Only a few short weeks ago, I blogged here about a community I had found on-line, one filled with women of all ages and races and income levels, from Edmonton to Los Angeles to Dubai to Mississippi. It was secret, and had, at the outset, almost 600 members, many of whom weighed in daily to share their triumphs — (work, dating, family) — and tragedies, (dead or dying pets, work frustrations, break-ups.)
They are mostly women in their 20s, 30s and 40s, gay and straight, polyamorous or monogamous and many looking (with little success) for love. I was, being older than many of these women, astonished and often appalled by the intimacy of the many details they chose to share there, with women many of them had never met and never will, women whose character and morals and ethics they have no knowledge of or experience with.
The chickens soon came home to roost…
I was, naively, hopeful that this would be a place for fun, friendship, shared wisdom and a dozen of us living in New York met for brunch in early September and had a great time. The women were funny, lively, creative and I looked forward to seeing them again.
Not going to happen: I was kicked out this week.
It’s been a fascinating lesson in political correctness, tone policing and definitions of “derailment” — taking a comment thread off-message. I won’t bore you with all the details, but what a shitshow!
The group’s small handful of volunteer administrators decided I should be banned for insensitivity. Which is, of course, their right.
I do express my opinions vigorously.
But how amusing that women there could rant for hours about others’ being mean to them — yet turn in a flash on anyone they felt wasn’t being sufficiently sympathetic to their cause(s.)
It soon — why? –devolved into a rantfest. Women raged daily about their oppression and others’ privilege, swiftly chasing down, or simply banning, with no notice to the larger group of their actions or why they took them, those who dared to disagree with them or whose opinions were deemed…unwelcome.
One woman I liked very much was dismissed from the group for her allegedly racist remarks.
Then another — anonymously, of course — took a screen-shot of someone’s comment and sent it to her freelance employer, costing her paid work and a professional relationship. Members legitimately freaked out at such a creepy betrayal of their mutual trust.
Why on earth would you even trust a bunch of people you do not know?
For a group of women so oppressed by patriarchy, it was too ironic that one of their own proved to be such a vicious and cowardly bitch.
Membership had dropped, rapidly, by more than 40 people last time I looked.
I’m glad to have made several new friends through the group and look forward to continuing those online relationships, several of whom I’ve also met, and enjoyed meeting, face to face.
But it’s been a powerful and instructive lesson in group-think, competitive victimhood and endless, endless draaaaaaaaama.
I’m well out of it, sorry to say.
Have you been a part of an on-line group like this?
How long did it last and how much did/do you enjoy it?
Walking through an airport newsstand this year, I noticed a novelty. The covers of Inc., Fast Company and Time all had female executives on the covers: Sara Blakely, Angela Ahrendts and Janet L. Yellen. I quickly snapped a photo and sent out a tweet to my modest list of followers: “Women on the cover. Not just for girlie magazines anymore.”
Then I waited for the love. I checked the response before passing through security. Nothing. I glanced again while waiting for the plane. Still nothing. I looked again before we took off. Nobody cared. My little attempt to pass a lonely hour in an airport with some friendly interaction had turned into the opposite: a brutal cold shower of social isolation.
A few days later, I mentioned this story to my wife. “What a great tweet!” she said. She then retweeted it to her larger list of followers. Within seconds, it scored. Some Twitter bigwigs picked it up, and soon hundreds of people had passed it along, added their approval and otherwise joined in a virtual bra burning. Though I should be above such things, my wisp of loneliness was soon replaced with a gust of self-satisfaction. Look, I started a meme!
We are deep enough into the social-media era to begin to recognize certain patterns among its users. Foremost among them is a mass anxiety of approval seeking and popularity tracking that seems far more suited to a high school prom than a high-functioning society.
It’s interesting where this stuff ends up — one talented young photographer, a friend of ours working in Chicago (who has not even finished college) — was recently offered a full-time staff job by a major newspaper after editors kept seeing his excellent work on Instagram.
