The very worst tweep

The experience of following me on Twitter, if you’re actually paying attention to the fact that you’re following me on Twitter, is no doubt, pretty unremarkable. I don’t have a huge number of followers, but I easily have far more than I deserve. It’s not that I’m unappreciative. Occasionally I peer in at these amiable-seeming followers and wonder if they’re sufficiently entertained, if they’re talking amongst themselves. And sure enough, they are.

It’s always a little strange to be followed. A little great, a little dreadful. When I was seven, my best friend would teach me bad words at recess, in exchange for which I would promise to take her to some amazing place―a dubious partnership from the start. I learned a lot of bad words that year, but needless to say, unless you count some cattails behind the swing set or a broken corner of asphalt on the basketball court, that girl never ended up anywhere interesting because of me.

To say my Twitter persona is “undeveloped” would be a nice way of putting it. I don’t tweet daily, or even weekly, so it goes without saying that I’m not offering a steady stream of amusement, a theme, or requisite engagement. The few glimpses into my friendships or personal life are so scant they’re hardly worth the price of admission. I’m such a winning combination of introverted and unambitious on social media that it took me almost a year before I didn’t feel like a boundary-crashing lunatic tweeting ‘at’ someone to say “nice article!” Yet when one of those “nice articles” happens to come my way, I’m super grateful. My earnestness probably doesn’t do much to enhance my Twitter desirability, but considering my Twitter spirit animal is already akin to a hibernating hedgehog, I figure there’s little point in adding the qualifier “hard to get”.

I don’t really expect the people I follow to amuse or enlighten me any more consistently than I amuse or enlighten them. It takes a lot to get me to unfollow you, as I harbor the quaint notion that you might feel hurt to have our connection mysteriously severed. And what goes around comes around, I suppose, because I didn’t get unfollowed nearly as much as I should have during my first year on Twitter. In truth this is a fact I attribute solely to the law of averages: if regular tweeting is the best way to attract new followers, it’s also the surest way to repel them.

I am, if nothing else, there. And in that vein, a writer friend recently asked me to ‘attend’ a Twitter party with her, on the topic of Presence. As the party commenced, and the other tweeps introduced themselves with punny bursts of “I’m here”, and “present!”, discussing their struggles for zen, bonding with hashtagged ease, I sat stunned. “Can you take me home?” I texted my friend, who was otherwise occupied. So I did the equivalent of sitting in the corner, nursing a single drink for a bit. “You were crap at that party,” she replied finally, when it was finished. She spoke the truth. But by then, I had fallen asleep.

And yet, to my own surprise, I’ve discovered I like knowing that my followers are, if nothing else, there too: That nice guy who wrote for the Economist and followed me when I had eight followers and appeared no more legitimate than a bot. The Millions, my favorite literary website, which made the magnanimous gesture of actually following me back, (a move that had me flying high, and guiltily so―because who am I fooling?―for weeks). The intimidatingly snarky tweetsters, the literary hopefuls, the progressive educators, the activists―it was strangely nice to see them in my list week after week, their sheer presence announcing (at least to me) that they were totally nonjudgmental of the nothing I was hell bent on delivering.

As it would happen, events in my life took me off Twitter altogether for a couple of months. When I logged back on, I noticed my number of followers had taken the most precipitous fall of my uneventful Twitter career. Gone was the parenting and education writer whose posts I occasionally ‘favorited’ (she seemed so nice!), the cool, mystical tweeting poet with whom I’d once ventured a rare mutually complimentary exchange (didn’t that mean something?!)

I had it coming of course. I am nothing on Twitter if not the worst, and in fact what truly surprised me is that a lot more people were still there than not. Even The Millions, one of my unlikeliest coups in the first place―was still unaccountably there.

I processed this how any logical person would, and concluded that each and every one of the people who had failed to unfollow me were not only lax about curation, they were, well, kind of supportive, were they not? While I’d headed to outer space, they were sitting there waiting, going about their article writing and book promoting, too kindhearted or unconcerned about their Klout score to click unfollow on an account that had ceased to do anything interesting for months, if it ever had done anything interesting in the first place.

Or maybe all those unconditional follows just made me overly sentimental. Twitter is good for some things, but not for taking personally. I’ll never be an avid user, but I won’t be practicing principled avoidance and deleting my account any time soon. Modern day scourge on human interaction or invaluable opportunity for a democratic exchange of ideas, I’m not particularly drawn to either camp. When last I checked, my followers seemed to be having a great time without me, so I slipped them a random but fascinating link on amnesia, and headed for the door. But not before I saw another follower bite the dust. I didn’t mind. I am, after all, the very worst tweep. I have to take what I can get.

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(sometimes it’s nice to be followed)

On Santa, belief, and the power (and pitfalls) of imagination

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My most recent post for Psychology Today is on how absurdly long I believed in Santa. It’s also on hope and imagination. And a little bit of disillusionment. 

Against all evidence and the threat of public ridicule, I believed in Santa until dangerously close to the point when sitting on his lap would have conjured more images of Lolita than wholesome holiday cheer. I wasn’t exactly deluded about reality, and my belief was less straightforward than you might think. Of course to most, even such nuanced naiveté requires no additional reportage beyond the laughably advanced age at which my fantasy finally caved.

