a vanilla hemingway

Did you know you can buy bourbon at Walgreens in Albuquerque? This is what social media has brought me to. I think, I should tweet that. Then I laugh sarcastically.

It’s been a long time since I paid attention to why I’m writing here, on this website, this blog, this existential purgatory. The spiral. Spiraling out of control. The experiment is working, all right; I’m losing my shit.

I hate social media. For the same reason that I hate interstate highways and jet skis on lakes and rap and alpine ski runs — speed. Speed is poison. Just like this bourbon. It’s cheap Jim Beam, with added vanilla. It would be better in coffee. But tonight, I’m drinking it straight. I’m calling this drink a Vanilla Hemingway. Cheers. He’d have hated social media. He couldn’t even manage society, let alone this.

THIS. I hit the first wall, and knew it the instant I felt it: writer’s block. Stubborn as a mule. My mind refused to write. Absolutely refused. To write. Just to get a publication credit for my “author’s platform.”

Oh, it’s all going swimmingly, thanks to an encouraging editor. I’m doing great. Beautifully told story, skillful, even masterful, writing. My ego fills the room, strutting as it paces back and forth, swirling the vanilla bourbon in the blue coffee mug while not even feigning any sort of modesty. Too true. I can turn a phrase, all right. I can make you laugh, make you cry, make you ponder the mysteries. Yes, I’m fucking amazing.

Except I have no platform. Which in this day and age is defined as a social media presence. Which in this day and at my age so pisses me off, so fills me with revulsion, I feel like buying a gun and shooting my laptop with the cold fury of a hitman, hating that this is the job his talent has led him into. Dangling preposition. Into which his talent has led him. Correct but stupid-sounding, when you cut what’s dangling to appease the people in power. Eunuch-speak. Sorry eunuchs, that’s not sensitive. Take a sip from my coffee cup of not coffee.

Aahhh. Where was I. Right, ranting.

This all started at the laundromat, where all the best self-reflection starts. I loaded almost a month’s worth of dirty clothes, sheets, and towels into two washers and hoped for a cleansing miracle. I felt dirty. I used extra liquid detergent, even though the machines have stickers that tell you specifically not to do that very thing. Fuck you, washing machines. I will use all the liquid detergent I want, and we will all live with the ugly consequences.

I look out my open front door (except for the paranoia screen of locked, scrolled iron), and laugh into this night’s stars. Albuquerque, you are a disaster. And so am I.

While all that dirty laundry swirled in bubbles and water, I sat in the passenger side of my car and read news articles on my phone. Look how twenty-first-century I am. I started a Washington Post article about Trump, but I just could not stomach any more articles about that person. Just — no more. Not now. Not today.

I read about epic megafires and the California prisoners who help put them out every year. I read about Oxford Museum removing their display of shrunken heads. Good for you; that takes the sensitivity of a gnat, to realize showing human heads as art or artifacts is sick and creepy. Scientists Say a Mindbending Rhythm in the Brain Can Act Like Ketamine. I don’t want anything to act like ketamine; how did I receive this? And then I see a Cosmo article that asked to discuss “How to Stop Being a ‘Foster Girlfriend’ Because It Needs to End.” And at first I read that as, “Because It Never Ends.” But that’s just the cataracts talking. They see all kinds of nonsense.

I read about young women who fall into being a “foster girlfriend” by dating broken, emotionally-immature men and intervening, “helping” them, “until they find their forever homes.” The social media of relationships, helping men finally publish themselves. Hilarious and horrible, hitting way, way too close to home. How many of us try to save people in our relationships. They’re hurting, and we care, and with our love, they will heal. Yada, yada, yada, blah blah blah. My cup needs a refill. You get into this type of mess if you’re “used to being second best, feeling rejected, or prone to acting needless….” Dear god. I always did this. Do this. I always feel rejected, act needless, even now. I can always handle it. An expert brought into the article suggests “looking at what you’re trying to avoid in your own life that leads to this behavior.”

That got me thinking, sitting in my passenger seat, waiting for time to pass at an Albuquerque laundromat, avoiding the western sun at the end of the afternoon: what am I avoiding?

