When Olive is gone, I catch up. I catch up on long-read articles I’ve bookmarked and emails I’ve put off answering and invoices I’ve neglected to send. The three days are typically jam-packed with a flurry of activity and getting-shit-done-ness that just doesn’t exist when she’s here.
Truth be told, I often feel woefully ill-equipped to the sort of multi-tasking focus that being a parent, particularly a mother, requires. Anywhere Olive and I go, I’m confronted with the type of mother I envy – the one with a meticulously packed bag filled with zero-waste snacks and a sweater in case it gets cold and all sorts of just-in-case shit that it would never, ever occur to me to bring.
Olive and I end up sitting in the corner of the Science Centre cafeteria gnawing on our purchased grilled cheese sandwiches like feral animals. Everyone who walks past with their homemade lunches immediately recognises us for what we are – chumps who forgot to plan better. Damn.
All this is to say, I’m shitty at that sort of parenting and I attribute it in large part to the fact that I’m the introvert mother to a very, very talkative daughter. I love people, but I love them in the sense that after spending a day in the constant company of people, I crave three days of silence to process all of it and come back to myself.
I often feel like my brain gets completely fried after spending all day involved in the type of interaction Olive initiates, fielding inquiries and voicing “aminals” and requiring non-stop responses to her constant narration of her beautiful life. I end each day as this barely coherent slug-person, sliming my way through the day until she goes to bed, at which point I often just lie on the couch staring into space and trying to stockpile the silence. (Side note: if you’re also an introvert, read this book and then this article about introverted parenting specifically. Both are A+ and really helped my make sense of myself.)
ANYWAY, that was an unnecessarily long segue into the fact that while catching up with long reads since Olive left on Saturday evening, I read this article about social media.
As soon as it was sent to me I knew I had to read it because it was called Social Media Got You Down? Be More Like Beyonce. We know how I feel about Beyonce, so obviously I was in based on the title alone. If the article had said nothing more than “Get corn rows and a badass fur coat, dress up in grey high-waisted leggings and a sports bra and start spewing heart-hurting lyrics in a parking garage” I’d have been like, “Right, cool, absolutely. That makes sense. Faux fur is okay, yeah?”
Thankfully for everyone who is currently imagining the geriatric shitshow of me wearing high-waisted anything, that’s not what it said. Here’s an excerpt that sums up the basic gist;
…social media has stripped away our ability to tell what is O.K. to share and what is not. It’s not just that watching people vie for your attention can feel gross. It’s also that there’s a fine line between appearing savvy online and appearing desperate.
…But social media has, in its own way, provided us a means of generating other selves. We just haven’t yet learned to set them free. Beyoncé has, in her own way. The Beyoncé we follow seems to live and breathe, and provokes a real emotional reaction. It’s an illusion that feels intimate and real, a hologram self for us to interact with that, in theory, provides the actual Beyoncé space to exist away from our prying eyes.
The article touched on a topic which is close to my heart because I’ve spent almost a decade writing about my life online. At its core, this practice has always been about connection. Done right, it’s about using the written word to explore joy, loss, vulnerability and the handful of events that have made up my life thus far and using them to connect with others who may be going through the same thing.
I’ve always felt that calling what I do “oversharing” is reductive, though I understand it (and often joke about it). Taking to a blog or a Facebook page to spill dirty laundry or relate, in minute detail, everything that happens to you in a given day is oversharing, absolutely. But that’s an entirely different animal to what a storyteller does, which is to relate a specific event and then skillfully use it as a springboard to discussing broader truths about life, love, loss and everything in between.
A perfect example: Oversharing would have been writing a detailed account of the breakdown of my marriage; exactly what happened, who said what, a play by play of this ridiculous never-ending divorce process. This would be popular, I mean omg the DRAMA! But it would also exist primarily to serve me and my needs – my need to unload, to vent, to harness the bottomless indignant rage of the internet. Doing this basically involves ripping yourself apart and inviting the voracious appetite of internet strangers to feast on your most intimate, raw, bleeding self.
It gets page views, yeah, but after the feeding frenzy dies down you’re picked clean. You’re empty. And if you don’t want to be left behind, you have to keep offering up tastier and tastier morsels to sustain the appetite of those voracious strangers. There’s no connection, it’s just appetite. Endless, insatiable hunger. This is problematic in and of itself, but worse, at some point, the process flips and this outside appetite starts shaping how you live your life, you start creating events in order to relate them. This is supremely fucked on many, many different levels.
Storytelling, on the other hand, involves sharing just as much as you need to in order to provide context to what you’re writing about, experiencing, learning, and evolving into. It serves a broader purpose – learning, entertainment, connection, providing a feeling of “you’re not alone”. The gory details take a backseat, it doesn’t matter if you haven’t been through exactly what I have. Everyone has felt betrayal, loss, fear, freedom. It’s bigger than me. It allows you to come in and have tea and chat, but you don’t get to rifle through my underwear drawer, you don’t get to consume me. It also becomes richer with participation from you – commenting, replying, reflecting. We’re both left fuller after. It’s symbiotic rather than carnivorous.
I think I’ve managed to walk this line between storytelling and oversharing fairly well, but in the internet age, an increasingly large part of storytelling comes down to self-promotion. And this is where I drop the ball.
Not only am I a shitty multi-tasking mother, I’m a shitty self-promoter. I have all the social media accounts but I can’t do the Instagram hashtag salad (#Blessed, #MomLife), I feel ridiculous promoting myself and I struggle with asking readers to do it for me. It feels strange to constantly be right in front of you asking you to Like me and Share me and Follow me.
But when I opt out of this sort of self-promotion I shoot myself in the foot. If real life success comes down to who you know, success online is about who you land in front of. Every single one of the opportunities that have come my way have done so because of some miraculous, thank-you-Beyonce, happenstance of the right person reading the right words at the right time.
Self-promotion increases my chance of being successful at what I do, pure and simple. It increases the chance that my words end up in front of someone who recognises their value, has a place for them, might hire me to write more of them. It’s unbelievably stupid to be sidestepping these opportunities because of…I don’t even know what to call it, shyness? An overly precious sense of ____? Sheer, fuckwitted self-sabotage?
The hustle man, I’m shitty at the hustle! What’s to be done?
Time for a Beyonce master class I think. The University of Texas is now offering a course on Beyonce’s Lemonade – think it’d cover this topic, too? She’s a master of walking the line between storytelling and oversharing, but she’s also the goddamn queen of self-promotion, of crafting both a medium and a message that people can’t help but share. It’s a skill that I desperately need to learn.
So, I mean, just be Beyonce. Easy enough, yes?
Anyone got a source on those grey leggings?