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?
Stumbled onto this page on my local library system’s website while looking for a way to request a graphic memoir about care homes and learned about something magical: ZIP BOOKS.
It does my heart good when I yell about library stuff on Twitter and lots of people share the tweet. The Internet being hot for libraries gives me faith in society. Although it’s also rough that the library’s website is so labyrinthine that I had to stumble onto this program by accident. I wish every library had a website as functional and fancy as a startup meditation app.
(I really liked The Library Book by Susan Orlean.)
Haven’t been blogging because my brain is really excited about thinking in images right now and also I can’t seem to muster the follow-through, so this is one of those “done is better than perfect” posts.
Sometimes, when I haven’t been on Twitter in a while, I go look at my friends’ Likes instead of drinking from the timeline firehose. It feels slightly creepy (sorry, Robin), but often yields real gems outside the wind tunnel of my own circles. Sometimes it’s a whole new person to follow, sometimes it’s just a phrase. Today it was this:
our ever-present mutual responsibilities are more visible when we’re at sea […] seafaring makes obvious something that is always true.
It feels redundant to keep pointing wildly at everyone who’s coming to similar conclusions about the instability of this online ecosystem right now—BUT—every time I find another person doing it I start yelling “YES. YES!” and do want to catalogue them in some way because these conversations are unfolding in many different spaces concurrently. It’s not just cartoonists writing about being cartoonists. It’s dancers and authors and comedians and zinesters and activists and journalists and musicians all pausing to look around and say, collectively, “What the fuck am I doing here?”
Robin called the other day and mentioned that I seemed to have stopped blogging, to which I say: it’s a fair cop. I was in Portland being consumed by my newfound ability to be close to other people and then I was moving and for the past ten days I’ve still been moving, but it’s the shitty back-end part of moving that we don’t talk about as much where you have to actually unpack and (in the case of this particular move) jettison decades of childhood ephemera from your tiny bedroom in order to make it a livable space for yourself as an adult.
The last piece of furniture I needed to move in was my bed frame, which I’d decided to stain and refinish because “Imperfect DIY Projects” was in my “More” column for this year. Now that I can sleep in a space with visible floor area and a desk I can actually sit at (though I am, in fact, writing this on the bed), it turns out my brain is far more capable of turning to the digital spaces I’ve been neglecting for the past six weeks. By returning to writing, I’m breathing a habitual sigh of relief—the kind that turns into a stream of words about shit I didn’t know I was even processing in the background of whatever I was busy doing while I was thinking that I’d never write another word ever again.1
So, after all that preamble:
Nicole Brinkley wrote this essay called Did Twitter Break YA? as part of her Misshelved series on Patreon and it’s fucking great. YA isn’t my community, but it’s adjacent to my community. And booksellers (the community Nicole talks about most frequently in her writing) are absolutely within my community. The patterns she describes in this piece—of context collapse and “morally motivated networked harassment” and parasocial relationships and burnout—are patterns I know like the back of my hand.
There are so many nod-inducing moments, but this was the one that really made my blood run cold:
After all, access to authors is the real product—and if an author missteps, they’re just a failed product. There are always more authors to fill that spot on the shelf.
Bluergh. Hurk. Ek. How often have I slipped into thinking of myself as a failed product on a shelf? Certainly every time I’ve stopped posting as often on Patreon, or expressed enthusiasm about doing a drawing challenge and then failed to follow through. Definitely in those moments when I think that if I just had a bit more energy and time I could start making content that would grow my following “in earnest”. When I take two years to send a new installment of my newsletter. When I disappear.
But it’s not just the disappearance. It’s feeling of one’s absence being invisible within the onrushing tide of Other People’s Output. Remember that Drew Austin essay I linked a couple posts ago? He gets into it there, noting that “Every social media feed is an endless parade of these fragmentary identities, disaggregated into units of content and passing by quickly enough to evade the scrutiny that would detect their incompleteness.” The incompleteness being that we are all also doing and contending with other things. We have to be. We’re not just on Twitter 24/7—even people who seem as if they are.