Social. Fucking. Media.

I don’t want to write simply to get work published. I’ve never done that, in my entire life. And I don’t want to sell out now, foster my needy stories, counting coup by counting “likes” or clips or awards or whatever. I just want to write.

Oh, don’t I sound noble, me and my coffee cup of how many fucks I give today. Cheers, Hemingway. At least I’m still here. Sorry, Hemingway, that was insensitive.

So I sit in my car and I Google “writers who hate social media.” Let’s get some input from the wider world, yes? I find Jane Friedman’s blog, and a post titled, “So You’re an Author Without a Social Media Presence: Now What?” It’s from three years ago, which still feels relevant in my world, since I was recorded for the Denver Poets in 1993, and had been writing for years before that. Anyway, her article tells me that my bad attitude toward social media in general is essentially going to doom my social media efforts to failure. “If your only motivation to use social media is that you feel you must to market and promote your book, your efforts are likely to be undercut by your own means-to-an-end approach. Your communication may exhibit less curiosity and interest in others, and be more focused on book sales — not to mention you’ll be entering social environments where you’re a stranger in a strange land, unaware of the local ‘language,’ etiquette, or history. For first-time authors especially, the existing social media community is rarely clamoring for you to join them and talk about your book, unless you already have an audience or readership….”

I am always a stranger in a strange land. That is my name, that is my life. My truest experience is this description of a community “rarely clamoring” for me to join. I can’t even connect with my colleagues at work, in a health clinic, let alone this anonymous online “community.” How the hell am I supposed to exhibit curiosity and interest in these unknown “others”? By wondering who the fuck they are?

The next question she answers is: “Do authors have to use social media?” I love that the term “authors” is used, as if by writing a manuscript, I am now an author. Hah, Jane, that is my response to you. Or maybe the bourbon’s response. HAH. I am a writer. But unpublished, I am no author.

She answers, “No. If you hate, dread, avoid, or rail against social media, don’t use it.” I feel huge relief. Until her next sentence: “There are other things you can do: write guest posts or articles for websites and blogs, be a guest on podcasts or vlogs [whatever the fuck those are], do your own audio or video content, teach online classes, organize in-person events….” All right, that is ENOUGH, Jane, Jesus. Message boards. Book clubs.

And then she can’t answer “What should authors do on social media?” Because “it’s like asking me how you should be as a person. Or what you should do with your free time. Or what you should be curious or care about. I have no idea.”

Thank you, Jane, for a fucking honest answer. What I do with my free time is hike, draw, read, write, try to garden a few withering plants in Albuquerque, and play with my grandkids. This is the conundrum: your social media presence, your platform, is supposed to reflect what you care about, and how you communicate that to the public. As if you should.

Go fuck yourself, self-aggrandizing social media. That’s my platform. That ought to be popular. So many “likes.”

Instead, I clicked on her “author platform” link. And here she just gutted me: “…[B]y far the easiest explanation [of an author platform] is: an ability to sell books because of who you are or who you can reach.” Her emphasis, not mine.

Mic. Drop.

I burst into tears, in my passenger seat, sitting alone outside the laundromat in Albuquerque. Tears of utter frustration and defeat. That should be the slogan on the city website. “Like.” Kiss my ass.

Hear me, Jane, on this, and all you who love social media: I am NO ONE. I can reach…NO ONE. Because I have no network. I am middle-aged, boring, tired of my day job, tired of our high-speed, capitalist society, tired of all the goddamn know-it-alls spewing words everywhere, and I have plenty of other, equally definite beliefs about life and what matters. Yet I don’t even Facebook, let alone tweet out every phrase that enters my brain. Because I definitely believe that this nonstop opinion-chatter DOES. NOT. MATTER. It’s immature, even if it’s momentarily entertaining and all-engaging. Back in my day, we called it a “circle jerk.” Sorry, circle-jerking social media fans, that was insensitive. Where’s my coffee cup.

Aahhh. Where was I. Being a jerk, right.

