Today, I watched helplessly as my number of followers on Twitter began to slowly dwindle. I watched the number tick down over the course of the day, and couldn’t help but wonder why it was bothering me.
Okay, here’s the situation. In the past few months I have gone from invisible geology instructor living in relative obscurity in Tucson, Arizona, to aspiring author putting her private thoughts on display while trying to gain followers that might actually like her work. It is fucking weird. Less than half a year ago I believed that nobody would ever be even remotely interested in anything I had to say. This feeling was not unfounded – try teaching a science class to a theater full of non-science majors with mobile device addictions. It is a strange feeling to care about how many people want to hear your stories, read what you write, and generally engage with your thoughts and experiences. While I am opinionated and love a good debate, even with a PhD in geology I defer to other geologists, believing that I cannot possibly have knowledge that they (or anyone else) want to hear. I mean, who the fuck am I?
But after my first meeting with a publisher, to discuss how to approach publication of my first book, a memoir, his suggestion was to build a platform. What the fuck is that, you might ask? FOLLOWERS! People who get to know you and your work and want to read more. A great way to do this is to blog, he said. My reaction was typical – why would I do that? Anyone and everyone has a fucking blog these days. Some of them are great, witty, fun, and well written. Others are utter garbage. Blogging seemed like the trendy thing for sassy women to do. It seemed predictable. Why would I want to be lumped in with every other woman putting her thoughts out into the world just because she can? I am a nobody, and I certainly don’t think I am a somebody (like many of these people must). Followers? Seriously. FOLLOWERS? This sounded like a cult. Like people in long, flowing capes swaying and chanting while drinking something dangerous (Kool-Aid?) out of paper cups. It all sounded hokey to me.
I am discovering that the truth is, when you have an unusual and amazing story to tell, if the story is interesting and well written, people might actually want to hear it. Chances are it will speak to someone. When I had that initial reaction, my inner skeptic had not yet realized the beauty of the blog – spreading ideas of all sorts to people far and wide to start a discussion, a movement, a support group, or simply a network of like-minded people to learn and share with. Not to mention being able to write, really WRITE, anytime, anywhere, and publish it for anyone to see and critique. So here I am, several months later, with a blog and a twitter handle (what the hell does handle mean, anyway), and a separate Facebook page for me the author (not me the person), and a glossy preview card about my memoir that I can hand out to total strangers, and a link to a fictional short story I wrote that lays bare all of the fears and emotions of a 40 year old woman, and a stomach that flutters when I gain a new follower and drops when I lose one. Not because I think I should be followed, but because another potential connection was lost. As this semester comes to an end, a bunch of my students who followed me just for the exam hints I would post to my twitter account are unfollowing me. I totally get it, and it is fine, but I can’t help but feel a twinge of disappointment each time my number goes down. I seem to have become a fan of the Kool-Aid.
Look – all of us, at some point or another, have something interesting to say. We all have stories to tell. Some of us choose to write about them in gory detail, accepting that we are sharing some of our most private thoughts and experiences with complete strangers. Others choose not to share at all, preferring to keep their experiences to themselves. The beauty of human diversity is that we all have such varied experiences, and we all interpret those experiences differently. The way I felt during months living in a tent on the Tibetan plateau is completely different than someone else (say, my mother) might have felt in that situation. I can imagine, for example, pooping on a mountainside while listening to the wind blow and staring at the stars, while liberating to me, likely would have terrified her into a coronary thrombosis situation. Either way, great story.
And so, what I have to say about motherhood, career, science, being a woman in science, mid-life, marriage, adventure, and stepping out of your comfort zone IS worth saying. It may not appeal to everyone. Nothing ever will. But I know a thing or two about this shit. For all of us struggling writers, hoping to find an audience who will eat up our words, all we can do is put it out there, and have faith that someone, somewhere, will relate to our stories, and drink the Kool-Aid with us. It’s not narcissism. It’s not delusions of grandeur. It’s sharing the human experience, in whatever way works for you, and hoping your words will have an impact on someone. Maybe those words will spread some knowledge, joy, or just the feeling that we are not alone in this crazy little thing called life. I will share with you, if you will share with me. I will support you if you will support me. (Kumbaya…and all that shit).