This is the price of trying to succeed within the ecosystem of capitalism, and maybe it’s also why I want to keep sharing here and here alone: I haven’t contaminated this container yet. It gets to sit apart from everything else, just me and my thoughts.2
Earlier in the Pandemic Mara made a rare Instagram appearance, posting a series of text-based stories from her new home in Winthrop, Washington. I transcribed them immediately because, as with most things she writes and shares and speaks about, it sparked something in me that I needed to sit with for a long time.
I have so enjoyed every story and post by you all, dear friends. How does it work when I just observe you, and when to like/comment on what you make here is to feed an algorithm that watches and profits off of our affection? I don’t do it because it feels…violent?…to us. This platform is very hard for me. Thank you for understanding. It pales in comparison to being near you. The simulacrum of closeness feels nauseating. I know we are killing something important in the process of creating connection. I want you to walk through the door, for us to play. You’re all here always.
This is it—the heart of the thing. We chase engagement as if it’s the Holy Grail, and yet to play the game on any level means we’ve already lost. There are so many people I can think of who I’ve finally been able to see and embrace and laugh with over the past month and attempting to get that through social media does pale in comparison. The simulacrum is nauseating.
This handful of broken online platforms can’t be everything.
Past a certain point I don’t want to spend my time cataloguing people’s writing about this—or generating my own—because (and this is the curse of the over-informed over-thinker) I know it all already. I know it in my bones. I may not have the right terminology for it, but I can feel it. I fear I am admiring the problem, thrilling to ever more accurate descriptors that tell me precisely how and why I’m locked in this unfulfilling spiral, rather than taking steps to change my behavior.3
As Tolentino points out, “The internet reminds us on a daily basis that it is not at all rewarding to become aware of problems that you have no reasonable hope of solving.”
But Nicole is ready for that.
[…] I do not want to wear the armor of cynicism. I do not want to be trapped in the ouroboros of perfection just because the community I interact with demands it.
So here is what I will say to you, dear reader: You do not have to participate in this cycle.
The system is broken, but the system can be abandoned.
In addressing this head-on, she wins my heart.4 She admits that the piece started out as one thing and then turned into another. She describes the trajectory it might have taken had she chosen to focus solely on the issue of where actual teenage readers sit in the modern YA landscape, and then she recognizes that this is really a conversation about so much more. (I will never stop loving this pattern, wherever I encounter it.)
The Fake-It-Till-You-Make-It School, the Grit School, the Capitalism School—they all urge us to keep producing and grinding and persevering, trusting that clarity will come from more work (even if that work, at its core, is purposeless, unfulfilling, or even actively harmful). With no time to reflect or catch our breath, we feel we have no choice but to trust the systems we’re given, to push and push and push until we “break into” the spaces that are communally regarded as desirable, and then fight like hell to keep that power safe because don’t you know this is a landscape of scarcity? There’s only so much to go around.
When I think about the last year, I don’t think about pushing. I think about waiting.
I had to wait. I had to wait a long, long time. In some ways I’m still waiting.
So when Nicole says:
These days it’s okay to not be sure what Twitter is for. We can stop going there until we figure it out.
It feels like permission.
It makes my soul exhale.
“I don’t feel good when I’m here” is enough of a reason to leave. Even if the places I wish I could stay—or the people I wish I could stay with—sometimes bring me connection and joy and validation and money and, yes, even love. If my gut tells me that I am not, at baseline, nourished the way I need to be: I can walk.
That’s the new rule.
Thank you, Nicole.