For many urban creative professionals these days, it’s not unusual to scroll through one’s Instagram feed and feel suffocated by fabulousness:There’s one friend paddling in the surf at Positano under a fiery Italian sunset. Another is snapping away at a sweaty Thom Yorke from the third row at an Atoms for Peace concert in Austin. Yet another is sipping Champagne in Lufthansa business class en route to Frankfurt, while a fourth is huddling with friends over omakase at Masa.
Members of the Facebook generation are no strangers to the sensation of feeling a little left out when their friends post from that book party they weren’t invited to, or from someone’s latest transporting trip to the white sands of Tulum. Yet even for those familiar with the concept of social-media envy, Instagram — the highest achievement yet in
social-media voyeurism — presents a new form of torture.
I confess, I have yet to start using Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram. I’ve been enjoying photos snapped by a young pro photographer pal in Chicago on Instagram — but only when he posts them on Facebook as well.
Facebook is bad enough, thanks.
I have a few acquaintances or professional contacts whose updates are sufficiently envy-inducing as it is — the best-selling authors crowing about their latest Hollywood movie deals, a writer friend who boasts, almost daily, about the deluge of assignments landing, unbidden, in her lap, and a therapist who seems to spend all her time on vacation in places like Venice, Africa and Paris.
I love how every new iteration of status markers simply keeps evolving — from Chinese rank badges to the sedan chair to nose-thumbing via pixel. It seems as primal as breathing to show off how fantastic your life is.
Do you end up gnashing your teeth, (even just a little), at all the too-perfect photos of smiling babies, immaculate houses and glam vacation spots cluttering your feed(s)?
I recently took a week-long break from blogging here, the longest since I started this in July 2009.
I got a lot done in real life, mostly work-related, with a few meetings with new contacts and possible clients.
It was an interesting experience to turn away from the putative gaze, and potential approval, of Broadside’s readers. I know that some bloggers like to post every day. I just don’t have that much to say.
More to the point, I try hard to maintain a balance between my life online and my life…in real life.
Social media is ubiquitous, and for some wholly addictive. We all like a hug, even if it’s virtual. We all like an ego-stroke, and getting dozens, or hundreds?
How can that be a bad thing?
I still prefer being liked in person — last week over half-price cocktails with my friend Pam, trading notes about high-end travel with a new client, wooing a local PR agency, hanging out with my husband.
It’s Digital Detox, a three-day retreat at Shambhalah Ranch in Northern California for people who feel addicted to their gadgets. For 72 hours, the 11 participants, who’ve paid from $595 for a twin bed to $1,400 for a suite, eat vegan food, practice yoga, swim in a nearby creek, take long walks in the woods, and keep a journal about being offline. (Typewriters are available for anyone not used to longhand.)
The ranch is two-and-a-half hours north of San Francisco, so most guests come from the Bay Area, although a few have flown in from Seattle and New York. They’re here for a variety of reasons—bad breakups, career
troubles—but there’s one thing everyone has in common: They’re driven to distraction by the Internet.
Isn’t everyone? Checking e-mail in the bathroom and sleeping with your cell phone by your bed are now
considered normal. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2007 only 58 percent of people used their phones to text; last year it was 80 percent. More than half of all cell phone users have smartphones,
giving them Internet access all the time. As a result, the number of hours Americans spend collectively online has almost doubled since 2010, according to ComScore (SCOR), a digital analytics company. Teens and twentysomethings are the most wired. In 2011, Diana Rehling and Wendy Bjorklund, communications professors at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota, surveyed their undergraduates and found that the average college student checks Facebook 20 times an hour.
Twenty times an hour?
This is just…sad.
There was a time when being with other people meant actually being in the same room — and that meant possibly having to walk, run, bike, fly, cab, drive or climb to access their companionship.
You know, make an effort.
We also used to live lives that we decided were intrinsically satisfying or they were not. We didn’t spend hours seeking the approval of thousands, possibly millions, of strangers — people who we’ll never meet or have coffee with or visit when they are in the hospital or attend their wedding or graduation.
There is genuine affection on-line, I know — but I wonder how many of us now do things now just to see how much they are “liked”.
Much as I enjoy social media, I’m old-fashioned enough to want to be in the same physical space as the people who “like” me and want to hear, first-hand, what I’m up to and how I really feel. There are many things I’ll never post here or on Facebook, where my “friends” include several high-level professional contacts for whom a brave, competent face remains key.
