I’m a 41-year-old writer and I just joined Instagram. This confession feels akin to a modern midlife crisis, only instead of a new red Porsche, I’m posting selfies and photos of my cats. Stop me while I’m ahead. I admit I’m a bit of a late bloomer, there were only 300 MILLION others who did it before me.
I am, by no way morally opposed to technology; I was just standing on my ‘been there, done that, don’t want to go back down that pigeon hole’ platform. I did the Twitter thing in 2008, back when I had a corporate job and it was something to do for fun (or to get you fired). But now I’m just another one of the sheep, trying to use these “modern tools” to help myself flesh out my “online presence” because that’s what you have to do nowadays – if you want to be a writer, that is.
It’s not enough to be a good writer. It’s not enough to have fucked-up parents or go through a divorce or even have an eating disorder and be honest and vulnerable as you write about it. It’s not enough if you have gripping sentence structure, or are well-versed, or even have HEART in your story telling. It’s not even enough to declare to the ether or to anyone you meet, for that matter, physically or virtually, that you are FOLLOWING YOUR DREAM. (What is this bullshit about ‘Do what we love, don’t worry about the money and it will follow?’) But it is not enough.
Because “The Writer” has become too ordinary of a breed; too accessible to the layman. Today, everyone is a writer, a journalist, a documentarian, a photographer – and we carry with us, an all-in-one tool that lets us share our craft with the world.
So how do the die-hards stand out from the imposters? How do I create and maintain a well-oiled public relations machine? I want to legitimize my writing career, but it’s more important I have a robust social network of friends and followers, than I have words or stories. It’s quite depressing.
A writer, by conventional characteristic stereotypes, tends to be more of a loner or a recluse; someone who wants to sit back, analyze, hypothesize, and make speculations and conclusions about life. Now I always have to be on the networking prowl. Leave me in a corner to write notes about everyone instead. I’m so much better at judging silently than saying hello.
So I join Instagram and contribute to the Word Apocalypse of our generation, where everything is shortened. Why bother with words when you can use pictures? Even captions are shorter. I used to be in journalism; I know about brevity. But it’s gone too far – we keep it short by eliminating the vowels from words and spaces from between them. Our communication has become license plates. We’re in such a hurry to get more done faster, while reading less. Online publications prefer 300-500 word stories. That’s the irony. In a physical publication, there’s actual layout to contend with and printing logistics which could restrict an unlimited word count. But on the internet, words are free, like digital pictures.
I’ve tried to master the art of the selfie. People joke that Kim Kardashian has no talents, but I beg to differ. I cannot make my ass look that way no matter how much champagne I spill. My arms aren’t long enough, I don’t know how to relax my face and I have no idea where the light is coming from, I can’t photoshop the circles under my eyes or the wrinkles by my nose. Instagram glamorizing filters are the best I’ve got.
As I parked at the grocery store last week, I looked over at the car next to me and there was a teenage girl enamored with her jewel-crusted phone. She was making all sorts of loving faces at it. Kissing faces. Shocked faces. Eyes wide open, mouth ajar faces. At first I thought I could watch her for a few minutes and maybe I can emulate. But I was quickly schooled; multiplication theory doesn’t work for selfies – just because it works at 14, does not mean it will work at 41.
Every day is like Show and Tell meets the 6th grade dance. I come up in front of an invisible group of finger swipers and say, “Hey look at me. Am I pretty (with a filter or in black and white) or isn’t my cat adorable?” Then I wait for LIKES.
My teenage son has advised me that I can never click like on any of my own photos – that is totally uncouth. But, he said, if you have 11 likes, then you can be the 12th like, because then it will just say “12 likes” rather than list who actually liked it. Secrets of the trade. I wait for 11 likes. 11 likes. I just have to have 11 people click a heart on my photo.
Why did I let this into my world? Why did any of us? What kind of pleasure are we deriving from this? This is teenage rejection on a regular basis. I’m 41 years old, married to a beautiful man and have regular sex; why am I posting pictures of myself to the world and hoping someone finds me and LIKES MY WRITING?
(My cat pictures get the most likes. )