When I first sat down back in the summer of 2009 and started writing about two guys named Matt and Jared, I had no idea what kind of journey I was starting. Yes, I was attempting — for the first time ever, really — to write a story. Yes, there was a tiny hope that maybe it’d turn out good enough to be published. There was a seedling of the idea that maybe this was what I was really meant to do with my life. But at no time did I have even an inkling of the type of soul-searching this career choice would create.
I’m starting this blog post without a clear idea of where it’s going (that’s nothing new), so please bear with me.
The last few years have been trying for me, and it’s been difficult to even grasp what was making it that way. But it was all sort of a downward spiral that culminated last January in the INdecision to quit writing.
I know that sentence doesn’t make a lot of sense. But it wasn’t a “decision,” really. It was indecision, all the way…
It’s like the other night. My husband and I were watching the Raiders versus the Chiefs on Thursday Night Football. (Hey, NFL? Nobody likes Thursday night games!) It was the end of the third quarter, and the Chiefs were up, but it looked like the Raiders might pull something together (or, to be more accurate, it looked like the Chiefs might decide to fumble it all away), and I said to my husband, “I can’t decide if I’m going to watch the fourth quarter, or go to bed.”
Fast forward forty-five minutes, when it’s suddenly the two-minute warning, and I’m still parked on the couch, thinking about going to bed. I realized I’d never actually made the decision to stay up and watch the end of the game. I’d spent the entire quarter trying to make up my mind, and as a result, saw the rest of the game anyway.
That’s kind of how it went with my indecision to quit writing. I never decided to quit, but my indecision carried me all the way from January to August, when I finally announced my “hiatus”. But all of it was a culmination of a battle I’d been fighting for two or three years – a battle to determine exactly why my career felt like slow death rather than accomplishment.
This isn’t about sales. It isn’t about money. It isn’t about reviews. People immediately assume that’s what I’m talking about, but it’s not. This was about the fact that sitting down at my computer each day felt like stabbing myself in the heart, and I didn’t know why.
One of the things that went along with my hiatus was my decision to step away from social media. I’ve known for a while now that social media poisons my well. But the exact why of that was harder to pin down. Yes, it’s full of rage and negativity, but there’s more to it than that.
You know that scene in Inside Out where the “opinions” and “facts” get all mixed up, and one of them says, “Oh, don’t worry. It happens all the time”? That’s how I feel every time I log into social media. Opinions are NOT facts, so why are we so determined to berate everybody who dares have one that differs from our own? Why can’t we just say, “I prefer Empire to Jedi,” rather than saying, “Only an ignorant moron would think Jedi is better”? Why are we so determined to dump shame onto anybody who dares disagree with us?
I realize sometimes these things are done purely for comic effect, but many times, they’re not. Many times, it’s quite clear the person behind the post or tweet really does believe that anybody with a differing opinion is an idiot. That’s a mindset I have very little patience for. Add that to the never-ending genre drama, and the folks who clearly run around on some kind of witch hunt, just waiting for an author to utter the wrong thing, and it makes me want to abandon social media completely.
The fact is, I like tweeting. I like that bit of connection with people. And so I’ve been trying very hard to reconcile my desire to be on certain social media sites with my knowledge that it’s destructive. How do I balance me — the actual, real ME, and my desire to connect with people — against Marie, and the fact that she doesn’t have the luxury of voicing her opinions?
I’ve talked about this in one way or another with a shitload of different people. Sometimes it helps, and sometimes I feel like I’m just dumping more poison down the well. But mostly, I think it’s been constructive.
The Gifts of Imperfection
On Friday, I read the book The Gifts of Imperfection, by Brené Brown, and pieces began to fall into place. The author talks about joy, and gratefulness. She talks about authenticity. She talks about belonging, versus fitting in.
The chapter that hit me hardest, maybe, was the one on cultivating authenticity. There’s a pretty sound argument to be made that we can’t have real connections with people if we can’t be our authentic selves with them, and this hit me right in the gut.