To me, face to face “liking” is truly intimate — like the seven-hour (!) meal at Spice Market that Niva and I shared when she came to New York and we finally put faces — and lots of laughter — to our names for the first time. (She writes the Riding Bitch blog.)
We had a blast.
It was much more fun than endlessly hitting a “like” button.
SPEAKING OF SOCIAL MEDIA — DON’T FORGET TO SIGN UP FOR MY NEXT WEBINAR, BETTER BLOGGING, ON SUNDAY NOVEMBER 10 AT 4:00 P.M. EST.
It’s shocking and depressing that so many young people, struggling with their sexuality, identity, self-confidence and future wonder how they’ll even survive the next few hours — bullied 24/7 by peers whose toxicity is relentless, vicious, heartless and widespread.
In Internet shorthand it began “Yes, ik” — I know — “I bullied Rebecca
nd she killed herself.” The writer concluded that she didn’t care, using
an obscenity to make the point and a heart as a perverse flourish. Five
weeks ago, Rebecca Ann Sedwick, a seventh grader in Lakeland in central
Florida, jumped to her death from an abandoned cement factory silo
after enduring a year, on and off, of face-to-face and online bullying.
The Facebook post, Sheriff Grady Judd of Polk County said, was so
offensive that he decided to move forward with the arrest immediately
rather than continue to gather evidence. With a probable cause affidavit
in hand, he sent his deputies Monday night to arrest two girls, calling
them the “primary harassers.” The first, a 14-year-old, is the one who
posted the comment Saturday, he said. The second is her friend, and
Rebecca’s former best friend, a 12-year-old.
Both were charged with aggravated stalking, a third-degree felony and will be processed through the juvenile court system.
What on earth is driving these wretched children to torment one another to death?
“As a child, I can remember sticks and stones can break your bones but
words will never hurt you,” the sheriff said. “Today, words stick
because they are printed and they are there forever.”
I’ve blogged about this before and will likely return to it because, as someone badly bullied in high school for three years, I’ve lived this firsthand. It was long before the Internet, so my bullying was only daily, public and within the physical confines of my Toronto high school.
I arrived at my school at 14, reeling from the sudden move into my father’s home after seven years with my mother; arriving halfway through the year into a group of people who had all grown up together in neighborhood schools and a girl both plagued with acne and intellectual confidence.
I was nicknamed Doglin, barked at in the hallways and a dog biscuit was laid on my desk. Three boys spent a lot of time and energy making sure I was as miserable as they could possibly make me.
Thank heaven for dear friends, male and female, who kept me going. Thank heaven for winning awards for my writing, which buoyed my confidence. Thank heaven for a teen quiz show (then hosted by Jeopardy’s host Alex Trebek) which I competed on two years in a row, taking our school to the semi-finals.
Those who aspire to fame — hell, visibility! — in their field need talent, hard work, education, connections, good luck, experience, opportunity.
They also need people to recognize and remember their name.
One reason movie stars change their names is to win an indelible place in the public imagination — would you rush as quickly to see a film by Allen Konigsberg (Woody Allen) or one starring Alphonso D’Abruzzo (Alan Alda)?
Your name is your brand.
Especially in an age of social media, when it might be read by (and re-tweeted to) thousands, if not millions of people.
For decades, very few girls or women, at least in my native Toronto and later in New York — and most importantly, in my work as a journalist — shared my first name. I’d never met another Caitlin Kelly.
Two highly-visible others share “my” name in the same elbows-out city — New York.
“Congrats! Saw your great piece” emails arrive in my in-box. For her. (For those of you beyond the U.S, a staff job at the New Yorker is, for many writers, the pinnacle of the profession, the sort of spot many ambitious writers deeply envy.)
My loving friends think I’m talented and know I live in New York so, hey, it must be me!
But it’s not.
Then came the fawning, hand-wringing email from some fangirl who assumed I was the other CK, asking me for career advice.
Rejection has value. It teaches us when our work or our skillset is not good enough and must be made better…Rejection refines us. Those who fall prey to its enervating soul-sucking tentacles are doomed. Those who persist past it are survivors. Best ask yourself the question: what kind of writer are you? The kind who survives? Or the kind who gets asphyxiated by the tentacles of woe?
