Start of Year Check-In

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.

Relax, this photo’s old. The habit is one of the things I left behind in 2018.
Still miss it though. Every morning.
It haunts…like the phantom limb of amputated youth. When did I get so tame? So inoffensively middle-aged? So mindful of my health? Where did my claws and fangs go? When did I lose my invincibility, and become afraid to die?

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.”

Brandon Stanton, “The Space To Create” on http://www.patreon.com/humansofnewyork

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?”

-ibid.

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…”

“Back To Life” by Soul II Soul

5 thoughts on “Start of Year Check-In

  1. Congratulations on quitting smoking! I am not a very accomplished Instagrammer at all but I prefer sharing my art there (and on my blog) than on Facebook (which I use as a lazy way to keep in touch with friends and family) and I like to flick through pretty pictures on Instagram when I am doing something mundane like stirring a pot of something as it cooks. I have zero idea how to build an audience on Instagram but, as a consumer, I am as happy to see a post from someone who shares infrequently as I am from someone who shares regularly. I think the thing the people I follow have in common (and the majority are artists) is authenticity and some degree of interaction – even if it is just to “like” a comment that has been left for them.

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  2. It’s taken me years to build up to ~600 followers on Instagram, the social media I’m most active on (I auto-post to other platforms from Insta and rarely login to those accounts). Most of them probably never see me in their feed, but there are maybe 50 users who I interact with regularly- it’s mostly just liking each other’s posts and the rare human generated comment. I tell myself that this works for me, because I’m only genuinely interested in developing something solid, as social media relationships go, with those who make the time and space in their lives to develop a real connection with my botany/illustration/art work. But that rat race does holler at me, telling me I’m doing it wrong. I do my best to ignore it in favor of the real work. My peace and sanity and the quality of my work are worth so much more than running that race.

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  3. Congrats on quitting smoking! It’s the single most healthy thing you can do, and why pump all that money into corporate crooks selling their toxic wares? Anyway, what I really want to share with you is a quote I often invoke, from my color 2-D design teacher: “The purpose of art is not to please. The purpose of art is to involve.” Go get ’em, girl.

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    1. Oh Jill! I hope you’re well, i see you’ve taken a hiatus from blogging…
      Thank you, it isn’t the first time I’ve quit but fingers crossed i will stay quit this time.
      There are so many great confident quotes about what the purpose of art IS, and this multiplicity only tells me that we haven’t got a clue really. But we do it, regardless, and it seems to help us, somehow! Everyone just has to find his own way through the maze…
      Good to hear from you. Sorry I’ve been a poor blogger. 😊

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