Friended, Fanned and Porned (How To Make Facebook and Other Social Media Un-Fun)

iStock_000017966432XSmallSometimes I hate social media! The problem didn’t start when I listened to a respected friend tell me that I needed to build my Facebook and Twitter accounts, so that when I have a book published, I will have social media in place. Up until her suggestion, my social media list had plateaued about 100. Those are actual people who I know. So I followed my friend’s advice and began making friends with lots of other writers on Facebook. Not hard to do when everyone and their mother is a writer these days. There is an initial high when you see your FB friends list go from 100 to 550. And the seduction in that is that I started to believe for a hot minute that I really had 550 friends. But we all know that’s not really true. If I died today, 450 of those people would not give a rat’s ass.

And the problem didn’t start when I got porned on Facebook. A sexually violent picture appeared on my timeline. I was able to report it and get a response from FB. But then I started getting porn sites in my friend requests, so that if I went to check out someone’s profile to see if we had friends in common or writers in common, I’d land on a porn profile. No way to report those to Facebook. Facebook started to become really un-fun for me.

Here is where I think the problem really started: I bought the line of bull about branding yourself. Oh my God, what a better world we would be if we didn’t worry about branding ourselves. Remember when being a decent person, one who cares about being good at what they do was enough? Is that so old-fashioned that it isn’t even relevant anymore?

Donald Trump is branding himself as the guy who is going to make America great again, but we all know that he is really just an asshole. Kim Kardashian is branding herself as a role model for young women, when we all know, oh well, never mind. . .  We live in a world of branding where we think we need a platform, where business as usual is not about what you can make well or about the good services you can offer, it’s about your brand. Brands sell. Unfortunately branding has taught us that whether or not you’re a company or an individual, creating a brand trumps (no pun intended) honesty as the best policy. Takes me back to the original question: remember when being a decent person who is good at what they do was enough?

In spite of being porned and feeling foolish for thinking that building a platform for my writing is essential, I am going to keep on writing. It’s what I do. It’s what I love. I hate it though, that writing now means you need to market yourself, promote yourself and friend and fan yourself. And more, I hate it that I let those things get in the way of the fun part of Facebook–watching cat videos from my friends and finding out what my nieces ate for Christmas dinner. So today, I unfriended 450 people and made my FB pages visible only to my friends, not the public. Unless I’ve met you, I won’t be accepting any new friend requests.

None of this, of course, has affected my writing. In the early morning hours I will still sit and write. There will be no selfies of that daily ritual. What I learned from this is that I can be satisfied with letting my work speak for itself. And if I don’t attract enough attention to it, I will be satisfied that I set out to do my chosen craft well.

As for the Twitter account, here’s my summation: It’s like being in a room where everyone is talking at the same time, and you can’t hear what anyone is saying. It feels like thousands of people you don’t know are pressing in, trying to get you to read something, buy something, like something or otherwise validate their platform, their branding or their status. It’s exhausting. Truth is, I don’t believe that all those writers on Twitter actually follow links or reads content, they’ve just learned to play the game well. It’s all about numbers, and if you are a writer it gives you some sort of perverse cred that you have lots of “followers.” What you have is your feet stuck in a landscape of goo with a bunch of other sheep that hope to tell their agents that they have several thousand Twitter followers. It’s like Donald Trump (because he is such a great example.) He keeps telling everyone how wonderfully well he is doing in the polls–which says nothing about policy. It’s just another version of being “friended.”

I’m not sure which is the worst of the pornography–inappropriate sexual content or the strangling culture of self-promotion. Okay, here’s the review: I unfriended 450 people today. My friend Mary assures me she will keep posting cat videos. I already feel lighter. And the next time someone tells me I have to build a platform and start creating my brand, I am going to smile politely and tell them that I am done being me, mainlining me. I just want to write.

Give The Best In You To Others

Merry Christmas to All Letter in Vintage Red TypewriterThe front porch and steps of the old house were painted institutional grey. A swing holding two teenaged girls hung from the beams. They swung back and forth, the beam creaking under their weight, the thump of shoes catching and then pushing them back again. The watched me walk to the door. No smiles. “Hi,” I said, a little too perky. No response. My hand found the screen door and pulled it open, lump in my throat and “oh my God what have I gotten myself into” in my heart. Today was my first class at “Attention Homes of Boulder.”

I was a writing student at Naropa University, a Buddhist inspired school, deeply rooted in the traditions of meditation, creative expression and service to others. Attention Homes was the service to others part and it was for a class on community outreach. As a student of writing, I was expected to give back what I was getting to my community. Short of writing a letter to someone, I had no idea what that meant. Still, I had come up with my pitch to teach a class in poetry at Attention Homes. And did I mention that I had no experience in teaching and that my poetry sucked?

For twelve weeks, I would come to this place and gather the teenaged girls who lived here around the dining room table and find a way to get them to write the longings of their heart. That sounds prettier on the page than the experience. It was like learning to be the teen whisperer. The girls at Attention Homes were tougher than anyone should ever have to be, and had seen and experienced more in their young lives than most of us do in a long life. They were the stats that didn’t look that great on the graph. I was met each week by bored faces who wanted to kick my ass to the curb. Then one class, we wrote about our mothers. It wasn’t intended. It was just a happy accident that caused lines of memories and longings to pour forth onto the page, because what united us was that we all had a mother. I was too clueless to realize that these tough kids missed their moms. And I had wanted to separate myself from them. They were the students over there and I was the teacher over here. The day we wrote about our moms, there was just one of us, and it was the beginning of my understanding how we are all connected by our stories.

I finished my twelve weeks with a small book: a comb bound, copied at the corner store, typed by me, book of poetry that was beautiful. Talk about self-publishing! Each of the girls got three copies and each of them talked excitedly about what they had made and who they would give it to. Give away what you are getting. I never forgot that class or those girls.

Today I woke up to an email from Michael Larsen, the director of the San Fransisco Writers Conference. He had sent two lists. The first list was about all the things you do as a writer. The second list was about how you can give it away. In the spirit of the season of giving, I am passing the list on to you. As writers we all want to be read and that’s a good thing. But as writers, we all have a lot that we can give to our communities that goes far beyond the writing or publishing of a book.  May your days be merry and bright and may all of your Christmases inspire you to write. (Now you can see why I say my poetry sucks!–thankfully I write prose. ) Here is Michael’s list:

Here’s how to share your gifts during the holidays and the rest of the year. You can:

Write your own greetings cards by hand and use stamps to mail them

Write a letter to share your year

Write letters for those who can’t

Read books to those who can’t

Teach reading and writing

Mentor writers

Write a memoir to share your life and create a legacy

Share your knowledge with a blog, interviews, podcasts, webinars, and talks

Support groups that give books to people in need

Ask libraries, literacy groups, and charities how you can help

Join a book club

Share your passion for the value of books, reading, and writing

Encourage other writers and writer’s organizations to help

Help organize events to support your goals

Give new or used books as gifts

The more you share your gifts, the greater your gift for sharing becomes. Give the best in you to others, and you will receive more than you give.

Michael Larsen, Co-Director
The 13th San Francisco Writers Conference & Open Enrollment Classes

Happy Holidays everyone. See you in the blogosphere in the new year!iStock_000004610770_Small