3. This, Then, Is The Value Of The Gatekeeper
Hate the autocracy of the kept gates all you like, but the forge of rejection purifies us (provided it doesn’t burn us down to a fluffy pile of cinder). The writer learns so much from rejection about himself, his work, the market, the business. Even authors who choose to self-publish should, from time to time, submit themselves to the scraping talons and biting beaks of the raptors of rejection. Writers who have never experienced rejection are no different than children who get awards for everything they do: they have already found themselves tap-dancing at the top of the “I’m-So-Special” mountain, never having to climb through snow and karate chop leopards to get there.
I’ve added the bold and italics here…
So, my question to all of you is why you are so damn scared of being rejected? A few theories.
Because having your work rejected seems, for some of you, to really mean:
I have no talent
Entirely possible. OMG. Did she just say that! Yes, I did. Because, despite what your friends and sweetie and Mom have told you your whole life, maybe you are really just not very good at the thing you are absolutely determined you must be good at. (Or what? Or what? Then what happens?) Stop being a Special Snowflake, already!
I’m such a loser!
Maybe. Maybe not. If you are ever going to survive being a writer you must do this: find a way to separate you from your work. You are not your work. (Here’s a truly disgusting analogy: we all use the toilet and most of us excrete waste every day. It is a product of our bodies. But we do realize that it is not us.) In other words, being rejected may make you feel like shit. You, however, are not shit!
I just wasted all that $$$$$$$$$ on getting my MFA
Can’t help you with that one. I’ve avoided any formal post-graduate education because I’m too damn cheap. If you want to spend a ton of money developing your skills, great. But if you’re looking for serious financial ROI on an MFA, I’d say you’re a little out of touch with the marketplace.
The competition is way too big/famous/established
Here’s the thing we never say out loud. If you’re a total newbie, you’re not my competition! Nor am I yours. Your ego wants to think we’re equal, but we’re not. You will be paid less than I will. (Probably.) I’ve earned it, over decades of consistently good work. You’re still earning it.
If you write about science or babies or science fiction, you’re not my competitor, nor am I yours! I sometimes think of the writers’ marketplace the way an air traffic controller sees the thousands of planes in the air. They never (thank God!) collide. Because they are all on slightly different trajectories.
Stop freaking out about all the other writers out there. Just go be better than they are. (Maybe that means being better at going to a few select conferences and finding some people to help and advise you. Not just banging away all alone at your keyboard.)
I’m scared my email or phone call will be ignored
Bet on it! Count on it! You are not (just) a writer or artist. You’re are a salesperson, hoping to sell your work to people (agents, editors) who’ve quite possibly never heard of you and couldn’t care less if you ever succeed. Be prepared to be more persistent than you ever thought you might possibly ever have to be to get to the right/powerful people who will get your career going. Then double it. Now triple it.
I hate competing
Waaaaaaah! It’s a crowded marketplace. Go big or go home.
But I’m really scared
Of what? Seriously. Of what? Creative failure does not = terrifying medical diagnosis. CF does not = end of your marriage. CF does not = your dog/cat/guinea pig just died. (A friend of mine in London, a super-successful young photographer, is mourning the loss of her guinea pig.)
It is ultimately both self-defeating and self-indulgent to sit in the corner and be too scared to get into the game. We’re all scared, damn it!
Every freaking time I turn in a story I’m still scared the editor will: hate it, not pay me, never use me again and tell everyone s/he knows that I am an incompetent hack. Hey, it can happen.
Then I hit “send.”
I will never be good enough to sell my work
Maybe not. Or maybe so. Maybe you’re trying to sell to the wrong people, or at the wrong time. (i.e. your skills are not yet good enough to compete with all the other people doing that right now.)
It’s depressing being rejected all the time
Which is why God invented martinis, puppies and very good sex. You need to feel really happy at least 63.6 percent of the time in order to deal with the nasty reality of rejection. It hurts. It really does.
