Last night, I received a letter (snail mail) from a family member expressing concern over the disparaging way that I conduct myself on social media. Now, as the majority of us know, social media is a projection of one’s personal life into the public sphere, and the content has likely undergone some creative consideration and stilting. (You’re already aware of the effort behind a Valencia filter and 140 characters of self-deprecating wit, so I’ll move on.)
Back to this letter.
It looks like a remedial exercise in Microsoft Word formatting. There’s a header (WITH LOVE FROM [REDACTED]), numbers in the corners of all three pages — even a highlighter’s lifeblood made it into the document. This person’s thoughts — which they advise me not to take “as being critical”— are broken into three sections: Social Media, Miscellaneous, and Summary. Below each subheader is a dense, single-spaced paragraph detailing all the ways I’m Doing It Wrong.
Note: I do not intend to use this essay as a way to drag my dear and loving family member through the mud simply because I find their latest method of familial interaction neither dear nor loving. I have a poem published with two lines that splatter mud already.
That being said, after 10+ years of defending my work and lifestyle to a close-minded family — keen on interpreting snippets of my “social presence” as literal and total — it’s time to kill the digital middleman helping them fester real-life disapproval.
I blocked ‘em all on Facebook.
I momentarily let my eyes water over the letter, and I got a little drunk over the letter. Then I tacked it onto my wall, and got to work disassembling the main points — changing them into positives.
1I opted for the struggle bus cuz the route was more scenic.
Family Member: “By the time I was your age, I had been working for five years, and had a house and baby.”
Me: As a kid who squirreled herself away in corners, avoiding people so she could read books, I did not dream at night of social clout, upward mobility, or motherhood. After five years of full-time employment, I chose to swap out elevators, cubicles, and stable income for Tuesdays in a library, hurtling non-fiction samples into the abyss.
Cyclical financial stress is the price I pay for my off-brand slice of freedom. If I eventually need to go back to the land of water coolers and office meeting jargon because I’m one overdraft away from getting my heat turned off, then I will. Til then, I’m making it work.
2I am alone by choice.
Family Member: “No successful man will find your attitude and lifestyle mature or attractive.”
Me: Yep. No one’s coming to Easter, and there’s no buoy around my left ring finger — but joke’s on you if you think I’m sleeping alone or wrapping up my self-identity with that bow. Recently, someone asked what I like to write most about. I said lust and disappointment, or “men.” I write about relationships, failed or otherwise — because have you been on a Tinder date recently? It’s a goldmine, an exercise in futility, and a hangover all in one; the next day, you’ll have all the inspiration you need to write poetry.
We all got our beats. Let me make mine without you calling me slutty or asking if I want to be set up with the accounting intern in your office (I don’t).
3I am radical in my transparency and vulnerability.
Family Member: “It’s imminent that you go back and delete every social media post that doesn’t paint you in a positive light.”
Me: I have always been radically — albeit creatively — transparent in documenting my writing life on social media. Humor, vulnerability, and self-deprecation have long been stakes in my work. But that also means I’ve had to sit across from my grandmother and explain that the 140-character self-analyses she reads on her desktop in Phoenix are an abstraction. These conversations make me feel like a total asshole — but the alternative is changing my work so that my family is less uncomfortable. And that’s not *really* an alternative.
4I am not dead, and I am still writing.
Family Member: “It’s time we stop worrying about you.”
Me: On my bathroom mirror, written in whiteboard marker, is the phrase, “This Is The Life You Chose.” It’s a mantra I repeat when wholeheartedly aspiring to write full-time proves unstable and overwhelming. I repeat it after reading this letter from my relative, or after eating my tenth peanut butter sandwich in a row because times are tough. It helps me move forward on my own, and stay focused on the attainable goal — and some days, it works.