So what would I rather do? Work on my Facebook page, as I’ve promised Claire Fontaine, my “social media” assistant, that I would do today, or find a new faucet for my bathroom sink? Yes, those of you who have read my previous columns, you are right. I would much rather scan the Internet for a porcelain faucet to replace the one on my ancient sink that can no longer be repaired than upload images to my book page. Why is this? Because once I find the right faucet, I can hire a plumber to do the job and it will be done: my sink will stop leaking (as it has for three years, making me feeling ecologically incorrect—bad enough that I run water when I brush my teeth—a new crime I was unaware of committing), and I will have accomplished something that is sure to give me satisfaction, despite the fact that dealing with plumbers is always an outrageously expensive affair. Whereas—probably should not start a sentence with whereas—anyway, whereas uploading images to my book page on Facebook will cause me hours of agony (though free) because I still don’t understand what I’m doing (it’s hit or miss) and an entirely uncertain outcome. The plan is to invite readers—readers, is that the word?—visitors to the page to post their own family photos, so that we can share the experience of reclaiming our legacy, whatever it may be, and incite others to undertake their own journey into the past and its mysteries. But maybe my Facebook friends (another problem in itself: how is someone you don’t know, a friend?) won’t find this exercise intriguing, and I’ll have spent my time in vain, and merely appear narcissistic (the curse of the autobiographer).
In an autobiographical moment, one of my favorite writers, especially when he analyzes the practice of writing, which he does often, the French critic Roland Barthes, describes how easily he is distracted from doing his work, while spending the summer in the country. “Here is the list of distractions I incur every five minutes: spray a mosquito, cut my nails, eat a plum, take a piss, check the faucet to see if the water is still muddy (there was a breakdown in the plumbing today) [hmm, maybe it’s my memory of this passage that made me think of my sink], go to the drugstore, walk down to the garden to see how many nectarines have ripened on the tree, look at the radio-program listings, rig up a stand to hold my papers, etc.” (Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes). OK, True, I’m not in the country, I’m in the city this summer, in my apartment in Manhattan, where the nectarines are chilling in the refrigerator, but how many of us could not make a similar list? Only my problem isn’t sitting down to write (or stay sitting down), but staying focused on the social media task.
Social media, s/m. Why submit to this regime? Isn’t it a form of sado-masochism?
But of course, who is making us do this, if not ourselves? And haven’t the desire for our books to be well received and disappointment when they aren’t always been part of the writer’s condition? My friend and colleague, the poet and critic Wayne Koestenbaum, has just published a brilliant book titled simply Humiliation, in which he details, among other things, in numbered fragments, the occasions for feeling shame at various stages of publication: “22: An acquaintance who worked for Random House told me, ‘I’m the reason that Random House rejected your book.’ He smiled. I pretended to consider his confession witty and piquant.” And this (having just seen that a “used” copy of my book is already for sale on Amazon before it has even been published!): “23. I have two of my poetry books, warmly inscribed, to a major poet. A few years later, my protégé told me that she’d found those very copies, with their embarrassingly effusive inscriptions, at a used-book store.” So, in a way, as far as shame at obligatory self-exposure goes, or fear of rejection, only the social media part is new.
But if blogging, as one flogs one’s future book, often feels like painful self-flagellation, there is also a reward in the pleasure derived from the solidarity of the social network (and I’m not referring to the movie). One of the great and surprising things about having the chance to write this blog is hearing from fellow writers. And perhaps the greatest reward is exactly that--the concrete acknowledgment that however solitary writing is, the lived experience of being a writer can be shared. It's why Kamy founded She Writes and Maya Nussbaum created Girls Write Now, and why I've come to see, now that I'm one blog away from finishing the Countdown schedule, that I will miss this opportunity to put my private fretting into a public but safe place.