I have a particular feeling when something I’ve written enters the public world, available to anyone who can read English and access the Internet. It’s a special combination of excited, nervous, hopeful, fearful, spiritually charged, despondent, and filled with the possibility of faith. That may sound overly dramatic considering how often I publish various kinds of writing. But this never gets old or even comfortable for me. Whether it’s a short poem, a 4000-word essay, or a new short story, putting something I’ve written out into the universe beyond my skull feels a little like setting off into an unfamiliar land, or even like sending a child to a new school where you’re not at all sure if she’ll fit in, or be embraced.
Of course, the post and I won’t have much of an adventure if no one reads it. The more people who read it, the greater the odds of intriguing times: unexpected comments, people reaching out to share their own takes on the issues I’ve explored, much-appreciated compliments from readers… and, of course, the dreaded attacks and arguments. To me, the worst possible outcome after publishing a piece is… nothing. No one reads it; no one comments. I might as well just forget it was ever published and move on.
I have a hard time doing that. Each piece of writing I put out captures a unique thread of my soul. That may sound hokey, but it’s true. And, even though I love spending time alone, I have a very social soul. If I share a thread of it with the universe, I hope it will inspire interaction with other minds and worldviews.
Some have said that they have no control over how much attention a published piece gets. It comes out, and they hope for the best. But I’ve never been the type to sit back and trust the universe. If at all possible, I try to bend and shape things to my liking.
So… when a piece comes out, I go a little nuts. I’m always at least a little nuts, but this is a special variation on the theme. I share my post in all relevant Facebook groups and monitor responses, ready to engage with commenters. If I can boost the number of people who see the post, I’m boosting the odds that someone will deeply connect with it. Each time my post floats around a new group’s Facebook community, at least a few people are likely to catch it — and maybe someone among them will smile because of it, or feel better because I’m even more of a nervous maniac than they are, or reach out to me and make us both feel that we have a likeminded soul somewhere in the world.
Throw a message in a bottle out into the ocean, and maybe, if you’re extraordinarily lucky, it will reach a perfect recipient. Toss out 30 bottles with your message, and your odds of something wonderful resulting skyrocket. You might even reach a few perfect readers, and, each time you connect with a mind, you’re adding your own touch to a glorious universe. If you’re lucky enough to hear from that universe, it will in turn leave its distinctive mark on your own life and mind.
And I’ll admit that this is not all mystical yearning. If my work reaches a bigger audience, I have a better chance of connecting with people who could help me reach my goals: with my book projects, with my other writing, with possibilities I might not even think of before they materialize. Throw an essay, poem, or story in front of the right eyes, and who knows: my life might take splendid turns into gorgeous unknowns.
This all might sound wonderful, but often it’s not. Great hope spawns crashing disappointment. I’ll spend a morning sharing my post in all kinds of groups. Visions of deep, soul-level connection overtake my imagination. I stare at my screen, waiting for Facebook notifications. The day may be bright, the breeze a perfect shade of coolness, but I’m inside, jumping just a bit from my chair when Facebook tells me I have a notification. Sometimes, the notification signals someone looking to mock me, or argue for the sake of arguing. If reactions have been meager, even that will ding my brain in a semi-positive way…. kind of like a mouse who didn’t get his favorite kind of cheese after the bell rang, but at least got a scrap of something he could eat, even if it would make him sick before long.
Very occasionally, the simple act of sharing has created problems. The groups where I’ve shared my work are all related to it in some way. Jewish groups because Hevria is Jewish in tone, writing groups where many people share their work, spiritually oriented groups, etc. But at one point, an administrator of one group lashed out at me for sharing my work. “This group is not for you to increase your readership,” she said. She also accused me of always writing about myself and dragging other people into discussion about myself, implying that I am some kind of egomaniac who loves it when everyone talks about me.
I was chilled, because she honestly just didn’t get me. OK, I do often write about myself. But what fascinates me is not just my self, but any self. I love personal conversation about anyone when people open up with deep sincerity. Much more than current events, literature, movies, or whatever else people might use to spark interesting discussion, I love delving into people’s souls. I know my soul better than any other, and my pieces are due quite frequently, so… my soul it is, usually, when I’m writing these days. But I adore delving into other people’s psyches. During discussions, I actually prefer talking about other people, because I already know about myself, and I get deep satisfaction from learning how other people think and feel.
After that interaction, I lost all interest in a community I had enjoyed for years (posting my writing was only a small part of my overall history with them). I guess I’m a tad sensitive at times. When I’m attacked, I tend towards avoidance in the future.
In another case, a group that had previously been friendly enough pounced on one of my essays to the point of haranguing me for days, nonstop. I should have walked away after the first 15 minutes and let them duke it out about my essay without me. I sure wasn’t enjoying myself. But, you know, ding, ding, ding. Notification after notification, over and over. I feel like it stimulated the same part of my brain that responds when someone on the street waves to me, or when the phone rings and it’s someone I want to talk to. So I kept at it, because, you know what? Nothing else more exciting was happening that day, and negative excitement is its own form of adventure. It shouldn’t be, but it is what it is.
The main disappointments aren’t the most dramatic. With each post, I envision wonders, and, sometimes, objective reality brings me very little. I start to feel ridiculous. I have pangs of jealously when people on Facebook pay more attention to first-day-of school pictures than to my post. And then that upsets me. “Who are you, really, if you’re jealous of a first-grade boy on his first day of school because 300 people liked his photo?” I’ll ask myself. The answer, needless to say, does not thrill me.
And yet I keep writing. I was never one to keep a diary: when I write, it’s for others. The joy in seeing how people react is intense. Some people love to ski, surf, or ride a motorcycle; I prefer adventures with the human psyche. In other words, I’m thrilled to see how people respond to whatever I put out: what they might share of their own selves in response, how they might feel about the issues I bring up. Some posts generate a lot of energy. Others feel like a letdown, but even those will inspire something surprising: a “like” from someone whose interest shocks me, an enthusiastic comment from someone who had previously clashed with me. And of course not everyone who reads will react publicly. Any gauge of response from others will underestimate engagement, because some people read, love, or even hate without sharing their thoughts.
In my best moments, I figure any post might have had a fabulous effect somewhere. I won’t always see signs of that. But when you throw a message in a bottle out to sea, the beauty is that you don’t see the result.
That’s not the kind of beauty I normally appreciate. I like dings, clicks, likes, loves, and comments. I want to see the engagement numbers rise.
I’ve never liked games, but, sometimes, I see these posts as a kind of game. Fewer than 50 shares? A colossal loss. Almost no comments? My game needs work. Tons of reactions, warm praise, and, best of all, deep discussion that gets everyone involved thinking, exploring, sharing, and maybe even growing? Big win! The pinnacle!
Here as in so many other arenas, I need to transcend that kind of thinking. I need to move beyond concrete measures that I can see, and appreciate possibilities that I can wonder about even if I’ll never know for sure. How sad would it be to consign a post to failure when, say, a lonely man in New Jersey read it and decided to leave his house for the first time all week because of it? I’ll never know; he’s not the type to comment. But possibility is everything, if only I could believe in it.
Image Credit: Eeshan Garg on unsplash.com