When you live in a casino town, as I do, you start to see slot machines everywhere. They are actually everywhere here--at the airport to greet you when you touch down, at the grocery store, outside the pharmacy where you fill your prescriptions and the gas stations where you stop to fill up. They have names like Hex Breaker and Kitty Glitter. I kid you not. Kitty. Glitter.
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:
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):
my dear former classmate, Teacher/administrator/scholar Amanda Hagood:
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...
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