No wonder social media leaves me feeling so empty.
Whether or not anybody can make a “real” connection on Twitter or FB is a debate for another day, but what I know is that social media strongly discourages authenticity. This is not to say that each individual person on FB or Twitter is against authenticity. Far from it, I suspect. But it takes only five minutes on either site to see that individuals are lost in the noise. Both sites are ruled by this strange hive-type mentality which uses insults and shame to demolish authenticity. (The Hive doesn’t necessarily represent the majority, but that hasn’t stopped them yet.)
And make no mistake, the Hive demands conformity.
Resistance May Be Futile
I’ve never done well with conformity. In school, my friends were a hodgepodge, and together, we fell into some weird no-man’s land between nerds, brainiacs, and head-banging burnouts. (The idea of “geeks” being something other than “nerds” had not yet been formulated. Otherwise, that might have been in the mix, too.)
As an adult, I think I’m pretty comfortable with myself, and with the fact that I continue to be an outlier in many ways. But see, that’s me. That’s Amy. (And while I’ve never come right out and said my real name, it’s not exactly a big secret.) Amy can disagree with the masses on just about everything, but Marie doesn’t have that option. And yet being Marie has become a huge part of my life. An enormous amount of my self-worth is tied up in Marie. (Whether or not that’s healthy is also a debate for another day.)
Marie is expected to conform. Marie is simply not allowed to be authentic. In person, maybe. At conventions and conferences, being authentic is a bit more acceptable (but only within reason). That person you met in the bar at RT or GRL? That was as close to the authentic “me” as anyone’s likely to get. But on social media?
No fucking way, man.
A Culture of Shame…
The Hive loves shame. The Hive revels in finding outliers and shaming them away. Whether it’s because somebody dared to see the movie Fifty Shades of Grey (I didn’t, but hey, it’s your money), or because they didn’t have a strong political stance on the new Ghostbusters movie (which I haven’t seen), the Hive is quick to dump truckloads of shame upon their heads.
And when real issues come into play?
You better agree with the Hive or get the fuck out of the way. The Hive has no qualms about calling you every nasty thing in the book if you dare to disagree. The Hive won’t think twice about ruining your career or your life. They seem to think that’s what you get for daring to have your own opinion.
…And a Distinct Lack of Joy
Another section of The Gifts of Imperfection that hit me hard was the section on joy. Brené differentiates joy from happiness, and there’s a paragraph on pages 79-80 exploring the differences by examining the roots of the two words. At the end of that paragraph, there’s a quote from Ann Robertson about joy. It ends with this line: “They say [joy’s] opposite is not sadness, but fear.”
And suddenly I knew why being Marie no longer involved joy — because every minute I spend as Marie is spent in fear. Every tweet, every blog post, every book, every word — I hold each one under a microscope before I speak/post/tweet, trying to determine whether the Hive will find fault. Trying to decide if that silly tweet about my daughter’s shoes is worth risking the wrath of the Hive.
Is it any wonder there is no longer joy in being Marie?
I know some authors don’t care. Some say whatever they want, although in my experience, a lot of the most outspoken ones are only echoing the Hive. The few who dare to speak contrary to the Hive either love a good fight, or are promptly eviscerated.
I do *not* enjoy fighting, so the real issue is, am I strong enough to face evisceration?
No. Definitely not. If that makes me a coward, then so be it. But I got into this business because I wanted to write stories about men falling in love, not because I wanted to fight meaningless internet battles with opinionated assholes.
Conflict versus Discussion
I hate conflict.
I can handle discussion. I like dialog. I encourage the genuine exchange of ideas. But social media is none of those things. Social media is an echo chamber. Everybody’s shouting, but almost nobody’s taking time to listen.
All of this goes along with a discussion I had recently with my massage therapist, Kendra (who inspired Jaime, in Between Sinners and Saints, by the way). I was trying to formulate the idea that discussion is good, but conflict is bad, and how people have abandoned the former in exchange for the latter. We actually seem to think posting pithy memes is the same as dialog, and that calling people rude names is okay, so long as they’re on the other side of whatever issue people are foaming at the mouth about. I think it’s detrimental to us as a society. And Kendra told me something Mother Theresa once said.