If you were to ask my parents how they happened to end up with two Santa-obsessed daughters on the cusp of adolescence, they’d tell you that they enjoyed the many years of creativity that our Santa-belief generated. They encouraged us, at first, forging responses to our litany of questions, though largely they left us to our own devices. Each year, the world we imagined surrounding the nature of Santa became increasingly sophisticated. We erected a pulley system between our bedrooms for sending conspiratorial notes, and considered the role of magic, pondered off-season life at the Pole, and the very soul of the improbable individual around whom this whole seasonal mythology swirled. Naturally, there were ambiguous elf sightings. Continue reading

New York Times essay on sensitivity, vegetarianism, and contradictions

Yesterday I was excited to have my first essay in The New York Times. The piece is on my daughter’s choice to become a vegetarian at 4, the complexity of moral choices, and the special contradictions they can present for the very young. Since I wrote this essay some months ago, it’s interesting for me to notice how much her moral complexity has actually evolved in that time (no more crying over bugs!) Apparently, food can be fairly divisive, so the comments section at times has been a bit of a sparring ground between vegetarians and non, although my piece isn’t  prescriptive of any one lifestyle other than one where acceptance is practiced and differences, emotional and otherwise, allowed. It’s been interesting reading though, some of it very thoughtful, and it’s been particularly fascinating for me to hear from adults who made similar choices at a young age–some of whom followed very different paths. Check it out on the New York Times site here. And feel free to add to the already rollicking discussion. 

The Rich Kids of Art Class

My latest  post at Psychology Today  is on wealth disparity, arts education, and creativity:

Little Girl With Art (2)When torn between two preschools for my three-year old son, I chose the one that had beautiful wooden blocks and prominently placed easels. It was slightly more expensive than others we looked at, but doable, and every time he comes home with an ample sheet upon which the teacher has thoughtfully printed his intentions, (gems such as, “me screaming with my mouth open to go outside”), it feels like one of those little parental victories. A few years ago when his older sister was in preschool, we couldn’t have afforded the same.

Everywhere in the university town I live near and work in, parents are scrambling to buy beauty, and with it, creativity. Diversity is sought after too, of course, but mostly in the academic abstract. A wealthy town means there are art, drama, and ‘music together’ classes for toddlers, exhibits with interactive, ‘kid friendly’ features. On most days, my kids would prefer to play in the dirt than interact with these well-intended features, yet there they are, and I’m glad for it. But while the area is as abundant with creative educational opportunities as you’d expect, at many public schools that fall outside the wealthiest enclaves, enrichment and arts programs have been cut. You have to pay to play. Continue reading

What’s better for you: personal or public creativity?

This post also appears on my blog at Psychology Today
Special thanks to Gabriel Roth for his insights

It’s easy to equate creative endeavors with narcissism when they’re not your own. Who hasn’t eye-rolled past their share of “shameless” self-promotion? While it isn’t always the most instructive or enjoyable pastime to read about someone else making themselves more famous, a lot of that broadcasting likely involves plenty of shame, or at least reticence, realism, and other nuanced feelings that are somehow less satisfying to imagine than delusional love-me ones. An affinity for creative expression doesn’t foretell an affinity for self-promotion—the former is, after all, often deeply personal, solitary work—but for those bent on a career tied to their creative enterprises, that aspect is a real after-the-fact requirement to be wrestled with.

Some do it more gracefully than others: The writer Gabriel Roth has a separate Twitter account called Gabriel Roth’s Ego, where he retweets praise for his recent book, “The Unknowns”, an account he keeps separate from his personal one (@gabrielroth, to date, has  over 1,700 followers to his ego’s 37).  “It totally fails as a promotional strategy,” he says. “But that’s the point: no one wants to read all the nice things people say to you.” Continue reading

It was fun to pretend, until I had kids

This is my first post on my new blog at Psychology Today:

b's first look at oceanPeople usually assume that I gave up writing during the years surrounding my kids’ births because I was too busy. I had three children in five years, after all, and worked, in a twist of fate, as a book publicist. I don’t bother to dispute this reasoning, and it has every appearance of being true. I had another reason though: I stopped wanting to pretend.

I have a memory of myself around eight carrying around a journal with a big purple flower on the cover. I’m not sure what I wrote in it. I was always reading books about girls and young women who were writers, and Emily Climbs by Lucy Maud Montgomery was my favorite. Emily was thoughtful, sensitive, and carried notebooks that she filled throughout a picturesque adolescence on Prince Edward’s Island, an upbringing that inevitably culminated in discovery and publication in early adulthood. (Why wouldn’t it?) I identified with her, with her long dark hair and skirts, seriousness, “untraditionally” beautiful face, and boys who always seemed to be in love with her, no matter how immersed in her journals she seemed. I wanted to be like her, and figured there was no reason to think I wasn’t well on my way.

For years I went on like this, entirely unconcerned about my writing’s absence, figuring that in some way that really mattered, I was a writer. I had all the right qualities after all. There was the way I liked to look at leaves, the way I was moved by small things, the way I felt swimming at night during a rainstorm. I couldn’t have explained it, but somehow my appreciation of ambiguity, my complicated desire, the sanctity of my own mind with its mystery and contradictions, seemed like plenty to justify my belief.

By the time I got to college I was confronted with the creeping realization that I had to have something more. During orientation I informed my freshman roommate that I was a writer, yet I was starting to worry about the fact that I hadn’t, to that point, written anything. Soon I had friends who filled journals or wrote stories, one ran the literary magazine, but I was still drifting through the world, my writerliness somewhere, I hoped. I couldn’t put my finger on it. Read the rest at Psychology Today.

Psychology Today

I’m excited to announce that in a few weeks I’ll be starting a monthly column (also called INK) for Psychology Today. I’ll be writing there about creativity, parenting, all kinds of complexity I suspect. The piece I submitted that lead to this opportunity was, ironically, on stopping writing. Looking forward to sharing that (and officially reversing that decision) in the coming weeks. At the moment I’m a bit stumped trying to find a reasonable looking headshot for this enterprise. It seems there really doesn’t exist a photo of me where I’m not cheek to cheek with at least two of my kids.

I also wanted to note that my website is looking beautiful now, thanks to my sister, an amazing photographer and designer. Thanks little sis!