I don’t like noise.
I didn’t choose writing as a creative medium so that I could spend a whole lot of time surrounded by the jumbled chaos of other people’s conversations. I don’t dislike other people or being around them, but I naturally filter out the wall of noise by maintaining distance. Before we became this connected I was that friend who you might see every day for a week and then not hear from for a month. Nobody ever seemed to have a problem with that, and I’m still friends with many of them. I haven’t seen some of them in a year or more, but no-one’s feelings are hurt. We’ll see each other again eventually and go through the motions of saying we should do this more often.
And then, of course, we won’t.
On the other hand, social media is like swimming in the open ocean. It’s nice to visit, but I can’t live there.
Unfortunately, that open communication is important for a writer starting out. Perhaps it’s less so for someone who has already made it, but then perhaps not. People like Gareth L Powell, rock stars from my perspective, are turning to crowd funding and fandom subscription services like Patreon in order to make ends meet. Not to further line their nests. Just to make sure they don’t blow away. Who even knows if they’ll ever be able to afford to retire.
The distance I feel that I need is a luxury, and I can’t kid myself that I’m good enough to be a distant figure. The days of writers like Roald Dahl retiring to their sheds and being visited only occasionally are largely over. I’m told that I have to be present, and I have to be charming. I have to be a walking-talking advertisement for my craft, and the work itself isn’t going to be enough. I’d love to kid myself I’m that good. Who wouldn’t? But if anything’s ever going to make you unhappy, it’s being dishonest with the thing in the mirror.
Light and breezy isn’t me. I am not the life and soul of the party. I am not the centre of attention, and I don’t want to be. Expanding my skill set is one thing, but changing who and what I am doesn’t leave me enough time for everything else. The most marketable thing I can be is superficial. I’m not under any illusion that being the way I am is better than being a social butterfly, but it’s making me even more cynical when I keep trying to live up to what I think I need to be and consistently falling short. A social butterfly would be miserable pretending to be me, and I feel like a sad clown when I try to be them.
Every time I put my head into the water and try to be that man, I come off the worse for it. I end up in some political discussion that saps my time as I try to change the mind of someone whose opinion means less than nothing to me. When a person who freely admits that he struggles to feel much in the way of empathy is the one pointing out that the way you talk about others is inhuman, you have bigger problems than I can help with. It’s likely that one of the reasons I find social media so tiring is that I’m already putting a lot of energy into being something more than I perceive myself to be. Perhaps that extra layer is just too much.
I appreciate the need to market my work and to be marketable myself, and I need to find a way to make that aspect work without eroding the part of me that wanted to tell stories in the first place. I need to find a way to be present while keeping that noise at arm’s length. Part of my personal issue is in a fight and flight response that doesn’t work like it’s supposed to. Everyone needs the capacity to defend themselves, but only when it’s appropriate. With the ignorance and the lies on social media, I feel like a dog being told to sit by one owner while the other throws a stick. People tell me to just ignore them like I didn’t already think of that. Sure. Thank you for your help. Go find someone with depression and ask them if they’ve tried being happy. Go tell someone with anxiety that it’s all in their head.
I’ve put up a wall on Twitter and Facebook for a while, but I know I’ll go back. On a better day I’ll reactivate the accounts before they’re deleted or archived, or printed out and Fedexed to the Kremlin or whatever the hell happens to unguarded personal information in 2018. Maybe it’s used to line Donald Trump’s litter tray.
I don’t expect any help or advice off the back of this post, but when you’re struggling it’s healthy to write it down. It might help someone else realise they’re not alone in it, and it might help me to read it back later. I might read it back and laugh. That’s not nothing.
I am not unwell. I am not depressed. I am not in any danger. I am not failing to cope. I am absolutely fine, and I will be absolutely fine. Some people thrive on noise, other people prefer the quiet and the shade. When either one becomes the status-quo, someone is going to find it difficult to tolerate.
I am the latter kind of person, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.