disney blockbuster Moana, and is currently working on the sequel to their popular Wreck-It Ralph. Both are perfectly valid lifestyle and career choices and both seem very happy with it all.

They also both perfectly illustrate just how wildly different our lives are shaped. Working in an office, mostly surrounded by women who are happily married with children or are single mothers, always surprises me. I’m a thirtysomething childless single guy who’s still a little bit of a child at heart and I do my job alongside women who are the same age but who are way more mature and who have it together, or are at least trying to get it together. They’re raising kids, they’re buying houses, and they’re being actual independent adults in this great big world! That still somehow blows my mind! When did people decide they wanted to get there and then actually get there? Sometimes it’s like I totally missed the memo! But then on the rare occasion that I go out and meet new people, I remember that I’m not alone. I remember that, in comparison, I’ve got it more together than most out there, which is a little bit terrifying. When exactly though did we stop dreaming about our lives and instead start waking up and realizing that this is our lives? And while I know that it’s never too late to start making your life better, am I too far behind the curve?

Nah. I’ll keep moving forward and doing what I’m doing because there’s always another story to be told. And quite frankly, trying to live the same life as someone else is a little bit sad. But it hasn’t stopped me from wondering about the struggles of a soldier returning from war, a lawyer who has decided to stop practicing law, or even about my former co-workers who have left the company for greener pastures. Life goes on. We aren’t just defined by our success or our notoriety.

So what defines you?

Graffiti Heart

There’s a mysterious glyph that’s been cropping up around Indy. It’s caught the eye of a few of my friends, who in turn asked me about it, knowing full well that I would have caught it, too. I’ve actually caught it now in no less than four different downtown locations. Here’s what it looks like, as pictured from the backside of the mailbox just outside of the Indianapolis Business Journal‘s offices at the corner of Pennsylvania & East Washington Streets:

Heart-shaped cat glyph on mailbox.
Heart-shaped cat glyph on mailbox.

Done in seemingly nothing but black spray paint, it is a heart shape sporting the design of a cat’s face on it. My friends asked if I had seen it because it’s obviously right up my alley, considering my love of cats and animals. One friend in particular even asked if I had personally painted the large instance of this artist’s tag on the underpass at Washington & East Streets before it got covered up. (Sorry for the disappointment, but I’m sadly not writing about my own handiwork!)

Another instance of the graffiti cat on the back of a downtown building. Photo credit: Jean Whitfield.
Another instance of the graffiti cat on the back of a downtown building near Pearl Street. Photo credit: Jean Whitfield.

I have mixed feelings about graffiti, however. For most people, when it appears on anything other than the culprit’s own property, it’s outright vandalism. But proponents consider graffiti a unique and beautiful style of art that can greatly enhance the environment, especially in inner-city areas that are sorely devoid of any type of gorgeous scenery. It’s often used for the greater good as well, displaying messages of hope or urging viewers to join the fight against a corrupt system. Graffiti art has even made its way into the mainstream: Fellow gamers might remember Jet Set Radio, a game series from the early 2000s that told the story of a group of teens fighting against a totalitarian government for graffiti artists’ freedom of speech. Urban clothing designer Marc Ecko also credits much of the inspiration for his designs to graffiti, having been quoted as saying, “Graffiti is without question the most powerful art movement in recent history and has been a driving inspiration throughout my career.”

Regardless of any legal or ethical implications, I would love to know the story behind Indy’s most recent graffiti tag. Who is the artist and what’s their story all about? Are they also a cat lover, or does the heart-shaped cat face have some deeper meaning we aren’t yet clued in on? Should would be on the lookout for larger pieces to spring up around town? Are they responsible for some already?

Keep your eyes peeled, local friends and family. I’d love to get more shots and maybe even put together a map of the city with known locations that the tag has appeared.

What are your theories? Have you seen the heart-shaped graffiti cat? Let us know in the comment section below or on the new Talk page!