But I've also started to see how the logic of the slot machine pervades, especially in our social media moment.
The last essay I posted here was about people who hated me. This one is about people who "like" me.
When I catch myself on Facebook and Twitter and am truly mindful about what's happening, it's not always pretty. I can sometimes see how, when the platform tells me how many people see and "like" my work, I become grasping, covetous, greedy for approval. It's not my favorite self. And it does something weird to the work in question.
And I don't think it's writers alone who face this. Yoga friends who also must self-promote in order to make a living, family members living far away who share photos, political organizers working on a movement. We are all subject to an environment in which we put forward the best that we make, do, and love in a landscape designed to devalue the best that we make, do, and love.
I admit that I am particularly susceptible to the slot machine nature of social media when I am tired (and with a 6 month old, that's all the time these days).
Here's how it goes:
- Post writing. wait a moment. Refresh screen/insert dollar/pull lever.
- Kaching!/Someone "liked" me! feel good hit! I am winning!
- I want that hit again. Wait a moment. Refresh screen/insert dollar/pull lever.
- No likes. The crown, the cherry, and the dollar sign do not line up. Horrible. Disappointment. Where is everyone? Is my thing not good? Why does my best friend like that funny aardvark and not my writing/baby/politics/me?
- Now I really need the hit to get that good feeling back. Refresh screen/insert dollar/pull lever.
- And on it goes
When I'm at my worst, I am excellent evidence that operant conditioning works. I am Skinner's rat. Sometimes FB rewards me, sometimes it doesn't, so on I click, refreshing the screen again and again.
But more disturbing than being reminded of what I share with a bunch of mid-century rats and pigeons (where is my reward, Dr. Skinner!?), the rewarding of the habits I love makes the love of the habit a little less.
As much as I love writing (insert your own creative practice here) and will continue despite bullies and haters, it's also the case that I love writing and will continue despite any supporters or likers. The work has to be enough to sustain me. And usually it does. It's just that those little blue thumbs up can get very seductive.
Moreover, the cycle can become very time consuming. Like those dollars fed into the machine, these are minutes I cannot get back. And this is not how I wish to spend my life's currency.
Thankfully, when I find myself getting a little off track, there are a number of wise creators/artists/teachers/yogis to whom I can turn for a better example.
Here are the three wise women helping me now:
Choreographer/Dancer Twyla Tharp (from The Creative Habit):
- In response to the fear that people will laugh at your art: " Not the people I respect; they haven't yet, and they're not going to start now. (Some others have. London's Evening Herald from 1966: 'Three girls, one of them named Twyla Tharp, appeared at the Albert Hall last evening and threatened to do the same tonight.' So what? Thirty-seven years later I'm still here."
- “Recognizing that people's reactions don't belong to you is the only sane way to create. If people enjoy what you've created, terrific. If people ignore what you've created, too bad. If people misunderstand what you've created, don't sweat it. And what if people absolutely hate what you've created? What if people attack you with savage vitriol, and insult your intelligence, and malign your motives, and drag your good name through the mud? Just smile sweetly and suggest - as politely as you possibly can - that they go make their own fucking art. Then stubbornly continue making yours.”
my dear former classmate, Teacher/administrator/scholar Amanda Hagood:
- "getting a few more years of teaching under my belt...has taught me that at a certain point, what you do becomes far more important than who you are. "
Though Twyla (I imagine we are friends) and Amanda are talking about haters and Elizabeth Gilbert is talking about lovers and hatera, they are all people who wisely value their work's importance over any reaction to it. That is, they dance, write, and teach whether they are being praised or damned because dancing, writing, and teaching are more important than the kudos or the damnation. This is a lovely way of taking our petty ego--so fragile, that one--out of the equation and focusing on the more important business at hand. At the end of the day, my feelings about other people's feelings about my work will pass, what remains is the work itself.
Also, here's a slightly less high minded, but nonetheless effective tech strategy I've been using, thanks to my friend Nicole. It's called self-control (https://selfcontrolapp.com/) and you can use it to turn off the websites that are your version of the addicting slot machine for a set amount of time. On a practical side, I'm finding this particularly useful for getting writing done. On a psychological side, I really like turning it on when I post new writing so that I cannot indulge in the vicious slot machine cycle described above. Maybe tech will help me transcend my pigeon self after all. Though the Kitty Glitter is so sparkly...