1. I’m also kind of glossing over the fact that my obsessive nesting has masked a deeper discomfort with having to face the true emotional cost of this transition. That’s a conversation for another time. But, as my therapist reminded me: this grief is chronic, not acute. Avoidance is a tactic we use to survive ongoing adversity. It’s not inherently evil. ↩
2. Also, just a general side note in relation to all this: how often have I shared something like Nicole’s essay on Twitter or Instagram with the caveat “I’m fully aware of the irony of sharing this here, but…”? I want to stop doing that. If I’m reading something about how fucked it feels to still be on a certain platform and it resonates with me, I WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT SOMEWHERE OTHER THAN THAT PLATFORM. (I am yelling at myself here because this is a footnote and that’s what they’re for, I think.) ↩
3. Whoops this is the moment I realized that this essay is also about my historical approach to relationships. Surprise! ↩
4. She also reminds me of this stunning essay from adrienne maree brown about disrupting patterns of harm that specifically target Black women within movement work. I’m due a re-read because I haven’t stopped thinking about it for months. ↩
Something I frequently joke about—a dark truth that begs for humor—is how social media requires continuous posting just to remind everyone else you exist. I once said that if Twitter was real life our bodies would always be slowly shrinking, and tweeting more would be the only way to make ourselves bigger again. We can always opt out of this arrangement, of course, and live happily in meatspace, but that is precisely the point: Offline we exist by default; online we have to post our way into selfhood.
I’d never read anything by Drew Austin before today but boy howdy this got me right in the brain stem. Where and who and what am I these days, when I’m not sharing nearly so much of my life online? Am I coming into a season where my online persona is failing to cohere? Is that coherence even required on a personal blog in the same way it might be on social media? I have a lot of selves, and the task of reconciling them in the real world is daunting enough—let alone attempting to reflect them all equally in the weird hall of mirrors that constitutes online living.
I sent a couple tweets into the aether yesterday after not putting anything out on Twitter for about a month. Maybe it was because I’d just worked out and endorphins were careening through my central nervous system and my blood sugar was about to crash, but when I hit the button and sent them off my pulse went through the roof. My palms were sweating. It felt like I was having a panic response to something I used to do three, five, ten times a day.
I caught myself wondering: What is wrong with me?
By and large, I’ve been blessed with a kind, curious audience in the decade I’ve spent on Twitter. There’s about 10,800 people following me these days and I still feel like most of my interactions with them are positive.
I realize this makes me an outlier—especially as a woman.
I’ve never had a tweet go monstrously viral, never been dog-piled by a group of bad actors, never been the target of death threats or widespread abuse. Sometimes I wonder if this is because I am not doing anything truly important with my life, because it seems as if all the people I know who have suffered these indignities are engaged in vital work. If I’m not a target, I must not be taking any risks. If I’m not taking any risks, I must not be making a difference.
(Is this toxic martyrdom? Or just a truth about the world we live in? I’m still not sure. I’m certain there are plenty of people who engage in important change-making quietly, behind the scenes, but I’m still questioning the balance in my own life.)
Over the past month, I’ve only heard about Twitter secondhand, and everything I’ve heard has been negative. I’m not reminded of the occasional jokes or moments of connection with friends around the globe. Instead I hear about having one’s attention hijacked by traumatic media. I hear about the misunderstandings, the feuds, and the constant, deafening noise of millions of people clamoring to be heard. It makes me wonder what I have been doing, generating a feed of thoughts there. Am I truly attempting to provide some kind of service? Or am I feeding tokens into a machine in order to keep a tiny, arbitrary bubble of numbers going up?
I’d only logged on because I wanted to respond to a friend’s request for help promoting her latest project. I love helping my friends, and I try to use whatever weird, relatively minimal clout I’ve amassed online for good, but I also felt strangely resistant. I realized I’d cultivated a perverse sense of pride in seeing the days stack up since my last tweet—like I’d be given a challenge coin for every month I stayed clean.
“It’s just one tweet,” my brain reasoned. “It’s not like you’re going back to using the site all day.” But the fact is: I don’t know how to use Twitter by half measures. I need enough time away to get my brain to release its desperate, grasping attachment to all that activity, to the pressure to keep up and stay in the loop.
Thinking about these questions always brings me back to my friend doreen dodgen-magee and her very good book Deviced. She writes:
What happens when we offload our regulation to internet-enabled devices is, basically, a bait and switch. We need soothing, but we substitute stimulation. We need to get calm and centered; instead we gather more data, input, and dazzling digital experiences. This leaves us dependent on stimulation to distract us and make us think we are actually being soothed. On the contrary, being soothed results in calming and working through the feelings related to dysregulation. When we substitute simple distraction and stimulation for this developed ability, we end up amplifying the dysregulation we are already experiencing and rob ourselves of practice in the important work of bringing ourselves back to a regulated state.
