There’s a big black spider hanging over my door; can’t go anywhere, anymore…” Joanna Newsom, Have One On Me
I won’t be posting a paid post today, or charging your payment methods. The letter that you should have received by now (paid end of December) only just went out a few days ago. The one I should be sending in a week’s time is just being made.
I guess I needed a break, but wouldn’t accept that I needed a break. So I broke, instead. Despite being a die-hard cat person, I became someone whose only pet was a big silent black dog…that nobody else could see.
Depression, to me, has always been something that “happens to other people”, and so I didn’t recognise it, when it padded in on heavy furred feet, and took up residence in my soul.
Luckily, I like to face these things head-on. Kris was a huge help, bearing the brunt of my crazy 3am sobbing sessions, and not pushing me to get out of bed or off the boat when I just couldn’t.
I’m annoyed that it has messed up my schedule, but these things have to be acknowledged, and given room to run.
I believe I am out of the woods. The thing has run itself out of energy, anyway.
But there will have been no letter in January, and the one you’ll be receiving in February is a month overdue. We resume our regularly scheduled program of The Scarlet Letterbox with a paid post at the end of February.
It was crazy busy in the weeks that straddled the New Year. I was sitting a unit for somebody, and hurriedly trying to finish Letter #9 before the country shut down (printers and post offices), when the unit owner announced her surprise return on New Year’s Eve, and I had to pack everything into suitcases, willy-nilly, clean the unit from top to bottom, organise transport, and move back onto the boat. I still can’t find half my tools and things. Disrupted.
There hasn’t been time, till now, to sit back, roll a metaphorical cigarette of contemplation (wishing it were the real thing…), and watch the good and bad of the old year dissolve like chocolate-scented smoke.
Along with my chocolate-and-cognac infused tobacco habit, I quit my job in October. To see if I could manage on art and love alone. So begins my acquaintance with the demons of anxiety that countless other ‘do-what-you-love’ freelancers have spoken about.
I have met, as well, the real difficulties of having no money, of not being able to get hold of money when needed, and of not knowing when, if ever, money would come.
I mustn’t exaggerate, though. It’s not the paralyzing situation that it could have been. There are no debt-collectors standing over us, nobody threatening to take our home away. Kris earns a little from selling his books and doing a bit of carpentry here and there, I earn a little from my Patreon letter subscribers, and we don’t need much. I am ‘saving’ $320 a month simply by not smoking! We own our ‘house’ (such as it is) and don’t pay real estate rates or power bills. We don’t have a car. The houseboat runs on solar panels. We row, and don’t buy/burn fuel for any kind of engine. Got no kids, nor even pets at this stage. No serious illnesses. No active addictions. No debts or credit cards, no loans, no mortgage. And we never touch our travel savings, either, so this whittled-down lifestyle still feels like a choice and not a trap! The simplicity still feels like a distillation, not poverty. We’re still going traveling this year.
But I found myself drawn, nonetheless, to the glowing aura of success on Instagram, and thought it could not hurt to brush up on “How to Become a Big Budju Malaka on Social Media” and promote my Patreon monthly letter subscription to a wider audience.
My IG following sits at 200+ people, mostly personally known to me. There’s a 4-year-old on Instagram with 200,000 followers, and she’s just a cute kid (not out-of-this-world…but cute, as kids are) with an aptitude for posing, and a precociously narcissistic little ego that everyone adores. She doesn’t seem particularly talented…they hang clothes on her. I thought the secret must lie in a system of regular posting, some hashtagging skills, a tight photo aesthetic, and some sort of reciprocal etiquette. How hard could it be?
My “Occupy Instagram” project coincided with sitting my friend’s unit. I had lots of time alone…Kris refused to leave his boat for The ‘Burbs. Chlorinated spas and air-conditioned bedrooms fail to excite him, other people’s homes are “all wrong”, and their bookshelves are contemptible. I, on the other hand, am allergic to sandflies—I suffer terribly from both the bites, and an eczema in reaction to all the bites, during the summer—so this hiatus beckoned like skin & sanity rehab.
