There has been some occasional glumness that follows my increased use of social media. I am thinking especially and in particular of twitter, where I follow lots of arts and literature organisations and lots of writers, most of whom actually are or at least seem to me to be much more connected, aware, and famous-or-getting-there (insofar as a poet will ever be famous in the 21st-century USA) than I am. I know that at the very least my geographical distance from what’s happening in the US means I don’t have the same kinds of access and community with the scenes there. And the UK writing scene is a whole other beast. In any case, most of the people I follow on twitter are writers. The rest are crafty bloggers or artists. Most of the people I follow use twitter much more liberally than I do (meaning, all the time).
I noticed before Christmas that when I used twitter, it often made me feel frantic: there was SO much information and more was being produced all the time. Given some overlap (via retweets and people circulating some of the same announcements) there was still an incredible amount of new information. And we all know, I think, that one function of social media is to act as advertising–to let people know How Great Things Are Going And Where They Can Find Your New [Book, Show, Blogpost, Whatever]. So a lot of the information I was consuming was information about other people’s successes. In itself, nothing wrong with that. I am happy for others to succeed–more success in literature and the arts is good for all practitioners. But to pretend at the same time that a constant flow of others’ success (mingled with opportunities and their attendant ‘ought-to-apply’ feeling, and articles to read, and things to look at, and and and) has no effect on my inner balance would be disingenuous.
At the same time as my twitter-consumption increased, I received the first indication that the future I’d been planning and working towards (staying in the UK a few more years, putting together a community literary organisation) was not going to happen. The loss of control over my own life was so difficult to fathom, but it affected everything. I no longer had the power to decide where I would live (or for how long); that rested with an incompetent university, and, ultimately, the UK Home Office (immigration). This lack of agency in my life combined with my picture of ‘everyone else’ as active, connected, and creative. I felt like I was being marooned in an ocean of other people’s ability and success, right as circumstances in my own life conspired to take away my power and choice.
Coincident with my increased twitter consumption was my use of Pinterest. I primarily use Pinterest as a way of building visual reminders of what I want to think or write about. But, like twitter, built into Pinterest are two things: the promise of a basically never-ending flow of new information, and the reminder that other people have done stuff while I have been sitting in front of the computer gazing at their projects. One thing that disturbed me from the start on Pinterest was (is) the way it seems to be used primarily as a way of aiming toward another life–aspiring to something. So many boards are ‘inspiration’ for something else–artwork, or writing, or how to dress, or what to cook, or what kind of house to have–but I wonder how much of the inspiration actually becomes something. Certainly for me the amount of information I could consume was much, much greater than the amount of things I could make. (This isn’t to say this is everyone’s experience, either. But it has been mine, and it’s from my experience that the resolution I’ll get to a bit further on in this post comes.)
And I felt, from the continual waves of others’ completed projects, beautifully styled and photographed, and from the incessant 140-character reminders that there was more to read, more to write about, more to respond to, not inadequate but immobile. It was as if I kept making more and more to-do lists and never moving out of place. It struck me that what I was doing was living aspirationally: at one point, during my MFA, one of my classmates said something to which I have still not figured out my relationship, but which continues to pop into my thoughts. He was commenting on a poem where the speaker phrased most things in the conditional: she would like, if such-and-such happened. He noted that this was a poem, a piece of art, and therefore the conditional (while possibly representing the real state of the poet, correlated to the poem’s speaker) was unnecessary. Anything could happen in the poem. Why was the speaker waiting around in the conditional, when she could just do?
Pinterest and twitter were making me feel like I was in an endless conditional: I would do X, I would read Y, I would write about Z. But first, let me read just a bit more–look at just a few more things. My energy went to a flimsy sort of ‘curation’ (ach, over- and misused word!) instead of to the kind of deep, solitary, creative thinking that tends to produce my best work. I was categorizing, rather than making new.
Then, one day in November, I was talking to my friend about her work. She is an amazing poet, a reinventer of language. Someone whose writing has really informed mine (in part because it is very different from mine). Both of us were struggling with the fact that there is little affirmation out there for writers, especially for writers whose work is in any way outside of the mainstream (difficult, queer, feminist, long, fragmented). And I thought to myself, if I want a book, I have to publish books. If I want more places for strange, hard, thoughtful, feeling work to appear, I can’t wait around for someone else. I need to do this. No more aspirational living. No more making lists of what would be nice someday.
In a way, I live this statement: migrating has taught me to make my house mine right away, regardless of the anticipated length of tenure. I tell my students not to wait for the right time or surroundings or materials to make work, but to make whatever they make now and to call that the work (and I try to practice this myself). I had just forgotten, in the depths of other people’s information, that I still could do what I wanted.
So that was the impetus behind MIEL. And as a result of this resolution, I’ve been baking more, making more, writing more, submitting more. I don’t have photos. I don’t have documentation. I don’t have ten thousand (er. Or even one thousand…or even five hundred) twitter followers. I don’t have an NEA grant or a fellowship or a residency. But I have a magazine. I have a small press. I have the energy to send my work to places and to help build communities for my writing and others’. I forgot about that when I paid so much attention to what could happen.
No more aspirational living. I am ambitious, hard-working, skilled, quick. What can I make, now? What can I do, now, to make things in my life closer to how I imagine them or want them to be? I’m trying to tell myself, every day: No more waiting and only looking and looking. Act on that desire. Whatever it is, it is. Take the materials you have, the time you have, the abilities you have, and make something. Let’s go.
(I will put out to you that if you have a project you want to do but you don’t feel you can get it off the ground–if you really want it, if you are willing to work however you can for it–I will gladly help you however I can. Get in touch. And for E. Fae: thank you for the reminder to ‘make. make.’. It’s hanging by my desk now.)