Feeling that panic response tear through my body after so many weeks of calm scared me. It made me realize I’d been engaging in an ecosystem that hadn’t wounded me directly, but still came paired with a constant threat of attack. On a platform of that scale and volatility, every passing thought carries within it the potential for mass distribution, misunderstanding, and destruction.
This isn’t what I want in a channel of communion.
My palms don’t sweat when I write things for Patreon. My pulse doesn’t climb when I record a Ramble. I don’t want to crawl out of my own skin when I blog.
In these quieter spaces, sharing doesn’t come attached to the instinctual certainty that I’ve just kicked a furious ball of snakes.
It’s been three weeks since Tansy was killed. I Rambled about it a little, but I haven’t really written about it. I didn’t write much of anything for a while there. I logged out of every online account I could think of the day it happened and told myself I would take a week at least to do whatever I needed to do to be okay.
That was new. Time was I wouldn’t have been able to give myself permission to disappear.
For the first few days I needed to tell people. I needed them to validate my experience, to affirm that it was horrific—as if every person I told might take some piece of it away with them, until I was left holding something I could bear. But I couldn’t stand the thought of the wider internet. I had to call myfriends.
That, too, was new. It sounds like such a simple sentence. Of course you call your friends when something traumatic happens to you. But I didn’t used to be that kind of person.
Anyway, I didn’t mean to write about my cat or my friends. I was trying to talk about the fact that I haven’t been on Instagram or Twitter for the last few weeks, and that when I finally peeked today, this pair of tweets from Shing was at the top of my feed:
I read them, and faved them, and then I left.
Shing often says things I’ve been thinking with such clarity that I check behind my ears to make sure my brain hasn’t been bugged. The choice of language here—this idea of alignment—encapsulates so much of what I’ve been thinking about lately. Values and how we enact them. The moments when carving away is actually carving towards. It’s also present in Ashon Crawley saying “abolition is performative, it only happens when you do it” as part of a beautiful thread from December 15th, 2020.1
Critical Resistance Portland, the organization I’ve been writing letters with, are currently helping to get information about Economic Impact Payments into the hands of people in prison. Today I printed 25 info packets. Tomorrow I’ll address 25 envelopes, a couple at a time, here and there, and put the packets in the envelopes and then mail the envelopes to people imprisoned in Oregon. Maybe some of those people will be able to get their stimulus checks as a result. It isn’t complicated or particularly glamorous work, but it is important.2
And the thing is…it doesn’t take place on Twitter. All of the people I speak to on Twitter are privileged enough to have access to Twitter, for starters.
Having been off of Twitter for a few weeks, I do realize that I am, in many respects, less informed.
But I’ve also used the time I would’ve spent absorbing that deluge of information (much of it horrific) to distill and illustrate hours of interviews with voting rights activists about felony disenfranchisement and lowering the voting age in Oregon. I’ve reclaimed enough of my brain to align my skillset with my politics—something that is much, much harder to do when I’m caught in the mental landscape of social media, the one that screams “If you’re going to make art about this, it has to be done NOW.“
I have so little time these days.
I mean, time is stretching, in the strange way it often does in Ojai, but there is relatively little of it that is mine and mine alone. I don’t have room to drink from the misery firehose. Instead, I am carving away everything that isn’t aligned. I am dedicating myself to the slow accumulation of calcium carbonate on stone. The drip, drip, drip of incremental progress.
Shing says “my hope in change lies there” and I know, immediately and without question, what they’re talking about.
It’s here, in the practice.
1. It’s been three months and I’m still thinking about it. I could write so many blog posts about the positive use of “performative” alone. He’s a gem. ↩
2. If you’re the kind of person who wants to help with that work, you can sign up to get your own list of names and addresses here. ↩