I hate my life and being rejected only makes it worse
This is the real problem. I guarantee it — if you are really happy with other aspects of your life, then the endless frustration of trying to sell your work will be annoying and tiring, but it won’t kill you or make you lie in a corner in the fetal position weeping. If it does, you are placing way too much emphasis on your work. Deal with that instead.
But my blog followers love me!
Of course they do, sweetie. Your work is free. It costs them zero social, political or financial capital to read and adore you. Now go find someone to lay their reputation on the line for you…
No one will ever know my name
Pshaw. Go do some volunteer work for a year or so. Join a faith community and show up. Join a committee. Sit on a board. There’s this narcissistic fantasy that Being A Writer means everyone knows you and cares deeply about you. They don’t! You’ll find much deeper satisfaction and happiness from being a valued member of a community of people who don’t give a shit how much copy you sold this week. Get over it.
No one will ever admire or respect me
I think this is a fundamental, unacknowledged and undiscussed part of why people are SO freaked out by rejection. Since when (really) is rejection 100 percent final? You’re reading the blog of someone who applied eight times to the Globe and Mail before being hired. Who interviewed three times at Newsweek and never got hired.
No one will ever know how great I could have become
This is such self-indulgent bullshit. You either want it more than anything, or you don’t.
I will starve to death and live under a bridge in a cardboard box
I doubt it. Get a day job and keep it as long as you have to. Or make the leap of faith (with six months’ expenses in the bank and no debt. And, ideally, no dependents.) Those of us who have leaped have little patience for the endless hand-wringers.
I have nothing new or fresh to offer
Really? Then why do you want to bother?
No one wants to work with me
EQ (emotional intelligence) is the new black. EQ is the new IQ. If you’ve grown up in the U.S. in an affluent community (and many of you did not), then being really smart is often deemed the most important thing you can be. Wrong! Being someone able to get along really well within seconds with a wide range of people who are very different from you is going to move your career along a lot faster and further than only hanging with people who drive the same car and went to the same college(s.)
No one wants to help me succeed
Really? What sort of person are you? A taker, giver or matcher? Are you a selfish little wretch who rarely, if ever, returns calls or emails? Who has yet to write (yes, really) a hand-written thank-you note on very good paper and sent it through the mail to someone who gave you an interview or mentored you? There’s an inverse relationship between how greedy you are and how much anyone is interested in helping you be even more greedy.
Everyone else is doing great!
As if! The effect of Facebook on millions of fragile egos — mine included — is to make us all feel Utterly Inadequate all the fucking time. Just don’t read all those perky, upbeat, how-great-my-life-is status updates!
Who actually posts: “I hate my agent. S/he never returns my calls. My book isn’t selling. I’m living on credit cards. I owe $10,000 to American Express and everyone is paying me late.” They should. Because that’s all too often the Glamorous Reality of being a writer.
On Monday mornings, I sometimes go to a friend’s home and sit in her kitchen and we talk. She pours me a coffee, and cooks or putters or sits at the table with me.
How retro! So 1950s.
We’re very lucky. We both work from from home and can carve out time for face-to-face friendship.
I think it’s as essential as exercise and sleep, this sitting with someone who knows and loves you, or is getting to know you and and you’re peeling back the onion layers of who they are as well.
Friendship takes time.
And it takes face time, not just emails and Facebook updates or texts. I want to feel a fierce hug, enjoy a shared smile, provoke a loud laugh.
I’m now scheduling face time with a friend into every week, determined to strengthen my relationships with the women I’ve recently gotten to know — after decades living in my suburban town with few intimates.
In the past few weeks, I’ve had some great moments with friends old and new. An Irish woman I met in 1982 in Paris — I was 25, on a journalism fellowship there for eight months with her — was visiting New York to make a radio documentary. Meeting up with her somewhat wrecked my work that day, but there was absolutely no question which was more important.
We picked up our conversation with the pleasure and intimacy of people who had seen each other a week before, when it might have been decades — we couldn’t remember. She looked amazing. We sat at the bar and ate hamburgers and it was sheer heaven to be with her again.
Because I never had kids, I lost my friends for a while when they were exhausted and spoken for, tending to the needs of their families. Now their nests are empty and they are hungrier for intimacy beyond their family circle.