I watched hours of video each night. Enrolled in Skillshare, subscribed to social media coaches on YouTube, followed recommended successful “influencers” in order to see how they did things. When I felt ready, I downloaded the half-dozen apps recommended by all the different experts, installed them on my phone, and looked at what they could do for me.
The hashtagging app generates 25 lines of hashtags prompted by one key word…but of course the algorithms are based on what has already been tagged, ad nauseam. Usually, when I typed in one of my words, I got “Sorry, can’t find anything that matches your search…”
The next app sends stock comments to everyone who has interacted with your feed. It’s quite likely that the blander, less specific comments you receive from others are sent by the same app. You can set up bots to do the work of distributing pre-made messages, badgering others for likes, and indiscriminately liking everyone else.
Statistics apps show you lists of everyone you’ve followed that day, who followed you back, and a button to “unfollow’ the list of people who didn’t reciprocate. Lists of all your new admirers, lists of people who used to, but then stopped following you (presumably the app will also send a missile to their GPS locations and blow them to kingdom come.)
The pretense and automation of nearly every aspect of becoming “a social media boss” exhausted me. By the third night, I was allergic to Instagram, Facebook, even Twitter. If I was oblivious, before, to the likes and the numbers, I felt hostile to them, now, because most of it was just apps talking to apps. It felt self-abasing to care about any of the statistics, or to do anything in an attempt to influence those numbers, at all. To sink to the level of an app.
Around this time, Brandon Stanton (the extraordinary human behind http://www.humansofnewyork.com ) published “A Space To Create” on his Patreon site, where he wrote about social media, and how it is failing artists and people who want what they do to still hold meaning, integrity, authenticity, substance, to be a real contribution to the world.
“…Content has become more bite-sized, more consumable, and less nuanced. In a world of decreasing attention spans, brevity is seen as the only way to compete. Importance is placed on the quantity of output rather than quality. Many ‘social media gurus’ teach that success is frequency of contact. Publish or perish. Either you constantly remind the world that you exist, or you will be forgotten. I’ve spoken with a lot of artists on the Internet who feel burned out by this dynamic. They feel stifled by the treadmill of daily content…Social media tells you to go quickly. Art tells you to go deep. Social media tells you to replicate what works. Art tells you to experiment. Social media tells you to always be visible. Art tells you to disappear, figure something out, and come back with a discovery worth sharing. It’s not an easy puzzle for artists to solve. Because social media is the lifeline to our audience, and artists can’t survive without an audience.”
For a few weeks I was tempted to do something drastic, like delete all my social media accounts. I’ve calmed down, since. I uninstalled Twitter, buried Instagram and Facebook inside a folder on my phone, turned off all notifications from these apps, so I have to open them to see updates.
It’s a good start. I’d like to delete the facebook account, eventually (mainly because of security breaches, leaks, and their misuse of personal information.) Meanwhile, I’m cool with using Instagram like a photo album…the way I do use Flickr (but hardly any of my friends are on Flickr).
“Is your purpose to create art? Or is your purpose to create an audience?”
I’m just not looking to social media to promote anything that I care about, anymore. And I am dropping all efforts to improve my popularity or “build an audience” through these channels!
“Instead of wasting all day grooming superficial stuff on social media, pour your energy into mastering a difficult skill…The solution, rather than trying to endlessly spruce up your website and social media posts, is to put in the hard work. Get up early, or stay up late honing your skills.”
John P. Weiss,
I’ll be withdrawing time and energy from all the Social Media (S&M) stuff, and pouring it back into writing (and, by extension, this blog), into producing exclusive posts for my Patreon subscribers, into the monthly letters, and into having an exhibition this year. I’m going to immerse myself in whatever I feel is worth my time, and be less visible to the people on social media, most of whom don’t get, or like, what I do, anyway.
To end on a cheesy note that’ll have you hating me for hearing this song in your head for the rest of the day:
“Back to life, back to reality, back to the Here and Now, yeah…”