Two lovely pieces of feedback on the blog in very different mediums recently: a tiny, encouraging email from Rob right after my last entry and the sweetest postcard from Piper that arrived in my PO box sometime in June (but given the way life’s been going I didn’t manage to stop by and discover it until well into July).
Maybe it’s because blogging is often a much quieter affair than posting on social media, but I love these little blips and boops of connection. They hit harder than comments and likes and reblogs. They feel more personal. They remind me to reach out and email people (or write them a card!) when their work strikes a chord.
I had cause to do this recently with Ursula Vernon, whose work I’ve been following since I was in middle school. She’s been sharing some very vulnerable comics about dealing with breast cancer and I thought “My god, if not now, when?” It’s been over TWENTY YEARS and I’ve never taken the time to tell this person how much discovering her website and her comics and her delightfully eccentric illustrations meant to me as a weird tween without a lot of artistic friends. It’s an impossible gift when someone’s been a fixed point in your creative community for that long.
It reminds me that even if social media is crumbling around us, people can endure. The impressions we make on one another outlast the silos and the buyouts and the implosions.
But it’s good to come out and say so every once in a while.
I’m sitting here thinking about internet silos, the exhaustion of trying to post all the things in all the places, the relief of not being in an active Kickstarter cycle anymore, how two hummingbirds fencing in mid-air is more exciting than any action film, how much has changed since the WGA went on strike in 2007, what it would look like to write things for my blog and then share them everywhere else rather than trying to tailor things to each channel, how little lust for Instagram I have when I’m not obligated to be there, the Mother Theresa quote on the chalk board in front of this house, the vast gulf between the place I help take care of as a part-time job and this place that I’m looking after for friends, how much love pours out of the funky flooring and flaking windowsills, where I should eat lunch today, how much I need to pee, making physical objects, the power of niche communities, how every industry has its 1% and that 1% colors the public perception of how we do what we do and how so many people really do have no idea how the money shakes out no matter how many times we explain it, the Hooded Oriole who came, long and slender, to the sugar water feeder just ten minutes ago, the oleanders blooming, the possibility of rewilding a large stretch of our property, and building something there in the process, the fact that there are no rules on the blog, the emerging judgement that this is indulgent and pointless, the retaliation that it doesn’t matter, the gift of time, the inclination to capture, even imperfectly, the feeling of swinging on a porch swing while I write and how pleasurable and correct it feels to be writing while in motion, like recording a Ramble while walking, like understanding music through dance, like being in conversation with a friend while you both bob in the surf of the Pacific Ocean.
Exactly one year before I started drafting this post (which then languished for a little while, so technically now it’s more than a year ago, but whatever you get the idea) I wrote a short thread on Twitter about feelings and impermanence. I dug it up because I came across this photo and couldn’t remember what the hell I was doing that led me to group these little slips of paper in this kind of configuration. I’ve copied the thread verbatim below.
“Did an exercise in therapy this morning where my therapist asked me to list all the feelings running through my brain/body on bits of paper. Spent the rest of the session sorting them into affinity stacks while we talked.
It got me thinking about Chronic Feelings vs. Current Feelings. These are current, influenced by the hospital visit this week, the slow return to stability after a trauma, my anxiety about understanding my family’s finances, an impending trip, a disappointing career decision.
The Chronic Feelings are things like anticipatory grief, professional burnout, climate anxiety, hatred of capitalism, Pandemic Fatigue. The stuff we’re all collectively steeping in that constitutes a full emotional plate on its own.
But to try and be present with the feelings in my body right NOW requires a different sort of lens. It requires understanding that all of this passes.
I get reliably down most afternoons. Eating lunch triggers a slump of despair and exhaustion that isn’t the end of the world. It’s rare that I feel dreadful while I’m having my tea and scrawling pages into my journal outside in the sun first thing in the morning, so whatever’s coming for me today will, at the very least, abate for a half hour tomorrow. This helps to remember.
I have many weird/bad feelings about Twitter but also I think a lot about the people I know on here who’ve been generous enough to share their complex emotional stuff over the years. Folks grieving in public, folks naming anxiety, folks sharing their affirmations. It’s important.
A big cornerstone of how I’ve carried myself online for years has been an emphasis on sharing clear, proactive, hopeful things. Sometimes I fear this season of my life is going to break that, because it’s HARD. But I do think there are still ways to approach it with that ethic.”