And this, in my mind, is brilliant. Because conflict is, by definition, destructive. Being anti-anything promotes conflict rather than peace. It promotes destruction rather than understanding.
I decided immediately that this was what I would strive for. I will not be anti-ANYTHING. Instead, I will be PRO. I will be pro-peace, pro-equality, pro-justice, pro-compassion, pro-understanding, pro-happiness. I won’t even bother being anti-Hive. Instead, I will be pro-authenticity.
Different Is Good
The world is a big place. It’s not made up of black and white, good and bad. People are not all gay or straight. The country is not divided into intelligent, open-minded, compassionate Democrats and cold-hearted, racist, homophobic Republicans. Most people are one of the millions of shades of gray in between.
Each one of us is unique. We all come from different countries, different regions, different families, different upbringings. Somebody raised by a devout Catholic corporate banker in New York City is bound to have a different world view than somebody raised by an atheist cattle rancher in rural Wyoming, and both of them will differ from a Muslim raised by a single mother somewhere in the UK. That doesn’t make one of them right and two of them wrong.
It only makes them different.
And thank goodness for those differences! Who wants to live in a world where every person thinks and feels exactly the same way? Who wants to be part of a world where there’s only one opinion allowed on every single facet of life? The Hive may want that, but most people I know don’t. In fact, an argument could be made that a world like that would have no need for art, music, or literature. That sounds like a god damned awful, boring place to be.
The Beautiful Imperfection of Being Human
I believe that all life is connected on some grand, cosmic scale. Yes, people are all different, but we share certain traits. We’re all flawed. We’re scared. We’re searching. We’re all fighting our own battles. And we’re almost all longing for connection. We all want somebody to just say, “Yeah, I hear you.” Not necessarily “you’re right” or “I agree.” Just, “I hear you.”
Is that so hard?
But also, yes. Because the Hive doesn’t care about hearing people. The Hive wants only to assimilate. The Hive will shame you for wanting to be heard, and shame you for being the person who takes a moment to listen.
The Hive wants to divide the world into Xs and Ys, and dump shame by the truckload onto one of them.
It’s not PRO. It’s anti.
So, What’s My Point?
Where am I going with this, and how does it relate to my hiatus from writing and from social media? I’m still formulating all that. This post is part of my effort to process what I’ve learned. Maybe Marie simply doesn’t belong on social media. Maybe it’s time I accepted that I can’t stand dealing with the assholes. (I should clarify: I think the authentic people outnumber the assholes. But unfortunately, the assholes seem to have all the power on social media.) Or maybe I just need to learn how to reframe my time there.
Here’s what I know:
- I will be PRO. Pro-equality, pro-peace, pro-diversity (in all matters), pro-authenticity, pro-dialog, pro-understanding. The list goes on and on. I will be PRO many things. But I will not be anti.
- I will strive to find that balance, as Marie, between being authentic and being safe. I don’t know what that looks like yet, but I’ll try to find it. Maybe publishing this blog post (which I’m scared to do — I’ve been sitting it on for more than 24 hours now) will be the first step.
- I’ll do my damnedest to keep my facts and opinions separate.
- I will not participate in shaming anyone. I will not give power to the Hive. If that means I have to run away and hide during certain events (like presidential elections), I will. But I will NOT deliberately create shame for anybody. (Except those people who walk into a room and stop right in the doorway, blocking all traffic from both directions. I will continue to scream at them to take one fucking step to the side before stopping to gape. I’m not anti-“stop and figure out where to go.” I’m just pro-“get your behind out of the way while you do it.”)
- I will continue to actively search for ways to make being Marie an act of joy again, rather than an act of fear.
Maybe I’ll see you again on Twitter in the next few days. Maybe not. I don’t know. But until then, I will leave you with one last thought that’s been much on my mind of late: