February 20, 2017
Hi there! Quick question before I start: How are you doing? If your answer is: “Great, my candidate won the election! I’m really delighted to wake up every day and see if our country has started World War III. I’ve always wanted to live in a kleptocracy,” then move along, head over to Breitbart, and see if there’s a sale on brown shirts.
If you’re answer is, “AAAAAHHHHHHHHH!” then sit right down here next to me on the couch. (Watch out for the cheesy popcorn and M&Ms, I’ve been working on gaining a little extra weight to keep me alive longer in the bunker.) Maybe a little extra stress eating, too. I am also grinding my teeth and having nightmares, and breaking out in hives. Other than that, though, all good!
It’s what I think of as the Life in The New This Is Not Normal. And it affects everything. Almost every conversation I have concerns the current horrifying shitshow, and how quickly you go from assessing one Dumpster fire to another, before yet another one pops up. And then when you’re on the fourth one, you remember the first three have still not been put out.
During my free time, I used to hang out with my boyfriend and my daughter, sleep, read. Now I’m making signs and protesting, and calling and mailing postcards to senators. I have to say that I never took Barack Obama for granted (really, every day I did think of how proud I was to have this man as my president, this literate, thoughtful, smart, moral man.) What I did take for granted was that, while he did his job, I could do mine. I assumed that while I was writing a piece or reviewing a book, I could be fairly certain that our Commander-in-Chief wasn’t picking fights with the prime minister of Australia or inventing terrorist attacks in Sweden. Now, I’m not so sure. And when I’m worried (99.92 percent of the time), I check social media.
I joined Facebook and Twitter in 2009. Yes, the “kids” were doing it, but I was an author and my publicists recommended it as a good way to connect with readers. I found that I enjoyed it, and did it as much for fun as anything else. Actually for fun and passing (wasting) time. Soon enough everyone was on the Socials. I really loved having almost daily contact with faraway friends, and also, since I work home alone, it’s nice for me to have a place to put my important thoughts and hilarious bon mots. I mostly stayed away from politics, I didn’t want to offend any of my readers. Of course that’s when a controversial post involved hating on Mitt Romney because he strapped his dog to the top of his car. Ah, the good ole days!
A few years ago, everything changed. I was very late on a book, so I had nothing to promote. It was pretty much fun and games all the times (procrastinating like a mofo and wasting precious time). It was still business as usual for the people who did have books, or gigs, or shows to promote, and that was as it should be. Slowly people started to rumble about the 2016 Presidential Election. I was interested, but my life as I knew it hadn’t changed. And then, well I don’t have to tell you what happened (A VERY BAD SCARY THING ATE THE WORLD). Nothing is the same. Not how we eat (too much) or sleep (too little) or play (in a very tense way), and certainly not how we use social media.
I started thinking about this last week. I reviewed a very lovely charming book by a debut author and started following her on Twitter. I’d go to my feed and see posts about the Muslim ban, defunding Planned Parenthood, the loss of climate protection, the INSANE ethics violations, every Three Stooge-ian cabinet appointment, the Russian interference with the election, and on and on and on, and there in the oozing molten lava would be this woman’s tweet about a blog review for her book. I just thought, That poor thing. At another time I would’ve liked and maybe even retweeted it, but at the moment, I needed to work on my resistance doughnut.
I knew something about having a book come out at a bad time. One of my books came out during Hurricane Sandy and on the same day a child in my daughter’s school and her baby brother were murdered by their nanny. Posting about my book at that time felt unseemly. Even posting a funny story about my kid or pictures of my dogs. But the time passed and things got back to normal. We don’t seem to be heading toward that any time soon.
I talked to my boyfriend about it. He works in a creative, but “regular” job. He doesn’t use social media except for posting about the latest Orange outrage or linking to a thoughtful New York Times piece. But it doesn’t interfere with his job. No one would say to him, “How can you work on a pitch for Chiquita Bananas when ICE is busting in on private homes?” Most people’s jobs are not questioned.
And it isn’t just about the uneasiness of self-promotion. I took a funny video of my dog stealing a sock and running away, and because he’s fat, he can’t hide. So I was laughing and talking to him and his big fat butt was sticking out from under the table with his tale wagging, and I was about to post it on Facebook when I saw that fucking Betsy DeVos had been confirmed. So, I didn’t post it. Instead I read about her fear of classroom bears and called in a refill for my Klonopin. Later on, I told my aunt about it and she said I should’ve posted it. People need a break, she suggested. I agree, we do need a break. But I have this fear that if I stop screaming about it every minute, that it will become normalized. I mean I think the break we need is from the madman, not the people talking about the madman. I could be wrong.
I’ve talked to a lot of my friends about this. How do we all manage our new world without losing vigilance?
A few thoughts come to mind. I used to sort of think of my social-media feed as if I was programming a channel. No one wants to see a whole channel of commercials or fluff or depressing shit. You need to mix it up. Also, read the room. If you open Twitter and everyone is talking about something very serious, they might not be open to your cute puppy with the sock. Don’t worry, a time will come when they will be. And no matter what is happening, people do need the arts and humor. It enriches our lives, gives us sustenance, and it’s what separates us from the animals (well, not the animals who hide socks, they are very arts-oriented).
If you need to post about your puppet theater’s performance this weekend and you are worried it will seem clueless and self-involved, just show that you are aware. You can even make a joke. “Hey, I’ve got three new puppets and none of them has a head like a giant orange pumpkin.”
We are going to have to figure out a balance and not just on social media, in our lives, too. If there isn’t a balance people are going to burn out, and that we can’t afford that.