Weird to still be chewing on the same stuff a year later. Weird to still be in an endless rollercoaster of absurdity and grief with my dad. Weird, also, to see the cadence of tweeting transposed onto my blog. Writing like that doesn’t belong here! But also I engaged in it for so many years on that platform. Every container nurtures its own syntax.
A friend asked if I’d signed up for Bluesky and the wave of exhaustion I felt in response washed the flesh clean off my bones. It’s not just that Twitter seems to be continually on fire these days, it’s the broader truth that social media feels hollow to me now. The ADS! There are so many ads. Why did I ever put up with a space that was so aggressively trying to sell me things at every turn? (The answer is that it was giving me the Good Brain Chemicals when I interacted with people I care about, but these days I don’t post enough to get notifications, so I’m trading my attention for NOTHING! No wonder the shine has worn off.)
I’ve been thinking about this installment of Holly Whitaker’s newsletter ever since I read it a couple weeks ago. I haven’t even dug into the links, but the dislocation theory of addiction latched onto my brain stem and has yet to let go.
Our modern social arrangement, Alexander argues, means that we have to sacrifice “family, friends, meaning, and values” in order to be more “efficient” and “competitive” in the rat race. In this framework, addictive behaviors are adaptive responses meant to fill that void of meaning and purpose. Using substances can provide a temporary sense of community (with other users), purpose (to acquire the substance), and meaning (feelings of euphoria or calm from using the substance). Substance abuse and addiction help to fill the gaps in meaning and purpose left by modern society.
None of this is news to me, really, but the articulation slotted something into focus. Reflecting on consumerism as an addiction (or maybe….everything as an addiction?) this month has been a valuable touch point.
And then here I am hitting go on a reprint of my graphic novel! A product I must then sell! A product I might even sell on the premise that it will make people feel less alone! HNGNNNGNNHHGHHH.
(I was going to expand on stuff in that tweet thread in this post too, but I got sidetracked and now it’s time to make my dad his breakfast so I’m hitting post because there are no ads here and nobody needs to buy anything and it’s one of those days where I want to move to the woods and eat grubs for the rest of my life so byeeeeee)
I just went and spent some time with Roget’s Thesaurus trying to figure out how I’d classify that distinction. Community vs. audience? Supporter vs. spectator? I’m still chewing on it. And the “support” I’m referencing isn’t always material! It’s just “people with a more pronounced interest in being close to the work,” and I’m trying to remember how to put them first in everything I do.
Is it gauche to quote your own writing from a different platform on your own blog? I don’t care! Heck the rules!! This is what I’m up to right now!!!
An added benefit of Brendan’s Christmas thread of appreciation: an enormous slew of new blogs to follow! Honestly too many. I get overwhelmed easily these days. But I lingered over his tweet about Nadia, because it mentioned experimentations with microgrants (HELLO), which then led me to her very clean and pleasing site.
I bopped around for a while, delighting in the short-form Notes and reading a few blog entries before adding the feed to my RSS reader. The joy in doing this (depending on how often someone updates their blog) is getting to jump back a few months or years in the timeline to see what they were up to before. That’s how I landed on this post about The Creator Economy from 2021. There are so many gems in here; things I think about all the time, but also things I don’t! She probes further beyond where this conversation usually ends, asking the kinds of questions the post suggests we should all be asking.
When I imagine a cultural renaissance that inspires me, I think about working together to address unsolved questions, tugging on threads in conversations that need unraveling, creating enduring artifacts for generations to pore over and iterate upon. The “publish or perish” model that nudges people to rack up more followers is not the pinnacle of creative freedom; it’s indentured spiritual servitude.
Indentured spiritual servitude! Hot damn!! This is precisely the situation so many of us cartoonists find ourselves in. Precisely the reason I feel so much resistance to the simple act of sharing a photograph or a passing thought on social media. However trivial, it still feels like something I have to do. It’s a matter of survival.
Towards the very end of Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow (which I finished in a glut yesterday morning), one of the protagonists gives a little speech about luck, and the circumstances of birth that led to their company being able to succeed at making video games where and when they did.
“[…] I think, because of the internet, we would have been overwhelmed by how many people were trying to do the exact same things we were. We had so much freedom—creatively, technically. No one was watching us, and we weren’t even watching ourselves.”
And just before that:
“It’s so easy to make a hit when you’re young and you don’t know anything.” “I think that, too,” Sadie said. “The knowledge and experience we have—it isn’t necessarily that helpful, in a way.” “So depressing,” Sam said, laughing. “What’s all of this struggle been for?”
They almost felt like too much, these tidy conversations at the end of the novel, because they’re exactly the conversations I have with my peers about “making it” in comics. But they were also so accurate I found myself nodding along.
I don’t have a tidy wrap-up for this. I just want to be watching myself less. I want to go unsurveilled.
I stopped off to download my Twitter data yesterday and caught a notification from this lovely thread that Brendan had put together sometime around Christmas:
Down among the thinkers and tinkerers and connectors, said the notification, he’d written some very sweet things about me. It came as something of a surprise.
It was a mention of “unselfing” by Helen Macdonald that drove me back to blogging in 2020. Since then I’ve heard it surface in other places. Annie Dillard describes it at length in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, saying “[…] I have often noticed that even a few minutes of this self-forgetfulness is tremendously invigorating. I often wonder if we do not waste most of our energy just by spending every waking minute saying hello to ourselves.”
Both women have their fingers tangled up in something true.
I feel it when I’m driving the highway, lost in dark thoughts of mortality, only to abandon every thread for a glimpse of a hawk on a telephone pole. The moments before sleep when a barn owl’s screech pulls me out of my own body. The day I left the house in a foul mood to pace the gravel drive, stomping up and down until the lifeless body of a hummingbird stopped me short and lifted the needle of my displeasure.
I know the value of unselfing more than I ever have before, living here, doing this work, marinading in the near-depth of near-death.
But this thing that Brendan gave me feels somehow the same—an inverted twin sensation: being reminded out of the blue of Who You Are (or Were) Perceived to Be. It comes to me in a season where I’ve stopped saying hello to myself quite so often, possibly to the point of forgetting who that self even was before now. I say hello to death, I say hello to loss and calibration and labor and tending, but I don’t always say hello to me.
And the minute I type that I’m thinking of Sarah Ruhl, and these lines from the first essay in her book 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write:
I’ve written about that line here before, and the mantra repeats in my head as I walk through the meadows near my house.
All right, then, annihilate me; that other self was a fiction anyhow.
All right, then, annihilate me; that other self was a fiction anyhow.
All right, then, annihilate me; that other self was a fiction anyhow.
And yet, and yet, and yet…
I miss her. I miss that Lucy. And so Brendan’s tweet feels like a kindness. Perhaps the kindness that social media kept drawing me back in with for all those years: a whole realm of people who could look at every passing thought and doodle and hard-won victory and low moment and interview and blog post and reflect back someone cohesive and true.
True only to what I’d shared, maybe, but still.
Something I couldn’t see with my own eyes.
Something the hawk sees when it’s looking back at me.
A lovely short post by Dave Rupert about platforms and silos and what we’re getting out of being in online spaces. Having been largely absent from social media since becoming a caregiver, I don’t feel a lot of Loud Feelings about the implosion of Twitter.1 I do feel the urge to encourage folks, as Dave does, to “pour a foundation for your own silo or home.” A personal website is a lovely thing. Nobody will buy this platform and use it as their personal plaything. No advertisers will boycott and send me scrambling to produce different content. No seed funding will run out overnight.
But as Robin said: “It’s not enough to make something and post it online; you must also inject it into some channel that will carry it to people.”
For now, that channel is mostly RSS, with the occasional direct share to Discord and Slack. I’ve contented myself with carrying these posts to far fewer people of late, and maybe that trend will continue. I’m toying with the idea of Dunbar’s Digital Number. How many meaningful online relationships can I maintain? The number shifts dramatically given what I’m doing in the rest of my life, and the fact is that I’m currently walking around with overwhelming emotions sloshing perilously close to my airways at all times. So I don’t let myself worry over what will become of Twitter, even though it brought me so many treasures and connections and friendships and opportunities over the years, because I’m doing as Dave suggests and pouring value into myself.
That’s enough for now.
1. This might change when it’s time to promote my next book and I emerge from the bunker to find tumbleweeds where my weird and far-flung online friends once stood, but that’s a problem for Future Lucy. ↩
Saw a comic that made me laugh in queasy recognition. Didn’t want to link to it on Twitter, so I went hunting. Coni has a blog! But the comic isn’t on the blog. THE COMIC IS NOW ON THE BLOG, RENDERING THE REST OF THIS POST SEMI-MOOT! Coni has a Patreon with lots of comics on it! But not this one. Coni has an Instagram with this comic on it! But the formatting loses a lot in the jump to square panels. So: a Twitter embed.