Last week I sat with a new friend, who, like me, is trying to re-invent herself professionally. Being American, she’s sure that just a little effort will be enough. Being Canadian, I raise an eyebrow and ask: “Really?” She’s a helium balloon shooting for the ceiling, bursting with naive optimism and I’m the string, tugging her back to earth.
As soon as I sat down, she asked: “You look sad. What’s going on?”
The holidays are a time of reflection and connection. But it’s also a time, for some of us, of poignant romantic regrets — the email or text ignored, the phone call or letter you never returned, the first date disaster or months of loneliness.
It’s the time many people look into the new year, only a week hence, and think...hmmmm. Some will wonder, still, about the one who got away.
Thanks to social media, it’s far too easy now to find former beaux (and belles.)
But should you?
I recently thought I’d try again to reach out to Big Name Architect — and found him on LinkedIn — a guy I first met when I was 22 and he was 44. Unbenownst to us that day, (both of us then living with others), we both came away smitten. I wrote a story about him and wandered off into the rest of my life. But he had set up an office near my New York home and, once or twice a year when visiting from Canada, would take me out for dinner.
After my husband walked out in 1994, BNA and I, then both single, flung ourselves into a heady affair, the age difference a little daunting, but perhaps worth a shot.
It got messy very quickly as he proposed marriage within only a few months and I was in that particular form of madness of the about-to-be-divorced,
His proposal was flattering, of course, although I was actually still married, barely separated from my husband after seven years. Rebound city.
It got so intense and overwhelming that I turned to my Dad — the same age as BNA — for advice. He agreed that this was not, despite all the surface glamour, a good fit for me. I do poorly with bossy men. He was, (albeit talented and charismatic), quite bossy.
So BNA promptly found and married someone else. When he replied to my recent email, after years of silence when I wrote emails he wouldn’t reply to, he told me triumphantly (?) he’s still married. Our messy ending still rankles him.
Another sweetie re-found me, or vice versa, on Facebook. Then a gorgeous, muscle-bound would-be Olympic rower at UNC Chapel Hill, we met on a student exchange. He wooed me in ways no one ever had — a huge bouquet of red roses delivered to my door, even giving me a lovely antique gold ring with three tiny diamonds. Losing it felt like losing a piece of my heart. He is remarried, as am I. I always wished the best for him and am so glad he is well and happy.
The man I lived with in my 20s reached out to me about a decade ago, apologizing — AA-style — for his transgressions against me. There actually hadn’t been any. They had been mine. But there he was. We broke up when he wanted, more than anything, to get married, to buy a cashmere overcoat and Make Money. All of which, when I was only 25 and desperate for adventure, seemed really boring.
His later life, and divorce, proved far bumpier and challenging than I’d ever imagined. He’s now working as a PI, which is pretty cool. We caught up last year for a long lunch and it was comforting to touch base with someone I liked very much, and loved, but felt fortunate not to have married.
Then, finally, I re-found my first true love on Facebook, whom I met at University of Toronto, when he was editor of the weekly school newspaper and I the eager young journo five years his junior. I’d sought him in vain for years using social media which he wasn’t using.
We, too, had reconnected right after my divorce, as he was coming out of his own first marriage. Neither of us had kids, but both of us were then still too bitter and angry about our spouses’ betrayals to be much use for one another than a fellow bruised survivor to commiserate with. Not terribly sexy, that.
Nor were we any better suited as long term partners than we had been in our college years.
But he’s still a sweetheart, a talented, interesting and creative person, and I look forward to seeing him again soon in Canada, and introducing him to my second husband. His second wife is an academic superstar and he’s now a late-life Dad. Cool!
Great post from Romanian writer/blogger Christian Mihai:
A lot of writers out there, if asked, will say that writing isn’t easy. But it’s not because of the rules you have to obey, or the conventions, or the need of a vivid imagination. Writing isn’t easy because you have to relieve the most painful moments of your life, over and over again, and then you have to write them down, hoping that they’ll matter to someone else other than yourself.
I plan to write a second memoir, some day, about my family, as people have urged me to do and as I want to do. But it won’t be easy or simple or fun. I have three half-siblings, one of whom refuses to speak to me and one of whom I’ve never met; the only time we spoke, on the phone from London to Quebec in June 2003, she said “See you at the funeral.”