I wiped the tears away and went inside the laundromat to get my secondhand, worn-out clothes from the dryer. As I loaded them into my bag, and my bag into my car, I became angrier and angrier.

As I drove the broken, uncared-for alley behind the laundromat to the street leading to my apartment, I slowed for potholes the size of car tires, cursing into my steering wheel.

And as I turned onto my street, stopping at the useless stop signs that stop no one in Albuquerque, I thought: fuck you, agents, if you require a social media presence and an “author’s platform” to work with me.

And fuck you, publishers, if you require an agent to even look at my work.

Fuck you, book publishing. I know how to write. Publish me. Or don’t. But I’m not bending over backwards to fuck myself in this stupid process.

I hung up my wet jeans and T-shirts on hangers on my shower rod. I dropped the bag of dry socks and underwear and kitchen towels at the front door. It makes a good doorstop, letting air in that idiotic iron screen door, an icon of the palpable fear of Albuquerque, a place that sells bourbon at fucking Walgreens.

I know what I’m seeing, outside my stupid screen door. I know how to describe it. I hear my chile ristra scraping against the crumbling adobe wall out there, the wind blowing it as it hangs from the vigas on my front porch. Fuck you, Albuquerque. And publishing. And social media.

I’m ready to pack my backpack and chuck this whole thing. Leave the bourbon on the counter for the next sucker. Spiral your over-inflated egos around that, book publishers. I’ll still be writing, even if I’m living in a tent. Go fuck yourselves.

Cheers, Hemingway, wherever you are.


Mr Rogers has nothing to declare in customs

“Kindergarten on Zoom?!” I watch my grandkids pinballing around the living room. “Let’s find Mr. Rogers online.” 

As the opening song twinkles up the xylophone, three little heads turn in unison, then sit, as if hypnotized.  The one-year-old sucks her pacifier intently.

“Would you like to see what I’ve brought?” Mr. Rogers asks engagingly.

“Yes!” answers the three-year-old. The kindergartener is curious, too, ignoring the game on the iPad in his lap.

My daughter is delighted, and so relieved, even if only for five minutes.

Mr. Rogers is the kind of grandparent I aspire to be. Only problem is, I’m not the kind of person Mr. Rogers is on his show. He offers infinite patience. He always has time for children’s interests and concerns. But Mr. Rogers, how game would you be to play nonstop superheroes fighting bad guys? To engage with neverending dragon battles on a tiny screen? I’m Captain America one minute, Saint George the next. Or maybe I’m the dragon.

I’m so tired of fighting. This has been a very long year. One of many, in a long life now.

Each generation fights to be seen and heard, to feel like they have some kind of power. And each generation worries about the worldview of their children, afraid they haven’t taught them well enough. Haven’t taught them to see, or to listen. We all think: you can’t continue to fight fire with fire. Guns or flames, we’re all going down, this way. And then we all think: I can’t stop this, this is the way of the world.

Mr. Rogers has brought two suitcases with him into his house in The Neighborhood. He says they are for going on trips — but not to worry, he isn’t leaving. He reassures us he isn’t going anywhere. Instead, he explains he’s brought things to show us. He opens the old silver latches on the small suitcase to reveal: it is packed full of small hats. Doll hats. Puppet hats. Many hats that cannot fit on any real people, no matter how young, no matter how small.

I look at the kids. They are enthralled. By an old suitcase full of tiny hats. All thoughts of fighting have ceased. They are engrossed in their own curiosity.

These unexpected little hats have slipped past their habits and expectations. You can physically see the wonder, the questions forming, the engagement with possibilities yet unknown. Mr. Rogers asks, “Would you like me to show you what’s in the big suitcase?” They all lean forward in anticipation.

The world is bigger than we are, tiny people. So much awaits us, to be discovered.

All you heroes and dragonslayers, it’s okay to lay down your weapons for a moment, take off your sweaty helmets, and rest from your weary labors. Mr. Rogers is about to open the silver latches, his wisdom found in his gentle understanding: we all want to see and understand what is inside. He knew we need a quiet space to explore what we find. A safe space. Kindness.