I don’t say any of the above as a criticism! I do the same thing! There’s some obscure internal logic that dictates when I make the effort to cross-post things and when I don’t. Sometimes it’s about formatting, sure, but other times it’s about tone. Certain comics or posts just fit better in different parts of my online presence.
I’ve wondered with increasing frequency whether it makes the most sense to start consolidating everything on my own site, but the fact is there’s something valuable about maintaining these different tonal environments. I like having Patreon as a space to talk (mostly) about craft and maintaining a creative practice; it keeps my blog free of any pressure to produce “worthwhile” content. Maintaining a little distance helps combat context collapse, keeping certain things within certain circles and keeping those circles relatively small.
(I keep thinking about the era when comics friends would warn that Twitter became unusable for them after they’d surpassed 10,000 followers, a threshold I’ve been over for some time.)
But there’s something else under this: the idea of being a Word Person and/or an Image Person on the internet. Some people certainly play with both (I’m thinking of Robin’s essays), and you could even argue that cartoonist is the definition of a Word and Image Person, but I think the way we treat platforms online splits these categories by necessity. I have split myself.
A lot of this crystalized after I read Alexis Madrigal’s lovely thread on Word People:
I read this thread and think “Yes! That’s me!” Or at least the Me that occupies this particular corner of the web. The Word Person part of my brain is the one that wanted to go to a liberal arts college and get a degree in Something Other Than Art (although I fell at the final hurdle and ended up with one regardless). The Word Person is still reading like it’s her job and keeping a journal and talking too much. She even controls how I read comics (words first, images as a sort of subconscious afterthought), which is a source of much self-judgement. (I know how long those pages take to make!!)
The Image Person struggles to keep up, or speaks in a register that’s harder to hear.
And then there’s the coding angle! Most of the blogging services my internet friends are gushing over these days focus on the written word. Introducing images of all different sizes and formats to the experience of building a website automatically shoots it into a realm beyond my limited technical ken.
Anyway, back to the what-goes-where-ness of platforms. Other Robin had a bit about that in his latest newsletter:
It’s not enough to make something and post it online; you must also inject it into some channel that will carry it to people. The web itself doesn’t do that; you need an extra layer, some reservoir of attention and/or curiosity, whether it’s Google, the blogosphere (RIP), StumbleUpon (RIP), Twitter (RIP) … hmm, there seem to be a lot of dead channels out here.
Back in the 2000s, I thought I knew things about distribution, about attention and networks — but I didn’t really.
It was, honestly, the experience of publishing a book with FSG that showed me what distribution really looks like, and taught me that you just cannot be starting from scratch every time. You need supply chains — not only (or even primarily) physical, but commercial and intellectual. Emotional, even.
I love the idea of a reservoir of curiosity coupled with an emotional supply chain. And those features don’t need to be built! They live in the people I want to spend time with! Curious people who maintain relationships over time and space, even when those relationships lie fallow for a spell.
I don’t measure the health of my friendships by whether or not we speak every day. Why should I then transfer that pressure onto my internet spaces?
Social media is built on ambient relationships. You post, you tweet, you share; I read, I listen, I see. Maybe we interact briefly. But I can feel closeness to you without actually having it.
To make things even more complicated, we can exist on both sides—creators and consumers of other people’s thoughts, and each other’s. But so often I see what you’re doing, you see me, but we’re never quite talking to each other.
The joyous surge of personal website action happening on Neocities
I don’t even know that this 90s revival aesthetic is my aesthetic (at least on this go around), but I still love seeing it come back because of what it stands for. It’s reminding me of how much I thought about anonymity as a feature of my early web experiences while reading Better Than IRL. Post-Facebook, it felt as if anonymity became synonymous with cruelty, trolling, and lack of accountability. The real move was to be Extremely Online under one’s own name—especially if one hoped to make a career out of making creative work on the web.
But that stifling trajectory has also led to a culture of fear. Fear of imperfection, fear of unprofessionalism, fear of everything and everyone. I’d forgotten all about the freedom and exuberance of being anonymous. The weirdness. Now it feels like a liberation.
And maybe that’s the root of the fear: if you’re someone who believes people are inherently shitty, then a liberation looks like a return to one’s worst impulses. If you believe in altruism and basic goodness, maybe it’s something better. A weirder web, yes, but also a kinder one.