My mother and I probably won’t ever speak again. I’m her only child. It hurts every single day.
But I don’t write about it, here or elsewhere for a few reasons:
— There’s no solution. She has dementia and is attended to by a woman I loathe who has made sure to paint me as a demon and she as the avenging angel. That script is deeply seductive to my mother.
— She lives a six-hour flight away from me and my limited time and funds for leisure travel don’t make me eager to step back into that minefield. I spent too many miserable years watching her gulp alcohol while I waited for the inevitable shit to hit a very large fan. It did.
— I loathe confessional writing that’s supposed to tug at my heartstrings. I don’t write it and I don’t read it. If I even have heartstrings, they are wrapped in five layers of Kevlar by now.
There is much I will never write about here. One female reader, from Kenya, asked me to write more about my struggles. I wrote her back to ask what she meant, but she never replied to my email.
Frankly, I’m not persuaded that focusing on struggle by writing about it to an audience of strangers accomplishes much. Writing about it can feel whiny and self-indulgent.
Although this writer, (a journalist and Hollywood veteran), who has produced only a few blog posts — each of astonishing emotional clarity — makes me feel differently about this subject:
I don’t know what my boss saw in me but I was relieved some good quality shined through. It was clear on the first day that we had a connection. She had lost her mother recently, and when she asked why I was jobless I said I’d moved home to take care of my mom while she was sick with cancer.
The day my boss hired me, she asked about the type of cancer and my mom’s age, and I told her the story. She was so sympathetic, I had a hard time not crying. Finally a workplace that was sensitive and nurturing, capable of seeing my pain and not finding it a turn off or unattractive.
Suddenly, all the things I didn’t enjoy about working in media and in Hollywood became obvious — the unspoken competitiveness between writers, the constant insecurity that you’re not young enough to be employable, the expectation that you will always be or act happy, the arbitrary way with which your work can be cast aside by a studio exec or an editor after months of toiling. Not knowing why they said no to publishing or producing your writing. It all creates this paranoia and lack of trust that permeates every action.
If you never read Freshly Pressed, you must start! I read it every day and almost always find something astonishingly good there; they’ve really upped their game from a few months ago when all they featured were photo, food and travel blogs.
I know someone, only peripherally, on Facebook, a male writer my age who is suffering — and that is truly the word — from Parkinson’s disease. I have very mixed feelings about the endless medical and emotional detail he spills there. I feel compassion but I also, I admit, feel irritation at so much uninvited intimacy.
What I’m getting at here is the complexity of being a person at once deeply private and shockingly public. A person who spends days — weeks — speaking as little as possible, a person for whom the word “hermitage” is appealing, and a person who sits in front of an audience, speaking into a microphone, telling stories (jokes, even!) and looking — in fact, being — comfortable. It’s a split-screen, this writer’s life…It requires a kind of armor…
The absolute vulnerability necessary to write something real, honest, and universal is at odds with the public self. Yesterday, during my event, there was a woman in the back row (there’s always one) who, every time I looked her way, rolled her eyes. I mean, really rolled her eyes. A full eye-roll, heavenward. Her body language said: I’m not buying it. It said, I’m bored to tears, when will this be over? Now, the rest of the audience seemed very engaged, even rapt. But because I’m a writer––because I am a sensitive creature with less armor than most––and, because in order to give a good talk, I in fact need to be vulnerable, I directed my talk to the eye-roller. I couldn’t stop thinking about her. How was I failing? Where was I going wrong? Why, oh why, didn’t she like me? It’s the next day, and I’m thinking about her still. This is no different from writers who can quote you chapter and verse from their negative reviews, but not a word from the glowing ones. Or writers who troll their Amazon pages, only stopping to take in the one star reviews.
So what is the armor, then, that allows us to take part in the world around us, a world that will sometimes feel like just too much, a world that might insult us, or hurt us? For the writer, I think there’s only one answer, and I’m doing it right now. It’s to return to the solitude
What are you not writing about — and why?
What do you choose to focus your writing or blogging on — and why?